Volunteers at the Build-a-Thon 2012 event
By Julie Gurnon
John Evans hails from upstate New York and graduated last May from with a bachelor’s degree in history. Susan Remington has lived in Orange City, Fla., for 33 years and is a retired school secretary with a husband, two children and two grandchildren. Kenya Miniard, 27, obtained her master’s degree in health education last year and lives with her husband and two children in Gulf Port, Mississippi.
What do these people have in common? They’re all AmeriCorps members participating in the 2012 Build-a-Thon in Pensacola. Their stories highlight the diverse backgrounds of those who serve Habitat for Humanity International and its affiliates in two AmeriCorps programs: VISTA and National Direct.
Evans, 23, is a first-year AmeriCorps VISTA member who serves as the faith relations coordinator for Loudoun Habitat for Humanity in Leesburg, Virginia. (VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America.)
Fresh out of college, Evans is no stranger to Habitat and other affordable housing programs, having performed rehabilitative work on homes in the Appalachian region of the United States as well as house framing on Habitat homes in New Orleans, post-Hurricane Katrina.
What makes the VISTA program different from National Direct is that members like Evans don’t work directly with families or construction staff. Their work is more behind-the-scenes, creating sustainable programs that help build capacity.
Unlike other AmeriCorps members who serve in direct roles, VISTAs don’t see the tangible result of their work as easily, Evans explains.
“I’ve spent the year developing a coalition of faith communities to build a house, but I won’t get to see that happen unless I stay on for another year.”
Which is exactly what he is hoping to do.
“It’s hard work and it’s been a difficult adjustment moving eight hours away and starting a new job,” he said about his first year, “but now I’m starting to see a change, and that’s a big part of why I’d like to apply for a second year.”
Remington, 66, is also a first-year AmeriCorps VISTA, serving in volunteer coordination and development at Southwest Volusia Habitat for Humanity in Orange City, Fla.
Remington has several advantages that many AmeriCorps members do not. She lives three blocks from the affiliate and volunteered part-time there for a year in a similar role, before joining AmeriCorps. This allowed her to transition seamlessly into her AmeriCorps role. She even helped write her own VISTA assignment description.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” said Evans, reflecting on her first year.
She has already applied for a second year and is waiting to find out if the position will be funded again.
What has she gained most from her AmerCorps experience?
“Confidence,” she said, without hesitation. “I’m more comfortable being out of my comfort zone.”
Miniard, 27, is a third-year AmeriCorps member, the last two of which were with Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Gulfport, Miss. In her current role, Miniard is one of 11 VISTAs with a focus on engaging veterans.
The Corporation for National and Community Service established a new AmeriCorps program in 2010 called VetCorps.
Before adding this third program into its AmeriCorps lineup, Habitat for Humanity International decided to give VISTA applicants the opportunity to perform outreach and research surrounding veterans’ issues.
Miniard’s role as veterans outreach specialist was a natural progression from her second year as volunteer coordinator for the affiliate.
“Gulf Port is completely surrounded by the military, and most of our local volunteer base is made up of military members,” she said.
Part of Miniard’s job is to assess the needs of veterans in the community, and that includes outreach.
“Just to work with veterans is great in itself,” she said. “They’ve done all this [for their country], and they’re so humble about it.”
As for the AmeriCorps program, she’s a big advocate.
“Getting to meet people who come from different backgrounds and just have a different way of thinking about life in general, it completely opened my eyes to a whole different world,” she said.
Julie Gurnon is the NSP2 writer/editor for editorial services, based in Americus, Georgia.