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Walking the walk, in other people’s shoes

55-year-old woman finds her calling at the Habitat AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon 2012
By Julie Gurnon


Lula Plater-Smith, an AmeriCorps National Direct member at Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, celebrated her 55th birthday on the build site during the 2012 AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon in Dallas, Texas. Photo by Allen Sullivan


When Lula Plater-Smith told her pastor about becoming an AmeriCorps National Direct member at Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, he told her, “You found your niche. This is what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Plater-Smith, who turned 55 on Monday during the 2012 AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon in Dallas, Texas, agrees. She loves her role as the affiliate’s roof and repair program associate.

“I enjoy being able to see the expressions on the people we help, knowing that we make a difference,” she said. “To see the gratitude, the tears, the emotion — it really does something to you, it just makes you feel like, ‘I could do more.’”

Plater-Smith, who lives in Omaha with her husband of two years, has four children and two grandchildren.

A few weeks before the Build-a-Thon, she celebrated another big event. She graduated from Metropolitan Community College in Omaha with an associate’s degree in general studies and a minor in cultural studies.

Before AmeriCorps, Plater-Smith worked at Nebraska Medical Center as a radiology transport aid for nearly five years, until complications from surgery in April 2009 forced her to leave that job.

When her health improved, she couldn’t get back into the medical center, so she started attending a class on customer service skills, looking for something else, and trusting God would lead her.

“My faith is up there,” she said, raising her hand overhead. “I don’t believe things happen by chance. I believe there’s a purpose for everything.”

Paying tribute to service

Part of Plater-Smith’s role as roof and repair program associate involves working with veterans.

Habitat for Humanity of Omaha is one of 36 affiliates participating in Repairs Corps, a pilot program that began in September 2011 through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity International and the Home Depot Foundation. The program, which runs through this month, is designed “to help U.S. veterans thrive by creating healthier, safer home environments through critical repairs and improvements.”

According to Plater-Smith, the affiliate has completed five projects for veterans under its roof and repair program, and four are currently under way.

“Whenever we have some kind of activity going on with veterans, I always try to attend, and I always go up and I shake everybody’s hands and I thank them for their service,” she said. “I tell them, ‘If it wasn’t for what you did or are doing, then what I’m doing wouldn’t be possible.’”

‘Never forget’

Talking to Plater-Smith, it’s obvious that this AmeriCorps member takes to heart the principles established by Habitat founder Millard Fuller.

“Habitat’s mission is to build God’s kingdom here on earth, and that’s what I try to do every day,” she said. “I keep that in the back of my head all day long. I try to put myself in other people’s shoes.”

She also has some wise words for everyone involved in Habitat’s work.

“You get so busy trying to get funders or volunteers or donors that you forget why you’re doing it,” she said. “Never forget who you’re doing it for.”

Julie Gurnon is a writer-editor at Habitat for Humanity International, based in Americus, Georgia. She writes about the Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2.