Feel free to ask
By Henry Randolph, AmeriCorps alum and Habitat Philadelphia’s volunteer coordinator
Learn more about Habitat’s AmeriCorps program.
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I love it when someone asks me: “What’s AmeriCorps?”
I applied to the AmeriCorps National Direct program for 2010 because I knew it would give me the chance to work with volunteers in an experiential-education setting. I was thrilled when I learned I would serve my AmeriCorps year as a construction assistant at the Habitat affiliate in Philadelphia, a city whose considerable housing issues are matched by its cultural vibrancy.
Construction work was an entirely new world for me, but I immediately found kindred spirits in the other AmeriCorps members at our affiliate. And I didn’t mind the small living stipend because I quickly earned a number of other things:
Flexibility. Working as a construction assistant meant preparing for the day’s projects on short notice and changing plans from minute to minute, all while working hard to give multiple volunteer crews a good experience. Part construction worker and part affordable-housing advocate, part teacher and part student — I learned to do it all.
Humility. I had to teach myself to accept the “Homer Simpson moments” when I slammed my thumb with a hammer or found my gloves and hardhat cloaked in spray-foam insulation, which invariably happened while teaching an eager volunteer how the “experts” do it. It’s trial by fire and a reminder that our work is about much more than immediate perfection.
A greater understanding of what it means to give of yourself. Many AmeriCorps members from this affiliate have gone on to use their skills and experiences at sustainable building companies and social justice organizations. My service actually led me to become Habitat Philadelphia’s new volunteer coordinator. Although I’m not on site swinging hammers any more, my work still centers on volunteers, and I realize how unique Habitat is in the realm of builders.
I love it when someone asks me about AmeriCorps. I tell them about being stretched and challenged, about dirt and noise and roughed-up hands. I tell them it’s a big commitment, a big payoff for everyone involved — and an experience I love sharing any chance I get.