Figure Out What the Need is:
An AmeriCorps Experience
This post is part of a series dedicated to our AmeriCorps members who have donated a large chunk of time as well as their skills and willingness to learn to the Habitat for Humanity – Seattle King County mission. You can find more stories like this one by clicking on the “AmeriCorps Experience” tag.
Working for any nonprofit can strengthen a person’s sense of flexibility and innovation. Resources can be stretched and new ways of doing things with less are often the result of limited access. Alexis came on as a Community Engagement Specialist and throughout her term she learned how to broaden the scope of her position and found new ways to use her skills for Habitat. “I was supposed to be the site host for Sammamish and January rolled around and it still hadn’t started. There was still no anticipated date for it to start again and I very easily could have just sat around and did nothing for the next few months… you figure out what the need is and what you can do to improve different things… The youth engagement program wouldn’t have happened if I had been a Sammammish site host and youth engagement, I think, was a very vital part of my term and I will take it with me wherever I go in the future.”
During her first official youth engagement event she worked with a Girl Scout troop to build mini houses out of cereal boxes and learned just how much 8-year-olds know about affordable housing. “They’d watched CNN, they’d watched the news. They knew about affordable housing before I even walked through the door and they care about affordable housing.” Alexis did plenty of research on the cost-of-living in order to ask the girls challenging questions about what it means to survive in an affluent area. “I presented to them ‘if you are working at the grocery store on minimum wage, this is how much you can afford, this is how much a house is, this is how much an apartment is, can you afford that? No absolutely not but how often do you go to the grocery store and see someone who’s working minimum wage?’ And then I would talk to them ‘Oh how long have you been out of school because you’re sick? A week?’ and then you highlight that if someone who is working at minimum wage is sick for a week, they can’t afford rent.” After engaging with the girls, she found that she was “re-energized” over the impact that a youth engagement program could have. “I went to school studying urban planning and the importance of community outreach and community driven events. The impact of a group of 8-year-olds can be important. They can make a difference.”
In addition to youth, Alexis found herself interacting with all kinds of groups including connecting with faith-related groups, volunteers and neighborhood partners. “Within my first two months at Habitat, I presented four or five times to different Kiwanis groups and churches to really expand their knowledge about Habitat for Humanity. I also helped assist in planning the Interfaith build which brought over 100 people to the Sammamish site to bless it between four different religions so that was really cool too to be able to see how impactful Seattle and the East side of King County could be and how inclusive and community-minded all of the people on the East side could be.” After working on so many different projects over the span of her term, Alexis is taking her solid event-planning and communication skills to her new job as a Project Coordinator for Stepherson and Associates Communication Firm where she’ll be assisting in planning engagement tactics to inform and incorporate public decisions on large-scale projects.
Her advice for incoming AmeriCorps members is a straight forward push to “memorize everything… Orientation gets hosted once a month and I think it’s very important for people to at least get a copy of the orientation and memorize everything – to get all the details of every department. It’s not easy but it’s very vital… So I recommend for any future person to learn and memorize and take initiative and if they have an idea not be afraid to speak up about it…”