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Strong but kind leaders, AmeriCorps members help create Habitat moments

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National Service
Frank Spencer

AmeriCorps member Marc Fiore and AmeriCorps VISTA Angela Mora work on the frame of a home during Habitat for Humanity's AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Jason Asteros

Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity can quickly bring to mind a favorite Habitat moment.  It might be raising the walls on a new home, a conversation with a homeowner, working on a critical home repair of an elderly homeowner who is afraid to walk on a rotted bathroom floor, or the sense of community at a home dedication, celebrating with a homeowner and giving thanks to all who make a home possible.    
AmeriCorps member creating a Habitat MomentAs we celebrate the holiday season, we at Habitat Charlotte have much to be thankful for and to reflect upon.  This fall we celebrated our 30th anniversary by serving 42 families in 30 days. It was an intense but incredible time of engaging the community and volunteers in numerous projects, and our AmeriCorps members were there every step of the way, helping to create more Habitat moments. 
Habitat AmeriCorps members Stephen Kaerwer and Phil Daughton serve during the annual AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon ©Habitat for Humanity International/Steffan Hacker Getting to these moments, however, requires an incredible amount of coordination, effort and preparation, and AmeriCorps members know this better than most.  Well before home construction begins, AmeriCorps members may have been busy reaching out to and recruiting families or volunteers.  On the build site,  AmeriCorps members help to ensure that everything is ready before a group of volunteers arrives.  They’ll help coordinate the materials, safety equipment and tools, move scaffolding and complete prep work, perhaps even fix a small mistake from the previous volunteer day, all so volunteers can immediately begin work and have the highest quality experience.   
But it’s when the volunteers arrive that that we need our AmeriCorps members the most.  Many people’s first impression of Habitat Charlotte is based on their experience interacting with an AmeriCorps member.  Indeed, the success of Habitat in part depends on having AmeriCorps members serving as strong but kind leaders, and engaging people not only with a specific task, but with our vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.   
They must also be flexible. One day the members can be serving alongside and leading a group of business executives, and the next they may be working with a group of high school students. Members must be able to adapt their leadership style, so we select individuals who have good leadership experience and help to make them better, more confident leaders through AmeriCorps.  We see AmeriCorps as a pipeline for the next generation of leadership in the affordable housing movement. In fact, one of our board members who worked at a major financial institution said that our AmeriCorps program exceeded his company’s  management training program in producing young leaders.
Our 2013-14 AmeriCorps team began service in September and has already engaged more than 500 volunteers in a number of exciting projects. As part of our anniversary celebration they participated in building a home in 30 hours, helped to build the only LEED Platinum home in the state of North Carolina, coordinated a community clean-up, and led a group of college students who built a house on campus that will later become a home for a local family.  

These are incredible accomplishments and Habitat Charlotte is grateful for the dedication and passion AmeriCorps members bring to our mission; we could not engage the number of volunteers nor serve the number of families we do without their service. But what is even more incredible is that we are only one of more than 100 Habitat affiliates that host AmeriCorps members. Habitat AmeriCorps members are expected to engage more than 300,000 volunteers and serve more than 2,000 families at these affiliates across the United States this year.  I am thankful just thinking of all the Habitat moments that will be created. 
Frank Spencer is President and CEO, Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte.  The Corporation for National and Community Service is celebrating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps and highlighting methods that have contributed to the program’s success.  For more information about the 20th anniversary, please visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary Resource Center.

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