Program Served: AmeriCorps VISTA - 2007-2008; New Orleans, LA at Tulane University Center for Public Service, Rebuilding Together New Orleans
Hometown: Bradford, PA
Alma Mater: Dickinson College
Currently Employed: New Orleans, LA; Rebuilding Together New Orleans - Director
Jon Skvarka, one of the first AmeriCorps members to serve with Rebuilding Together New Orleans, now serves as its Director and has made New Orleans his home. Skvarka initially came to New Orleans as part of an Alternative Spring Break program through Dickinson College, and the experiences he had inspired him to come back and stay even longer.
“I didn’t have time for public service in college, so I tried to make up for that with AmeriCorps,” said Skvarka. “When I first got involved in 2006, I really felt like New Orleans was a place I wanted to be.”
As an AmeriCorps VISTA the following year, Skvarka’s duties as an information officer included writing grants, working with neighborhood leaders to write homeowner biographies and neighborhood history, writing in house publications, and working to find resources for low income homeowners who needed repairs. Skvarka described his work as “behind the scenes,” but that’s how he liked it.
During his VISTA year, Skvarka got a different motivation for his work. “My grandfather moved into assisted living, and it was really tough on our family that he had to leave the only place he had ever called home,” said Skvarka. “Watching that motivated me to help homeowners who were in a similar situation. Katrina had devastated the only place they had ever called home, and I wanted to help them get that back.”
In 2008, Rebuilding Together hosted the first ever NBA All-Star Day of Service. That year the NBA All-Star Game was hosted in New Orleans, the first big event of its kind to be hosted since Katrina hit in 2005. NBA players and hundreds of other volunteers worked on the total renovation of two houses that day.
“It was the first large event that our small organization had done,” said Skvarka. “It was great to know that we could handle this and had the capacity to take on more money and more staff. Being able to be the point of contact and coordinating the whole event and then seeing how it affected the community was really great.”
Skvarka has now been with Rebuilding Together for nine years, to which he said, “I never thought that would be possible. We wouldn’t still be here without AmeriCorps.”