By Jenna Widmann
The AmeriCorps program works to better local communities through over 15,000 nonprofit, faith-based, and neighborhood organizations nationwide. The 800,000 AmeriCorps volunteers who’ve served since 1994, not only have helped to improve the lives of those they’ve encountered on a day-to-day basis, but have given our nation the support it needs to make sure Americans receive the help they deserve.
“AmeriCorps Works”, the theme for the annual week highlighting national service, is the perfect premise to me when discussing this program. As an alumna, and now host site manager of members, I’ve been able to not only give my time to the DC community, but have also had the chance to see how important and impactful AmeriCorps members are to organizations like Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C. and other area nonprofits.
When I served in 2009-2010, I was pretty impressed with the dedication some of my peers had for both affordable housing and national service. I wasn’t quite on board with the entire, year of volunteering thing when I first began, but serving alongside passionate, inspirational people quickly got me to come around. The real sticking point was the Dhimbil family, now Habitat homeowners for three years. Jama, the father, quite possibly is the sweetest, most determined man I’ve ever met. His love for his family and hopes for their future was evident each Saturday he volunteered to build his home. And even after finishing his 300 hours of sweat equity, continuing to volunteer to build his neighbors’ homes. My role as an AmeriCorps was to help recruit and manage volunteers who would build, advocate and fundraise to make the Dhimbil family’s house a reality. While some days I wasn’t too sure how much of an impact I and other AmeriCorps members were making, now, working at a host organization, it is clear that the AmeriCorps program is vital to our country.
As a host site manager, each year I recruit, screen and hire new members. It is amazing to see the variety of backgrounds, talent and interests of applicants. One of the reasons why I think the AmeriCorps program is so effective, is the variety of personalities and talents that members bring to organizations. You aren’t just recruiting for one skill set like most normal jobs, but for someone who truly wants to jump in feet first and work their hardest without too much in return.
Most Habitat for Humanity affiliates and other nonprofits would still exist without the AmeriCorps program, but I have no doubt capacity would drop and fewer community members would be helped without the resource development and capacity building work of VISTA members and the direct service of National members. DC Habitat is greatly impacted by the service members provide to our affiliate. We are able to work with larger groups of volunteers, so that we can build more houses each year and serve more families. We are able to strategically fundraise and market our program to new community players because of AmeriCorps members. We are able to build greener and more energy efficient homes due to research collected and analyzed by members. And we can develop stronger relationships with individuals, companies, local government and faith organizations because of the projects done by AmeriCorps members.
The bottom line is the AmeriCorps program does work, for those who serve, the individuals and organizations they help, and our united communities overall.