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AmeriCorps Week 2023

Few organizations have done more for the New Orleans area than AmeriCorps. A federal program often described as the “domestic Peace Corps”, it began in the 1990s as a way to encourage young people to engage in community service, taking a year or more to work with nonprofits or faith groups around the country. They have been an integral part of New Orleans Habitat’s work, especially in the years since Hurricane Katrina.

At present, NOAHH is hosting multiple AmeriCorps members and an NCCC team. NCCC teams are small groups of 18-26 year olds who spend a year traveling to different areas, helping out with various organizations in short stints. They live together, train together, travel together, and work together. The current team serving in New Orleans is River 2, stationed out of Vicksburg, MS. The team started in summer of 2022 and has served with disaster relief and recovery projects, home-building, and even at a nonprofit helping people with their taxes.

“Helping people with their taxes was a nice change of pace, because it was cold outside,” said Chase Pfaff, the media liaison for the team. “But we’re glad to be back at construction.”

They joined NOAHH this spring to serve for six weeks. Their focus has been on building homes in the Lower Ninth Ward.

“I like the project and the people,” said Lisa Spalding, River 2’s team leader. “[New Orleans Habitat has] had a lot of teams before, so they know what we need before we ask for it.”

AmeriCorps members receive an educational award at the end of their service that they can use for school or student loans, but for most, the chance to spend a year in service is motivated by all of the opportunities it provides, whether that’s meeting new people, learning new skills, or seeing new places.

“It’s a really good learning experience,” said Lisa. “Being a team leader, I learned to trust my instincts a little bit more. You should join AmeriCorps if you wanna travel and do good work. It’s a great experience if you can get out there.”

“It’s fun to learn – and interesting,” said Chase. “[When we first started], it was hard to do a lot of things, but I’ve gotten much better at it.”

Tom Kister, an New Orleans Habitat construction team member, served as an AmeriCorps for a year before coming on as staff. He served his full term in New Orleans as an AmeriCorps National Direct. He was inspired to join AmeriCorps because of his love of traveling and of helping others. He started doing outreach work for the homeless when he was a teenager, so he joined AmeriCorps, eventually coming to New Orleans to serve with Habitat.

“I’ve always been a big advocate for the homeless,” he said. “But I wanted to focus more on long-term solutions like affordable housing. I also wanted to get into disaster work as well. This was the area to be in.”

Though Habitat’s work is different from the outreach work he started in, he says he still finds it rewarding. “it’s a bit of switch getting into the long-term work, but this is what I want to stick with because this is the important thing to do.”

Like many AmeriCorps, he had very little construction experience when he started.

“I think I hung a door one time, and that was about it,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about what I was doing at all before I came down here, aside from a few basics. In the beginning it can be overwhelming, because you realize how much there is to learn. As time goes on, people work with you a little bit, and you start to pick up on stuff. You have those lightbulb moments where it all begins to finally click and make sense. It feels good once you get to that point. Most of my time here has been spent learning lessons about myself. It’s helped me find my strengths and weaknesses, to help me take advantage of my strengths and work on my weaknesses at the same time.”

Now he not only has the skill to build homes, he leads and teaches others to be builders.

“I wasn’t expecting to meet so many new people,” he said. “I was surprised to be leading 20 people and keeping track of everything, but at the same time, it’s really rewarding how many connections you can make along the way. I’ve never had a job that gave me that kind of opportunity.”

If you are interested in joining New Orleans Habitat as an AmeriCorps member, click here to see our available positions


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