The Core Volunteer Community
In 2013, a simple change turned our core volunteer program into the core volunteer community. Instead of connecting core volunteers with specific staff, NOAHH began assigning them all to the same sites. This simple change suddenly turned a loose group of individuals who spent their spare time and energy serving others into a close but welcoming community.
Harvey Andresen began volunteering in 2009, working closely with site supervisor Ben Brenner. Harvey is a retired chemical engineer from northern Minnesota, where he grew up on a farm. A fellow retired chemical worker had volunteered with a Habitat affiliate in West Virginia, and Harvey accepted the recommendation to do the same in New Orleans.
“For the first few years as a core volunteer I was assigned to a single construction supervisor,” Harvey said. “By contrast, now [NOAHH] assigns all the core volunteers to work the same job site any given day. This not only bonds us core volunteers with each other, but also gives us a chance to meet all the supervisors, AmeriCorps people and homeowners as well as innumerable volunteer groups.”
Chief Warrant Officer Luis Lebron is recently stationed in Belle Chasse, and shortly after arriving, he sought to volunteer in the area in order to give back and learn about the city. What he found, though, was that most of the places he volunteered did not offer the chance to see immediate results. After some research, he discovered NOAHH and tried it out, joining other Marines during Build-A-Thon.
“As I got involved with [NOAHH], I discovered that this was an everyday effort (not just a weekend project), and that they continuously start a new house in different parts of New Orleans,” Luis said. He signed on to work on other houses, and eventually he met some of the core volunteers.
“Andy and Temple were my bigger motivation as these people have volunteered their time for years,” Luis said. “Every weekend they were there like this was a regular job. That really shocked me as I used to spend my Saturdays watching movies in my comfortable home. Something that they can do, too, but they decided to give something instead. These are people who work 40 to 60 hours a week and then they work an additional 8 hours on their only day off!”
The core volunteers explained the program to Luis and encouraged him to join. He signed on and soon he was out almost every Saturday, working with the others–and learning from them.
“The core volunteers are very familiar with the local community,” Luis said, “and it gives me the opportunity that I was looking for to help someone while at the same time I practice and develop my construction skills, learn about the community and about places that otherwise, I would not discover.”
Jake Korn and his wife were stationed in New Orleans several times during his 36 years with the Coast Guard. After he retired, they decided to move here, having fallen in love with the city’s people and culture. After a couple of volunteer days, he met Avery Strada, Director of Volunteer Services, on site and learned about the core volunteer program. He immediately signed up.
“There are a great group of core volunteers, most of whom have full time jobs and dedicate their entire Saturdays to Habitat,” Jake said. “They are inspiring in that most are in their 50s or 60s, come regularly and work hard and have fun doing it. We can immediately see the results of a day’s work, and it is satisfying to provide families with affordable housing.”
The core volunteers now also work with all of the site supervisors, more volunteer groups, AmeriCorps, and partner families, forming bonds with them as they come to site month after month and year after year. Often from the very start, the connections they make are what bring them back.
“The first day Ben [Brenner, former site supervisor] paired me up with two young women who had never done construction before,” Harvey said. “He then proceeded to teach us how to hang doors–a fairly high skilled job. He taught in small mini lessons, teaching only what we needed to know to do the next hour’s work. By the end of the day we were hanging doors like pros and I was hooked… I volunteered with Rebuilding Together in Charleston, WV, before moving here. I wore their t-shirt on a Habitat job site one day, and Andrew [Lawson] and Pete [Meinen] gave me considerable ribbing about fraternizing with the archrival. I finished the shift with the t-shirt inside-out.”
“I’ve only been doing this for about two months, and I worked 10 days so far,” Jake said. “I have worked with groups of Canadians, sororities, personnel professionals, AmeriCorps participants and Marines, as well as a couple who traveled from New Hampshire to work an entire week on their vacation. It is energizing to see people come together and work hard for a good cause. I learn something everyday about construction, teamwork and leadership.”
Their experiences with partner families provides them with inspiration to keep working as well, and their frequent volunteering allows them not just to see the results of a day’s work, but the ongoing progress of families’ homes.
“The pride and gratitude they show is a reward in itself,” Harvey said. “Becoming a homeowner is a life changing experience–the skills you learn through building and maintaining, the responsibility of ownership, and having a permanent place to call your own all change your behavior and attitudes.”
“The first experience that I had with a partner family was on my third or fourth time working on the site,” Luis said. “She was protecting the floor with her life. It was a rainy day, and we were in the final stages of the house. I was working outside as well as in the inside of the house while they were placing the floor. I thought it was funny because she was asking people to remove their shoes before going inside. I removed my shoes, and I can still see her happy face. You could feel that she was anxious to finish her home and move in. A couple weeks later, I drove by that house when I was going to another site and saw her house completed. She turned it into a wonderful paradise right away.”
He also found inspiration and pride in meeting volunteers and partner families that shared common ground with him.
“I also had a chance to see Hispanic people working in the house,” Luis said. “As a Hispanic myself, I was proud that there were other Hispanics who volunteer their time to work in these houses. Later, I found out that one of the Hispanics in the group was the owner of the house. He looked very happy, and I felt great knowing that we work for everybody independently of their race or ethnic group. Everybody has the opportunity and that is good to know.”
To sign up to be a core volunteer or for any questions, email Avery Strada.