Twilight of AmeriCorps, or, How to Serve with a Hammer

AmeriCorps is about getting thing done and meeting critical needs in communities.  Volunteer Maryland’s AmeriCorps*State members, Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs), are paired with nonprofits and government agencies to create or improve volunteer programs for those agencies.  Their goal is to create a sustainable program for the agency that will continue after the member leaves.  This isn’t the only way that the VMCs get things done, though. 

Ten percent of the VMCs’ contract hours can be spent doing direct service in their communities.  A lot of the members spend their direct service hours with their own programs, but some don’t.  Last year, I spent a lot of my direct service hours building a playground.  This year, I’m spending a lot of my direct service hours volunteering with Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake

I worked with a lot of people from Habitat on the playground build, and with the governor and some of his staff for the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance.  At both of these events I met people who were dedicated to Habitat’s mission, and who were great teachers to the volunteers (including me) who didn’t quite know how to do what they were being asked to do. 

Most Wednesdays, you’ll be able to find me in Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood along with some of Habitat’s volunteers and AmeriCorps members.  I know that my work, combined with the work of many others, Is helping to make the neighborhood better, and it’s the first thing that I’ve done since I moved to Baltimore four years ago that makes me feel connected to this city.

I’m always excited to be at the build site because I know I’m going to learn something new.  I’ve framed a roof, framed walls, done demolition, and hung siding.  I’m learning about building codes and industry standards, and that driving a nail isn’t as easy as it looks. 

I get to hear a lot of stories, too.  The lunch break is usually story time.  A lot of the time the stories are about how people came to volunteer with Habitat.  Sometimes it’s stories from Habitat’s AmeriCorps members about why they joined AmeriCorps, or stories from their lives before AmeriCorps.  If we’re lucky, our construction crew leader tells us a story about one of the jobs he’s worked on – he has some great stories. 

Volunteering with Habitat hasn’t just been a great experience in my community; it’s helped to make me be better at my job.  What I used to get done in five days now has to be done in four days.  I’ve become more efficient at my job, and I’m even more excited about my job because it supports me taking a whole day off in the middle of the week to get things done. 

The opportunity to volunteer as part of my work week has meant a lot to me.  It’s something I hope I’ll be able to continue doing for as long as I’m working.  To the extent that I’ll be able to negotiate any future job’s salary and benefits, I’m going to ask for the ability to do direct service in my community.  I don’t think it’s something I’m ever going to get, especially if I get a job in the for-profit world, but just like recruiting a volunteer, you’re not going to get it if you don’t ask.  Even if I don’t get to continue doing direct service as part of my job, I’m still going to be volunteering with Habitat whenever I can.

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