Guest Blog by Andrew York
Construction Volunteer Facilitator & AmeriCorps Member
Have you ever made a big life decision that was totally out of the ordinary? For example, maybe you audition for a play with no prior acting experience, or take a road trip across the country having never left your home state. That’s what applying to be a Construction Volunteer Facilitator with AmeriCorps was for me.
I joined in perhaps the worst possible circumstances – early winter, in Minnesota, during a global pandemic – and aside from building a birdhouse, didn't have much prior construction experience. As someone with a background in retail and graphic design, it didn’t make much sense career-wise, but I wanted to try something new while serving my community, and three months later, I’m proud to say my decision was a good one.
For starters, I’ve been able to work with a myriad of amazing people. In retail, you work with a lot of people too, but as a Construction Volunteer Facilitator, you’re able to meet a new set of faces literally every day. And the work itself is much more rewarding. Instead of promoting a new sales item or sweeping up spilled tomato sauce, you’re building and restoring homes for families in your community. When you’re on site, all your personal anxieties fall by the wayside. You stop worrying about that unpaid library fine or what you’re going to have for dinner, and instead focus on the task at hand. “How should we cut this piece of drywall?” “Is this cabinet straight?” These are the only problems that matter – the ones we can solve right now, together.
These programs also allow us to do work outside of our usual expertise. It was scary at first, taking on a role I felt unqualified for, but after my first couple days on-site I quickly began to find my groove. I went in assuming I wouldn’t be good at anything, but managed to successfully paint entire bedrooms, cut drywall, install floors and cabinets, and texture ceilings all within my first month. Despite coming from a seemingly unrelated field of study, I was able to adapt, and even thrive, in my new environment. As I got to know the volunteers and my fellow AmeriCorps members, I discovered they too came from a variety of different backgrounds ranging from engineering to creative writing.
By changing our familiar, everyday routines, we learn something about ourselves and the world around us – we begin solving problems that we hadn’t previously considered. During the pandemic, for example, educators have been forced to re-think lesson plans and class structures. Those who have moved to remote positions have been able to reconnect with their family or take up new hobbies. If I hadn’t served with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, I would never have learned about the various barriers to homeownership in Minnesota, or the A Brush With Kindness program, which partners with Twin Cities residents to paint and repair their houses.
We’ve all dealt with unexpected changes recently – classes moving online, loved ones getting sick, new coronavirus variants cropping up – but what Habitat (and the pandemic) have reminded me of is that change is a necessary, and often rewarding, part of life. Even if you’ve never lifted a hammer or changed a lightbulb, I encourage you to serve with this, or any organization outside of your comfort zone. It’s a great opportunity to not only learn about yourself, but the neighbors and companies working around you. In such an isolated world, community is essential, and serving with AmeriCorps or volunteering are a couple of ways you can contribute to yours. Who knows? What may seem like a trivial couple of hours could be the beginning of a lifelong journey.