Service is the term members of AmeriCorps at Habitat for Humanity use to describe their year on-site at new home builds or A Brush with Kindness (ABWK) projects.
Four of the 20 AmeriCorps members at Habitat for Humanity serve Twin Cities families who find it difficult to maintain their home with the A Brush with Kindness program. Out of the kindness of their hearts, volunteers, Habitat staff and the AmeriCorps members make home repairs to houses in need of attention due to years of deterioration and unsafe living conditions. In return they ask for homeowners to work alongside the crew.
The combination results in families staying together or preventing homelessness. Kelly McDermott, now Family Resource Assistant for A Brush with Kindness (ABWK), served the past two years as an AmeriCorps member with ABWK. When asked why she wanted to stay with the program, she credited building relationships with families as what motivated her to continue.
"ABWK helps stabilize a family’s home and prevents them from becoming homeless or losing their children. It also affects the neighborhoods. Neighbors would come thank crews for the work or join in and help.”
A Brush with Kindness homeowners are unique, because due to aging, disability or financial hardship many are physically or financially unable to maintain their home.
Helping nearly 140 homeowners annually, ABWK relies on AmeriCorps members to plan for projects, supply materials, instruct volunteers and communicate with families on site. Each AmeriCorps brings a different skill and talent to the projects says McDermott.
Pat Lund, ABWK manager believes “The AmeriCorps members are an invaluable resource that help ABWK build capacity to serve more struggling homeowners. While the members learn construction and relational skills they multiply their new knowledge by helping volunteers and homeowners come together to restore and stabilize homes.”
Members who can speak another language, use math skills in building or have a knack for detail and instructing volunteers all have a part in the process. The partnership allows AmeriCorps members to use what they learned in school and apply it in a non-traditional way.
The reason ABWK and AmeriCorps blend together so well to help families is because they are both focused on serving others. While ABWK helps homeowners by educating them about home repairs and maintenance, the mission of AmeriCorps members is to address critical community needs in education, public safety, health and the environment.
ABWK homeowners are often transformed by the compassion they see in ABWK volunteers and staff. McDermott recalls one homeowner who was very nervous about receiving help from the crew and had to overcome social anxiety. By the end of the project he was able to share jokes with the volunteers and could not contain the pride he felt for his repaired home.
ABWK has the ability to transform the lives of homeowners just by creating a safer home. Service takes on a whole new meaning once it has the power to transforms the lives of Habitat families.