03/25/10 — AmeriCorps volunteers help erect Habitat house

View Archive

AmeriCorps volunteers help erect Habitat house

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on March 25, 2010 1:46 PM

Full Size


AmeriCorps team leader Johanna Miller holds a board while fellow AmeriCorps volunteer Pamela Stetter cuts it to use as a door frame for the Habitat for Humanity house being built on National Drive.

Goldsboro is a long way from home for 18-year-old New York native Billy Murphy, but just three days after arriving in North Carolina, the AmeriCorps volunteer was already busy cutting building materials for a new Habitat for Humanity house on National Drive.

The Habitat project is a far cry from the Mississippi-based AmeriCorps team's last assignment of preparing taxes for the Internal Revenue Service. And the dozen volunteers will face cramped quarters in the three-bedroom, one-bathroom house on Slocumb Street where they will live for the next two months.

They are not paid for their hard work, other than a stipend that covers basic living expenses, but to the young high school graduate and his teammates, it's not about the money.

"I wasn't ready to go off to college yet, and this is a team-based program, so I live with 12 other members on a team for 10 months, and I just thought this was the best way for me to mature. All of these people, it ranges from 18 to 24 years old, so living with these older people, they really taught me a lot," Murphy said.

The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps program, a civilian service organization, is not for the faint of heart. Volunteers 18-24 years old are assigned to teams at one of five bases across the country. During their year-long tour with AmeriCorps, the young men and women move away from home and live in dormitory-style settings while they complete four community service projects.

Murphy and the other members of the AmeriCorps team came to North Carolina to help the Goldsboro/Wayne County Habitat for Humanity program complete three houses for deserving families in a very short time frame. Murphy and his teammates had hoped for the chance to work on a Habitat project, and were thrilled when the call came.

"Building houses for these people, they work with you. We've done taxes for people this year, I've learned to do taxes, we've worked with children, I mean, a lot of different things. It just shows how much people appreciate the volunteering," he said.

Most people tend to think of Raleigh when they think of North Carolina, but working in a smaller town has its benefits, too, especially when working to build houses for people, Murphy said.

"You really gotta go to the small places, and this place could use the help. These people are working really hard to get that together for them, so we're just here to help out with that," he said.

The AmeriCorps volunteers are often young men and women like Murphy who are taking a year off before going to college, and the NCCC program even offers an education award to help pay for a college education at the end of the year. But team leader Johanna Miller, a former teacher from New Jersey, took a different path to become part of the organization.

"For three and a half years, I taught ninth-grade English in New Jersey, and I liked it, but it wasn't the right place for me. So I heard about this program. You get to travel, you get to work with a team, you get to have all different types of experiences. So I was like, this is for me," she said.

At 27, she had aged out of the program, but the AmeriCorps accepts older volunteers for the team leader positions, Ms. Miller said.

There are many different types of AmeriCorps programs, but the NCCC is the only residential style volunteer program. Signing up for the AmeriCorps NCCC means giving up the money the volunteers might have earned working at a job for that time period, or foregoing the credits they could have earned in college. It also means giving up some of the freedoms that teens and young adults often experience during their first time away from home.

And sometimes, it means sharing a single bathroom with 10 other people.

But even though Ms. Miller's team is facing cramped quarters in their temporary housing in Goldsboro, there is a positive side to it too.

"Every community that we go into, people are so appreciative. And none of us do it for the money," she said.

By design, most of the visiting team members are not from the southern part of the country. It's part of the Americorps NCCC program's attempt to help the volunteers experience new things, Ms. Miller said.

Many AmeriCorps volunteers had never touched a power tool or worked to build a house before signing up, but that is another thing being part of the program has helped to teach them.

The AmeriCorps team will be in Goldsboro for about two months while they help finish building the Habitat houses, helping to change three Wayne County families' lives for the better.