Giving back as a way of life

After volunteering with a Habitat affiliate through her campus service group for an alternative spring break trip, Abigail Nelson knew she was meant to be of service to others.

“The experience changed my life. It was the first time that I went alone to someplace new. I was inspired to do more.”

On one of her alternative spring break trips, Abigail met AmeriCorps VISTA members, or Volunteers in Service to America, who were serving at the affiliate and learned about the program. She had considered joining the Peace Corps in the past, but the international travel would have made it difficult for her to stay in touch with her family.

She says AmeriCorps was the perfect solution.

“I was in a place where I didn’t really know what to do with my life next,” she says. “VISTA gave me this opportunity to give back while also learning invaluable skills along the way.”

The Domestic Peace Corps

Often referred to as the “domestic Peace Corps,” AmeriCorps was established in the early 90’s to address a number of needs in communities across the country. The VISTA program specifically seeks to strengthen organizations that address poverty in America.

Abigail enjoyed her first year as a VISTA with the South Palm Beach Habitat affiliate so much that she opted to commit a second year of service with Habitat Collier. Through the Success Measures program, she is responsible for gathering and analyzing valuable feedback from Habitat homeowners to identify both strengths and areas where the organization has room for improvement.

A foundation for the future

Fellow Habitat Collier VISTA Nic Houser joined as a way to help build a foundation for a career in advocacy and human rights. She wanted the chance to see the issues that she had learned about in school first hand.

“While studying, I realized how easy it was to become disheartened by brick walls and legal jargon and to forget about the people affected by it all,” she says. “After college, I chose to take a year away from that world to do something more hands-on, where I could work with people who are directly impacted by the decisions made higher up.”

The best way that she could find to do that was through an AmeriCorps position at Habitat Collier. During her year of service, Nic has helped implement a volunteer tracking and management program and works regularly with volunteers and homeowners on the jobsite.

“It will be the memories made here and the people that I’ve met that will help me to keep things in perspective throughout my career.”

As both VISTAs finish out their year of service with Habitat Collier, they feel that the experience has equipped them with skills and knowledge that will help them in their careers.

“VISTA gave me the chance to develop skills in communication, writing and analysis that I didn’t have the chance to develop in previous jobs,” says Abigail. “Now I feel more prepared and confident to enter the job world.”

“The leadership and public speaking skills I’ve developed through my VISTA year will be invaluable as I move forward in my career,” says Nic.

The president’s federal budget proposal would eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers AmeriCorps and several other programs that work at the community level. While current AmeriCorps members cannot advocate for policy change, AmeriCorps alumni and full-time employees that keep the program running have been appealing to Congress to make changes to the budget and keep the funding for AmeriCorps. If you want to see programs like AmeriCorps continue, contact your senators and representatives to let them know how important these programs are.