Habitat, AmeriCorps partnership a chance to learn, grow, and chart a course for change 

Before they became a project manager with Habitat for Humanity Portland Region, or the director of procurement for Habitat ReStores, before they became the director of Habitat’s homeownership programs, they were AmeriCorps volunteers.  

Ian Gallager, Malia Tam Sing and Erin Maxey were among the hundreds of thousands of people who enroll in AmeriCorps each year, dedicating a year or more of their life to addressing social challenges and improving their community. 

AmeriCorps is an independent federal agency that engages people in direct action at the local level. Habitat for Humanity has been a long-time partner with the program and is currently accepting AmeriCorps members to its teams in the Portland region. 

For Gallager, AmeriCorps was a transformative first step in pursuing his interest in affordable housing and community development and organizing.  

“Habitat gave me a great place to explore those interests while also trying my hand at construction, which was something I had always wanted to try but never really had the opportunity to focus on,” said Gallager, who first joined Habitat as an AmeriCorps crew leader in 2017 and today is a project manager on the construction team. “AmeriCorps provided the opportunity to be a part of a cohort of peers who were all passionate about serving in the community and volunteering, and it was fun to meet folks from really different backgrounds all pursuing the same goals.” 

Malia Tam Sing served two terms as an AmeriCorps volunteer with Mount Hood Habitat between 2006 and 2008. She worked with and helped lead volunteers onsite, along with administrative work with a focus on recruitment and retention – in her words, “the best of both worlds.”  

“Working alongside homeowners, volunteers and staff was inspiring and I had a feeling I found my niche,” said Tam Sing said, who is now the director of procurement for Habitat ReStores, which support Habitat’s work building and repairing affordable homes. She has been with Habitat for 15 years. 

AmeriCorps members dedicate a year in support of Habitat’s mission, from working on build sites alongside volunteers and homebuyers, to office support developing and implementing systems that create a positive impact on Habitat’s efficiency.  

“AmeriCorps increases Habitat’s opportunities to engage the local community,” said Bri Lopez, Habitat Portland’s volunteer program director. “With AmeriCorps members on build sites, we can lead and teach new volunteers more efficiently and safely.” 

AmeriCorps members can provide one-on-one or small-group training to empower volunteers to feel confident in construction, Lopez said. On the administrative side, AmeriCorps members develop efficiency through systems and processes to improve programs. 

“Overall, they bring joy, passion, and energy to the organization, and we are grateful to have them on our team,” Lopez said. 

In return, AmeriCorps members at Habitat learn about social issues that face the Portland community, develop personal and professional skills, experience nonprofit work, and gain hands-on project management experience, Lopez said. AmeriCorps can apply from all over the country, providing the chance to live in a new place for the year. The members receive a living allowance, housing stipend, deferment of school loans, health care, and an education award after service. 

Erin Maxey had volunteered with Habitat in high school and did a college internship with the Athens Area Habitat in Georgia before becoming an AmeriCorps. It was a good fit for her personal interests, along with her study focus on nonprofit management, finance, and budgeting.  

“I knew the nonprofit world was where I wanted to be,” Maxey said. “It wasn’t until Habitat that I understood exactly where in the nonprofit world I wanted to focus – but I’m grateful to my AmeriCorps year for helping me realize that.” 

Maxey said the AmeriCorps experience instilled in her the importance of community and connection – both personally and professionally. Today, Maxey is the director of Habitat Portland’s homeownership programs, which works with hundreds of homebuyers and homeowners throughout the region. 

“You very much saw on a day-to-day basis with Habitat that it takes a community to do this work,” Maxey said. “Everyone I met was so kind and thoughtful … They understood that while AmeriCorps members are filling a need at the organization, it’s not just about that: It’s about the Americorps member learning and growing, and within the AmeriCorps world as well. Other AmeriCorps members became my community and connection to Portland.” 

Community engagement is essential to Habitat’s overall mission, Lopez notes. Community participation builds homes, supports the ReStores, and creates advocacy for affordable homeownership. 

“Creating awareness of the need for affordable homeownership in the Portland region is a great first step toward systemic change,” Lopez said. 

To learn more about the various AmeriCorps options with Habitat Portland Region, please visit our website. Or contact Bri Lopez, (she/her) at volunteer@habitatportlandregion.org. 

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