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AmeriCorps VISTA Member Experience: Jenna Holmes

AmeriCorps VISTA Member Experience: Jenna Holmes
I am nearing the end of my service year and preparing to hopefully leave Habitat Riverside with a foundation of tools to continue the NRI work we have all worked so hard to launch this year.

As an AmeriCorps member, one of the defining events that wraps up a service year is Build-a-thon. Build-a-thon is a weeklong service project that gathers AmeriCorps members serving with Habitat for Humanity affiliates all across the country. This year Build-a-thon was held during the week of May 19 at three locations. The Habitat Riverside members traveled to Des Moines, Iowa where we were joined by 150 other AmeriCorps members and the Greater Des Moines Habitat staff to begin construction on two new homes and to complete 20 neighborhood revitalization projects. These projects are where I was stationed to help out. Throughout the week I did everything from painting homes and staining decks to walking the neighborhood and completing Parcel Observation surveys and inviting neighbors to our closing ceremonies. However, one of my favorite things was being able to go to the Capital building in Des Moines and meet Governor Branstad while he signed the proclamation declaring the week officially “Habitat for Humanity AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon Week.” It is great to see elected officials recognizing how important national service is for a community.

Governor Branstad of Iowa declares the week "Habitat for Humanity AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon Week."

AmeriCorps members watch as Iowa Governor Branstad signs the proclamation.

Returning home to California reminded me how fortunate Jurupa Valley is to have their own elected officials who care deeply about the city they represent and how much gratitude they have for AmeriCorps service. My first day back coincided with the one year anniversary celebration of Healthy Jurupa Valley, the coalition that Habitat Riverside joined this year to further our efforts in our focus neighborhood. All of the AmeriCorps members and Habitat Riverside were recognized as being vital partners in this past year’s work to bring the residents to the center of their own community. Councilmembers Laura Roughton and Mike Goodland have provided dedicated hours of work in guiding this coalition and their passion for the community is evident in all the work they have done through Healthy Jurupa Valley. It truly takes an entire community to be able to make lasting changes. The work I have facilitated with Councilman Goodland has seen great success. We have a great action team, the Community Safety and Readiness Team, that is focused on very specific goals. Their largest undertaking to date has been through efforts with Reach Out to do assessments in all of the smoke shops in the City of Jurupa Valley. These assessments revealed that many were selling synthethic drugs and other paraphernalia. The coomunity members said this is not okay to be marketing to our children and have invited Reach Out’s experts to hold educational workshops on the subject and dangers of these synthetic drugs to our City Council and the school district. The City Council was very impressed with the information and is now in the process of bringing forth an ordinance that would in some way limit these drugs from getting into the hands of our children.

AmeriCorps Azhar receives an award with his co-chair of the Gardens and Markets Team

AmeriCorps Daniel accepts recognition for his work with the Arts and Recreation Team

AmeriCorps Jenna receives recognition for her work with the Community Safety and Readiness Team

Other than our big trip to Build-a-thon, the AmeriCorps Nationals and I were able to get out of the office and participate in the City of Riverside’s Walk to End Homelessness in April. Habitat Riverside had a large team for this event as well as a booth where we provided information on our services. Another highlight was being able to attend Ramona High School and speak to the AVID classes about our experiences applying to college and the paths we individually took in college. We were also able to give them some education on what Habitat does and our roles as AmeriCorps members with Habitat Riverside. Many of the students already knew all about Habitat Riverside because of the Campus Chapter that is so active at their school. We actually got the presentation time arranged when the Ramona Campus Chapter were out on an A Brush With Kindness day and connected with one of the AmeriCorps Nationals, Daniel.

Habitat Riverside took two days to work with our Organizational Development Consultant from Habitat International and an outside consultant to develop a strategic plan for our NRI work over the next three years. The goals we developed focused around our current NRI neighborhood leading as an example to facilitate the transition into our second focus neighborhood in Jurupa Valley, Sky Meadow. We also set some goals to make sure we keep an NRI mindset when developing and building our Veteran Neighborhood in Jurupa Valley, as well. However, part of working with the community is learning how to be flexible. Habitat Riverside has had to adjust our plans. The Sky Meadow area of Jurupa Valley in Rubidoux is one of our strongest neighborhoods with more than seven partner families living in the area. Four of the partner families happen to be included in a Home Owners’ Association (HOA). While it was always in our plan to have this area be another NRI focus neighborhood, our efforts were pushed forward sooner than we had thought by many of our partner families approaching us about difficulties they were facing with their HOA. The past three months I have been working with the families to provide them the necessary paperwork to prove that they do in fact have a voice within their HOA as homeowners. All of our families are busy, working parents and I admire their efforts to take the time necessary to change their neighborhoods for the better. We have been up against struggles with the management company, but the important thing is that our families are uniting and talking with their neighbors about the issues within their own community. It is becoming evident that they have power to make change happen. Even long time members of the board of the HOA are beginning to ask questions where before they would absent mindedly just follow direction. I believe this neighborhood is at a crucial point of speaking up and questioning if the HOA is actually acting in the best interest of all of the residents and not just working to collect money from the members.

As I mentioned, I am concluding my service soon and as part of that I am preparing manuals and trainings for the next AmeriCorps member as well as Habitat Riverside staff to be able to seamlessly continue the survey work with all of our families, our NRI focus neighborhoods now and in the future, as well as the parcel observations. I coordinated a contact at the US Census Bureau to direct our team in more guided research on the demographics of our small focus area. Hopefully these tools will be able to be adapted no matter the neighborhood we are working with. The Demeter Neighborhood, our first NRI focus neighborhood in Jurupa Valley, has a plan laid out for its evaluation and will provide guidance and background to anyone who comes into the NRI work with Habitat Riverside.

I am excited to say that my Life After AmeriCorps will take me to Washington DC in order to pursue a law degree from American University’s Washington College of Law. I will miss the work and all of the wonderful families I have met through Habitat Riverside, but this is my next step in my career. I will not soon forget the mission and goals of Habitat and believe that the NRI work is vital to our communities. I look forward to being able to continue my service to Habitat in whatever ways I can.