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My Life As An Americorps – Joe

My Life As An Americorps – Joe

The above photo was taken on December 4th, 2014.  It is a picture of a housing community during construction that Habitat for Humanity, Riverside is currently building for eight, low-income families in the city of Moreno Valley, California.  It is the first construction site that I get to work on (and will continue to work on through February) as an AmeriCorps National, Construction Crew Leader.  My service position focuses on the construction management process, specifically performing construction duties with volunteer work crews under the supervision of construction managers.  While I also assist with Critical Home Repair and A Brush With Kindness projects, New, Home Builds occupy the majority of my time.  So far, this position has been challenging, engaging, and labor-intensive (of which I have thoroughly enjoyed), and has provided me insight into different construction processes and schedules, the construction management process, managerial experience leading volunteer work crews, and the experience of community building first hand and hands-on.

Hello, my name is Joseph Gonzalez and I am an AmeriCorps National at Riverside’s Habitat for Humanity affiliate— since August 2014.  The past few months have helped orientate me to the goals and mission of Habitat for Humanity and the impact they have in my local community, nationally, and also throughout the world.  I gained a greater appreciation of this while attending Habitat for Humanity’s National Conference this last October in Alabama, where I met other Americorps members from across the United States and got to hear and see what Habitat is doing all over the world.  My biggest takeaway from the conference was that while it is difficult to represent the value that we at Habitat are putting into communities, to the people and families that we do affect, whether it’s providing them an opportunity to be homeowners or a critical home repair, to them, it could make all the difference in the world and to cherish that.

My involvement in the construction process is dependant on the phase of construction.  There are three identifiable phases of work volunteer work crews do on new construction sites with Habitat for Humanity, Riverside, and they are: Site Preparation (Pre-Wall Raising), the Wall Raising event, and lastly, Site Maintanence and other construction work (Post-Wall Raising).  The wall-raising event is central to the construction of Habitat’s projects because it is when we get to bring the partner families together with the entire staff, the project donors, city officials, and Habitat’s Board, to work on-site together.

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Site Preparation (Pre-Wall Raising):  Site preparation for the volunteer construction crews begins after the foundation is set.  At this point, holes are dug outside the foundations in order to remove the foundation framing, and also the rest of the site is uneven from heavy construction equipment being moved around.  In order to prepare the site to be visitable for the wall raising, it needs to be properly leveled so that no one will trip.  It takes many volunteers several days to level the site and clear it of debris.  Volunteers also help ensure the site meets all code enforcement requirements during construction, and so we are regularly cleaning and assisting project managers however possible.

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Wall Raising:  The Wall Raising event is central to the organizing schedule of Habitat’s construction process because it is the most intensively volunteer-orientated event during the entire new-build process.  The volunteers are broken up into groups, with each group assigned to a house lot and teamed with professional framers to guide them.  Each group is also paired with the future homeowners of each house, which  for the homeowner, helps foster a connection to their future home and community, and for the volunteers, to rally their support and enthusiasm.  The framers start by laying out all the studs correctly for the volunteers to nail together.  After the volunteers nail an entire wall segment together, we raise up the stud-framed wall while the framers secure it into place.  I have attended two wall raisings so far with Habitat for Humanity, Riverside, and they are very long, fun, and intensive work days.  I love seeing family members working on their own houses; they are often the most zealous workers on each house site.  While the wall raising is only one day, it requires weeks of preparation.  After the event, we move onto the next phase.

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Site Maintenance (Post-Wall Raising):  After the Wall Raising, Habitat for Humanity, Riverside construction crews do a lot of different work, but there is also a lot of work that we cannot do.  For instance, we do not do any trade work, which includes, plumbing, electrical, hvac, or roofing etc.  What we can do though is a lot of interesting, necessary work.  One of the first things we do is paint the faschia boards, column posts, and exposed joists along the front of the house once we are able.  We help unload and place windows, doors, and showers.  Once they start on the building envelope, we can help insulate, mix cement and fill in gaps in the foundation where pipes come in, foam seal any exterior openings, tape-seal door thresholds, and seran wrap tubs to keep them clean.  Site maintenance includes clearing the construction debris from inside and around houses, regularly, sweeping the sidewalk and gutters adjacent to the project site following code enforcement guidelines, taking all the trash to the large trash bin (and we also organize the trash to fill it most economically).  We also recycle cardboard from the site and reinvest that money into the project.

All of the volunteer work is mostly done by the families which are going to be the future homeowners in the community.  I feel that the experience of regularly meeting and working together helps build the foundation for a long-lasting, neighborhood bond, and once they move into their brand new homes, they will already be friends and the neighborhood will already be a close-knit community!

My experiences with Habitat for Humanity, Riverside, as I said, has been multivarious, challenging, and fun.  I have always wanted to work in a profession which addresses housing and social and economic inequalities, so I am happy that I feel like I am making a difference to the Riverside County community.  I am excited to see what’s coming up next after these 8 homes are completed in February.  Stay tuned for my follow-up post next summer. Thanks for reading

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