Henry Gillespie-Hill Looks Back on His Year as An AmeriCorps

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When we talked with Henry Gillespie-Hill at the start of his time as an AmeriCorps with New Orleans Habitat, he extolled the virtues of being able to work outside. Now, at the end of his term, the New Orleans heat has tempered his enthusiasm only slightly.

“There have definitely been a couple days when I wish I would have never made that statement!” He said, “Yes, the New Orleans heat is intense, especially when you’re working outside all day. I hold a lot of respect for the people that do this for years and years, but I stand by my original statement. I would still much rather work in the blistering heat and suffocating humidity while I’m still able than move into a comfortable office.”

Other early impressions have not changed at all. When Henry arrived, he felt welcomed by the locals he met, noting the contrast between where he lived in New York and Washington, DC. The difference allowed him to connect with his neighbors and others in the community.

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“I remember my initial impression of the city was that it was a very accessible city in terms of size but also people,” he said. “That impression has stayed basically the same, but I now have the experiences to really back it up. People here are very welcoming and interested in getting to know the people living around them. It’s not often that residents of a city take the time to greet everyone who crosses their path.”

That sense of connection and welcoming extended to his experiences on the build site, working with future Habitat homeowners. Henry helped build several houses this year, learned to lead volunteers, and took part in many special builds, but what inspired him was meeting people close to his own age who were buying a home through the program.

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“Meeting homeowners has been a very inspiring experience,” he said. Amy and Joseph Washington bought the fourth house I built this year, and they are unique because of their age. I believe they are both either 22 or 23 years old with a newborn baby. The level of maturity they’ve reached at such a young age blows me away. I would definitely consider myself in the same age bracket as both of them, and I am nowhere near ready to make some of the commitments that they have already made. That really impresses me, and I’m happy I was able to meet them.

As Henry’s term is ending this month, he will be moving to Austin, TX, to attend St. Edwards University. He will be living near family and studying for his Bachelor’s degree, taking with him a number of new skills, both construction and otherwise.

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“Beyond construction skills, I’ve learned volunteer management skills, which turned out to be a much larger part of this job than I initially expected. I guess I’ve also learned more ‘life skills.’ I’ve learned more of those things that they don’t teach in school, that everyone needs to be a functioning human. I hope I’ve also learned more compassion and empathy.”

“I’ve loved my year of service!” he continued. “I’ve spent the past two years fulfilling many different roles as an AmeriCorps member, and Construction Crew Leader has been my favorite by far. It’s let me do a lot of things that I enjoy doing and feel like I do well. I’ve also been working with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met, and because of them, I’ve been happy and impactful in my role here. Getting to live and work with the people I’ve met down here has been incredible. My fellow AmeriCorps members are extremely hard working and caring individuals. In addition, they are all just really rad people. I’ve enjoyed every minute with them and I know I’ve gained lifelong friends.”