Women of Habitat: Lizzie Bradshaw

“My driving has changed. I would consider myself a New Orleans driver now. They don’t like me to drive anymore. There’s so many potholes, and my reflexes are so much faster now.”

Six months in New Orleans, six months as an AmeriCorps, six months of building homes and leading volunteers can change a person. In that time, Lizzie Bradshaw has experienced her first Mardi Gras, learned how to build a home, formed deep friendships with her fellow AmeriCorps, and become a leader on site. She came to New Orleans to serve a year with NOAHH without much previous experience in construction.

“I love Habitat’s way of learning,” she said. “You learn it, you do it, and you teach it. That’s an amazing tactic to use when it comes to construction, because a lot of it comes with experience. You can have a lot of construction experience and still not be able to teach somebody. With Habitat, you always have to teach somebody, to teach a volunteer. Through that you learn new things through other people’s perspectives, or just another way of fixing a problem, and next time that comes up, you have that right up your sleeve.”

Before she joined NOAHH as an AmeriCorps, Lizzie had been an AmeriCorps NCCC doing various kinds of work, including demolition for disaster recovery and even helping people with taxes, but she always wanted to live in New Orleans.

“I’ve never been anywhere like New Orleans,” she said. “There’s a different vibe here. It’s relaxed. Everyone’s kinda living life. There’s no real judgment. It’s easy to live here and to be around people. And the community is amazing. I’ve ever had a problem with anyone here. I always loved the music, too. It’s a quirky city. I was really drawn to that.”

In March, she got to experience her first Mardi Gras. In New Orleans, Mardi Gras celebrations run for most of the month leading up to the big day, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Parades, parties, and other festivities take place almost every day, and people come from all over the world to join the fun. At many parades, beads and other trinkets are thrown to those who have come to watch the parades. Lizzy enjoyed it with her fellow AmeriCorps and friends from out of town.

“During Mardi Gras, when there’s different parades, you can see the different ways people do parades in different sections of the city,” she said. “There’s walking parades with way more costumes, or just straight up floats. I had friends in town. To see an outsider view come in and see the city again was pretty interesting. They see things they’ve never seen before, which is how I was when I first got here. Mardi Gras is a crazy week–a crazy month, really! I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’ve got two bags of beads. I think I’m gonna decorate my house.”

Like many AmeriCorps members, she has gotten close with those she works with. NOAHH provides affordable housing to all AmeriCorps members, so most AmeriCorps members end up sharing a home. They rarely know each other before their term begins, but they almost always end up becoming good friends before the end of it.

“I knew it was gonna be a close knit family,” she said. “It feels like a family. We have little movie nights sometimes. We go and do things. We’re down to explore the city. I feel like there’s a certain personality when it comes to AmeriCorps. You have to be able to be flexible, to be down with whatever happens, making the most out of life. You have to make the focus serving people. It takes a certain type of selfless person. The experiences they’ve had in their previous life make them able to serve.”

In order to be a Habitat AmeriCorps, you need to be willing to learn, to lead, and to build. NOAHH trains all AmeriCorps members, no matter what level of experience they come in with, and the on-site experience gives them the skills they need to be home-builders and more.

“The best thing about volunteers is that they’re always willing and motivated,” she said. “With Habitat, it’s a new group every day, a new experience wrapped up into it. They’re ready to go, ready to build, ready to try something new. It’s a whole new outlook on being able to work with volunteers.”

In May, after nearly a full year with Habitat, she will be helping lead our annual Women Build, an all-woman, 12-day build.

“I’m ready for all of the craziness that’s going to be with an accelerated build,” she said. “I think it’s really inspiring, because construction is considered a men’s career. I hate that there’s a stereotype, but I’m excited to hear all the empowering women’s stories. I like that women can get together to empower each other to build a house by themselves.”

She’s found that the stereotype means her role as a leader on site surprises some people.

“I think it’s really fun to see the shock when people see how strong I am. It’s satisfying in a way. They think you can’t pick up a board by yourself or thinking you can’t take out a nail, but then you do it faster than a guy.”

The year has shaped her and given her new skills, new friendships, and new perspective, but her drive to serve is still the same.

“It’s not for me, it’s for others,” she said. “I like the idea of serving others and just being there. As a person who has a lot of privilege, I like using that in serving others instead of using it to do other things with my life.”