Alyson Harding on Building 10 Homes in 10 Days

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Most Habitat AmeriCorps came down for one week of the 2015 Habitat AmeriCorps Build-A-Thon last year, helping to build on the ten homes for half of the ten-day blitz, but Alyson Harding, at the time an AmeriCorps for East Cooper Habitat for Humanity, near Charleston, SC, made a commitment to work all ten days. Coming from a small affiliate, she had spent most of her year working on home repair projects and traveling to other affiliates for more construction experience, so in May, the opportunity to build for two weeks straight was one she couldn’t pass up.

“It was a blast,” Alyson said. “It was great to see all of the progress, to understand how different the first week was, and all the challenges of everyone coming from different areas and different backgrounds and different building practices, then coming together to build here in New Orleans.”

Reflecting on her experiences, she indicated that the mixing of construction styles and new experiences on different sites interested her most. Working in different areas like Denver or Charleston, she had never built to elevation before, nor worked with lap siding or Hardie board. These small differences meant that Build-A-Thon was a learning experience, but also a teaching one.

“[It was] interesting to learn on the go,” she said, “to be able to apply the techniques that I knew from other building practices, to be able to learn exactly how things were done here. I hadn’t really considered the amount of VISTA and office AmeriCorps we’d have, so I still enjoyed the teaching aspect a little bit, and being able to help people that do all the office stuff, the non-construction, [for them] to learn what it is we do out on site.”

She learned construction skills first as a Habitat volunteer, spending all four of her spring breaks building houses around the country, then in her first year as an AmeriCorps.

“I spent my first year of AmeriCorps in Denver, and I did Build-A-Thon in Des Moines, which was a very different experience because I was on a repair project. They had some people on repair projects and some on new construction, so I enjoyed last year that we were all in the same area [in 2015 in New Orleans]. We were all doing the same thing, basically on pace, so at the end of the day, everyone had similar things to talk about. Everyone had a similar experience that day. I enjoyed that.”

At the start of her second year as an AmeriCorps, this time in East Cooper, she learned that Build-A-Thon would be in New Orleans as part of the commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. After winning a copy of Chris Rose‘s 1 Dead in Attic at an AmeriCorps conference, she took to researching the city and the impact of the storm, and when she came to the city to build, she learned even more.

“I was young when Katrina happened,” she said. “I’m not sure I understood the magnitude of it, so as an adult, being able to read and then to come here and see what is left to do and what all has been done, and to be a part of the rebuilding effort, was incredible.”

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Spending two weeks building with other AmeriCorps, she also learned what impact they had had on the city.

“I had no idea that AmeriCorps had had on this region post-Katrina,” she said. “I learned it during Build-A-Thion, the impact AC have had in this region. I’ve always been with one affiliate, and just there for a year, so I didn’t think I realized how many AmeriCorps are out there and how much we can do when we all work together.”

She also enjoyed meeting with NOAHH’s staff and learning more about the New Orleans area. She had volunteered her first spring break in college for Habitat for Humanity West St. Tammany, but Build-A-Thon was her first time building in the city. She found the tight knit community of AmeriCorps here and the energy and planning that went into the event impressive, so after the blitz build, she applied to be a staff member at NOAHH. She’s now a site supervisor, building homes in the same neighborhood where Build-A-Thon took place last year.

“As far as AmeriCorps and staff, I love the teaching aspect,” she said “I knew when I joined AmeriCorps that I’d be serving homeowners, and I love that aspect of Habitat, of building these homes for deserving families. But I hadn’t considered how we’re also serving volunteers. We’re serving the general population in facilitating a volunteer experience for them, and that’s something that I found that is incredible, giving people an opportunity to serve. Everyone seems to appreciate that, and that’s an aspect of AmeriCorps and this job that I love.”