Tyrian Robertson, Bonner Scholar and NOAHH Volunteer, Discovers the Circle of Giving

For Tyrian Robertson, life has come full circle.

The college sophomore is completing her first summer of service for her Bonner Scholarship program at Earlham College. In the program, students have to complete community service hours during the school year and during the summer. This summer, she chose to work her 280 hours of service with NOAHH both on the work site and in the ReStore t be able to contribute to the rebuilding process and spend time with her family.

Born and raised in New Orleans, she and her family left the city in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, eventually relocating to Dallas. In 2007, her mother had discovered the Dallas affiliate of Habitat for Humanity and entered their program. Being too young to volunteer herself, she was not fully aware of the work her parents and grandmother were doing to earn the home.

“All I remember is, she told us we were going to pick out a lot. She had gone through the process and got approved as a family,” Tyrian said. The home, sponsored by Mary Kay, was completed in July of 2007.

Tyrian, meanwhile, was beginning to notice the cyclical patterns in her life. In 2006, she got involved with Dallas Metro Family Fellowship and Metro Kids, their children’s sidewalk Sunday school program, where she volunteered. Only after becoming close with the church group through years of volunteering did she learn they had helped her family upon their arrival in Dallas, and thus, realize that she had completed one small circle of giving by dedicating her time with them.

Her interest in community service began before she even knew that the concept had a name. She spent most of her time working with her church, teaching at the children’s programs and working at their annual summer camp. When she graduated high school at Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, she had over 500 hours of community service—400 more than required! She now attends Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, where she is earning her degree in Peace and Global Studies and in Business and Nonprofit Management.

“It was never a question of why I’m doing it. It was just something I liked to do,” she said, explaining what attracted her to community service. “The number of hours had zero relevance. It was all about the quality of the work.”

Her love for New Orleans, her wish to be closer to her extended family, and her interest in working with Habitat then guided her here for her first summer of service in the Bonner Scholarship program at Earlham, completing another circle in her life.

“Everything in my life all ties back to here, where I realized who I am,” she said, explaining her love for her city and her family. “It ties back to the city, the family vibe. Anything that made me who I am ties back to the city as a whole, the community, the culture. It’s my culture. No matter where I am, I still am always tied to it. Whether it’s emotionally, physically, any type of way, mentally and all.”

Her first five weeks with NOAHH were spent building homes in Hollygrove and New Orleans East. When she arrived, she didn’t even know how to properly swing a hammer. In her last week building homes, she was leading volunteers in putting up siding, one of her favorite parts of the building process due to the intricate, detailed work involved. It took some time to acclimate to the heat, but in the end, she left the work sites with a new respect for construction workers and the Habitat program.

“Now I have not only a greater appreciation for Habitat itself, but its connection to me and my family. Volunteers put in hours for my house as well, and it was a good experience to see what it takes in the process of building a home,” she said.

She cites her parents as her inspiration, and without their support, she could not have managed as much as she did. “Their constant support is what helped guide me, to maintain structure and focus. They stood by my side through everything, including being flexible with my various activities… and they continue to be my biggest support system while I’m in college and beginning this new journey.”

Now she has begun her last three weeks with NOAHH, working in the ReStore. She has gained insights into the Habitat program, and once more, she has identified the cycles of renewal and giving back that have been a constant thread in her life, noting that the Habitat program thrives on them, whether in the way the ReStore sells donated goods or in the way the homeownership program puts the funds paid for the homes back into building new homes. Through working with NOAHH, she has learned construction and maintenance skills, leadership skills in guiding volunteers, and people skills in helping in the ReStore, as well as learning about the donation process and on-site logistics. Specifically, she was inspired by the way the ReStore helps fund the homebuilding process.

“I like how the community’s involved in it even though they don’t know it. I didn’t know where it was going. It’s like the community is rebuilding the city with the guidance of Habitat,” she said. As she helps in the ReStore, she finds the time to ask those who come in about what they are working on, learning from NOAHH staff, other volunteers, and even customers.

When her work this summer is over, she will be returning to Earlham College before spending a semester abroad, and she says she intends to start her own nonprofit one day, focusing on long-term natural disaster recovery programs. Her time with NOAHH will hopefully continue the cycles of giving back that she has seen her whole life as she achieves that goal.

“I’m really happy with my decision to volunteer with Habitat for my summer of service, even during New Orleans’ summer heat,” she said. “My grandma and many of my family and friends think I’m crazy to work out in the heat. Everyone I talk to says, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ How do they know if they don’t try? I didn’t even know how to use a hammer when I started. It’s mind over matter.””