Written by: Saffron, Habitat Student Ambassador. “AmeriCorps is a wonderful way to gain new skills while trying out a new career path in community service!” That’s how Sam, Habitat Greater San Francisco’s AmeriCorps Volunteer Outreach Coordinator, describes the AmeriCorps program.
AmeriCorps is a national service program that focuses on public service work with the goal of helping others and meeting critical needs in the community. Habitat Greater San Francisco relies on AmeriCorps members to meet our mission of building and sustaining affordable homes and affordable homeownership in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties. AmeriCorps members dedicate their time and energy to strengthening their communities and improving the lives of the people in these neighborhoods.
Sam is Habitat Greater San Francisco’s AmeriCorps Volunteer Outreach Coordinator! Growing up in the northern suburbs of Sacramento, he would visit San Francisco with friends and family to see museums like the MoMA and Exploratorium. Eight years ago, Sam finally moved to the City. In his free time, Sam enjoys reading and writing sci-fi. Some of his favorite authors include Philip K. Dick, Nnedi Okorafor, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Ursula K. Le Guin.
We did a short Q&A with Sam to learn more about his involvement with AmeriCorps and Habitat Greater San Francisco. Let’s talk to Sam!
What is AmeriCorps?
What isn’t AmeriCorps? Thematically, I’d describe it as the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps. Practically, it can be nearly anything you want it to be! For example, at Habitat Greater San Francisco, we currently have five AmeriCorps positions focused on data analysis, donor prospecting, interfaith relations, construction leadership, and volunteer coordination. A wide range of nonprofits, government agencies, and socially conscious for-profit companies all over the U.S. tap into the AmeriCorps program to help their organizations build capacity in some way.
This type of partnership is a great fit for recent high school or college graduates who are looking to serve their community while growing professionally—not least because of the Segal Education Award! But as with the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps is open to people of all ages and is also a wonderful way to gain new skills while trying out a new career path in community service.
How and when did you get involved in AmeriCorps?
After graduating from San Francisco State University (SFSU) last spring with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in International Relations, I was scouring job sites for opportunities with a focus on social and/or environmental justice. I graduated late in life after putting myself through school while working at a call center here in San Francisco—first at City College, then at SFSU—and I was beyond ready to jump into a career focused on social justice.
After a data entry gig last summer, I lucked out and found my current position on a social impact job board. I’m happy to report that since my service year began last September, Habitat Greater San Francisco has been nothing but welcoming and supportive of me and my fellow AmeriCorps.
Habitat for Humanity’s mission addresses a whole range of major social justice issues. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, housing prices continue to skyrocket and price out teachers, artists, students, retirees, food service workers, and on and on. “Market forces” (a euphemism for gentrification) keep pushing people of color to the margins, to areas where public services and communal facilities are not prioritized.
It might sound like a unifying message to say that homeownership should be affordable and that all neighborhoods should have access to safe, welcoming parks and gardens, but that’s actually a radical position to take. I’m grateful for the opportunity to stand on the right side of that divide and contribute in my own small way to an organization that was founded on taking a stand for housing justice and equitability.
Do you have any favorite memories with Habitat?
Within my first couple weeks at Habitat Greater San Francisco, I joined in with volunteers, helping landscape an elderly couple’s backyard at one of our Building Blocks days in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco. They didn’t have the financial or physical means to keep up regular maintenance. As a result, the yard was completely overgrown with weeds and thorny vines, the fence was falling apart, bricks were piled up every which way, backyard furniture was covered in cobwebs, etc. It looked like Mad Max. After a full day’s work, we had radically overhauled the yard into a really beautiful hangout spot where this couple could now enjoy that Bayview sunshine in peace. When they saw the transformation, their overjoyed reaction brought home for me the vital importance of what Habitat does.
What does giving back to your community mean to you?
Partly, it means being mindful of my impact on my chosen community, getting to know my neighbors, and including all San Franciscans under the category of “neighbor.” Partly, it means learning from long-time locals and educating myself about San Francisco’s history. As a straight white male who moved here from elsewhere, I should be conscious of my mere presence adding to the changing nature of this city. Mostly, it means understanding that “giving back” isn’t something you do for a few hours on a Saturday morning. It implies constant involvement and dialogue in order to help keep alive this community’s values of pluralism, diversity, and humanitarianism.
Do you have any plans or aspirations for your service?
My AmeriCorps predecessor hatched the idea of our affiliate’s Habitat Student Ambassador (HSA) program, and with the support of the Volunteer Services team and awesome student advocates, I’ve been lucky to help establish HSA into something real. I hope to pass on this new program to my AmeriCorps successor and see it flourish into something that helps support a new generation of advocates for housing justice!