AmeriCorps Perspective: MLK Week of Service Trip

Written by our AmeriCorps Members: Steven Abrams and Jacob Ames

This January, Rebuilding Together held its annual MLK Week of Service in Lafayette, Louisiana, a town hard hit by last August’s massive floods. CapacityCorps members from Rebuilding Together affiliates nationwide converged on Cajun Country, and in conjunction with AmeriCorps members serving locally, performed a wide-range of renovations on a half dozen homes and a local Boys & Girls Club. Jacob was most proud of a ramp he and his team built that provided a homeowner easy access to his shed, while Steven took satisfaction in the role he played in constructing a drainage trench.

After several days of hard work, Steven and Jacob were afforded the opportunity to visit New Orleans for some much welcome R & R. Joined by a dozen other CapacityCorps members, the MLK Week of Service came to a celebratory close in the Crescent City. All told, the project was a major success, with Rebuilding Together CapacityCorps members providing material, as well as emotional uplift, to the aching but undeterred communities of Acadiana.

Rebuilding Together AmeriCorps Members Repair Flood-Damaged Homes in Louisiana for MLK Day

Last week, our AmeriCorps members Steve and Jacob, joined AmeriCorps members from Rebuilding Together affiliates nationwide in Lafayette, Louisiana, to rebuild six homes affected by the recent flood with Rebuilding Together Acadiana. One of these homes belongs to a retired nurse who lost her husband, a World War II veteran. During the flood, her home was inundated with a foot of water, displacing them for a week. Many homeowners in the area did not have flood insurance.

“Many older homeowners affected by the recent floods are unable to perform repairs on their own,” said Jodee Ware, Executive Director of Rebuilding Together Acadiana. “The support of AmeriCorps members coming from across the country to repair these homes, will allow these older adults to remain safely remain in their neighborhood and get their lives back on track.”

The U. S. Congress designated the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. as a holiday in 1983, it later became a national day of service led by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) under which the AmeriCorps program resides. Bill Basl, Director of AmeriCorps, acknowledged, “This day is an effort to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and this project epitomizes his servant leader spirit. The AmeriCorps members with Rebuilding Together understand the value of service and are leading the way to transform communities.”

“Long after other organizations have left, Rebuilding Together continues its support of victims of natural disasters by helping them rebuild their homes,” said Caroline Blakely, President and CEO of Rebuilding Together. “We are grateful for our AmeriCorps members who are joining hands in Louisiana and in the spirit of MLK Day are supporting homeowners who are still recovering from the devastating floods in the southeastern part of the state.”

Rebuilding Together has been a recipient of the AmeriCorps program since 2008. This year Rebuilding Together has received a $781,697 AmeriCorps grant from CNCS to support 87 AmeriCorps members who are providing critical support to our mission of transforming the lives of low-income homeowners by improving the safety and health of their homes and revitalizing our communities. This grant is supporting AmeriCorps members in 28 cities and 19 states across the country.

Reflections from AmeriCorps Member on MLK Week of Service

Every year, the CapacityCorps members from Rebuilding Together affiliates across the U.S. come together to serve in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. This year, Krista and I traveled to Lafayette, LA to help Rebuilding Together Acadiana make repairs on six homes in one of their target neighborhoods. The experience was an opportunity to bond with other AmeriCorps members and to learn about the importance of service within our communities.

On MLK day, January 18, 2016, I worked with 8 other Capacity Corps members, and 9 local AmeriCorps members from the University of Louisiana – Lafayette on a young woman’s home in the Monroe neighborhood. Together, we tore down rotten siding, scraped chipped paint, and began installing new flooring in the living room. Over the next three days, we replaced the siding, washed the house, painted the new siding and trim, installed flooring in two rooms, replaced the sink cabinet, added a new countertop, and painted the existing cabinets. Similar projects were completed on five neighboring homes. The week was an excellent experience and a welcomed break from the bitter Minnesota winter. For myself, I enjoyed spending time with my CapacityCorps peers and learning about their experiences with their affiliates, all while being able to serve the Acadiana community.

In addition to the physical work, we were visited by a number of different elected officials and community leaders to talk with about the importance of AmeriCorps and community service. During the day, Lieutenant Governor William Nungesser walked around the neighborhood and conversed with both CapacityCorps and Louisiana AmeriCorps members, thanking us for our service. Accompanying the Lt. Governor, Bill Basl, the Director of AmeriCorps, welcomed everyone to Louisiana and gave his appreciation for our hard work. It was very rewarding to receive this kind of recognition, and to see that we are supported for the work that we do. It put things in perspective for me as I am thankful for the pioneers of the CapacityCorps program and the opportunities they have provided to people across the country.

MLK Week 2016 was a great success. The CapacityCorps group is an exciting and diverse collection of people from all different kinds of backgrounds and stages in life. Not only was it a positive experience to work alongside them, but also to converse with on and off the worksite at meals and in hotel rooms. The week was a reflection of the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., as we engaged in great conversations and learned from each other’s experiences, all while coming together to work for the better of our community.

Author Ethan Boote is 2015-2016 CapacityCorps AmeriCorps Member serving with Rebuilding Together Twin Cities.