Building Houses, Building Hope, Building Philadelphia

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AmeriCorps build in Des Moines

AmeriCorps build in Des Moines

In 2008, a historic flooding of the Des Moines River destroyed nearly the entire Birdland neighborhood of Des Moines, IA. This disaster devastated the community, which is located just a few miles north of the center of Iowa’s capital city. Many families completely lost their homes, and others were driven away by the constant threat of another destructive flood. The Birdland area had become a collection of vacant lots, ongoing demolition projects, and uneasiness created by the dangerous waters of the river just a few hundred yards in the distance.

Now, nearly a decade later, there is a new, redesigned levee system protecting the neighborhood from the river. The area is beginning to regain its appeal as a safe place for Des Moines residents to live, and there are plans to redevelop this community. At the forefront of those plans is the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity, which intends to revitalize the Birdland neighborhood by building 33 affordable homes over the next two years.

Last month, nearly 120 AmeriCorps members from around the United States joined the Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity and volunteers from several different sponsoring organizations to help push the Birdland project forward. For one week, the AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon and the community of Des Moines came together to raise walls, assemble roofs, and fasten siding on nine Habitat homes in the Birdland neighborhood. The structures that stood along Watson Avenue at the end of the week represented six days of hard work and the commitment, compassion, and dedication of every individual that gave their time and effort to this event.

The Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia AmeriCorps team was excited to be a part of this week of building with the community of Des Moines. Though we are all aware of our role and the impact of our service in Philadelphia, the AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon was an important reminder that the issues we have encountered expand beyond the communities in which we have been serving. It was also an opportunity to gain exposure to different factors that create a need for affordable housing in other parts of the country. The experience of working in another community with AmeriCorps members from around the country and people of Des Moines allowed us to gain a broader perspective of the causes and consequences of unstable, unsafe living conditions.

Working alongside other AmeriCorps members and like-minded volunteers was invigorating. It was a chance to share the passion we had for helping others, learning, and working together. There were plenty of opportunities to exchange stories and useful information about the experience of working with Habitat for Humanity in different parts of the U.S. The Build-a-Thon brought together many different perspectives, personalities, and backgrounds. Yet, everyone shared the common motivation to build hope and stability for a community and its families through affordable housing. For that specific week, that motivation came to life in the Birdland community.  

Not long before the “Birdland Blitz” build, large trees, beds of weeds, and thick grass lined both sides of this street – unsightly reminders of the disastrous floods this community was forced to endure. After a week of AmeriCorps members and local volunteers working together with the Greater Des Moines Habitat crew and the future residents of these Watson Avenue homes, the bright future of the Birdland neighborhood stood in the once vacant lots, illustrated by shells of nine new, affordable Habitat houses.

Written by Frank Scicchitano, 2016-17 AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator