Where are They Now? Amanda Capasso

By Debra Thomas

10-21-11Amanda_CapassoAmeriCorps and VISTA programs are an integral part of our affiliate. We have had a number of people contribute to our organization over the years and were wondering where they ended up. Here is the first of many updates, we hope to provide in the coming months.

Amanda Capasso left Philadelphia, PA in the fall of 2007 to spend a year with the HFHMGC affiliate as the AmeriCorps*VISTA Special Events/ Faith Relations Coordinator. Three years later she is back in Philadelphia, having spent the intervening years at other Habitat affiliates. Amanda is currently the Family Services & Volunteer Coordinator at Camden County Habitat for Humanity in Camden, NJ while pursuing her degree in photography at the Community College of Philadelphia. We wanted to know more (and guessed you did too) so we asked Amanda the following questions. Boy, are we glad we did!

What do you remember as the best thing about work?
Working at HFHMGC gave me a bit of Habitat-itis. I remember just immersing myself in all things Habitat. It was a bit of struggle at first, I didn’t have a car when I was there, so I had to rely on strangers—my new coworkers—for help getting from Yankie Stadium, where I lived, to the old office on Popps Ferry.

My supervisor at the time was very, very detailed oriented, and it challenged me to make sure I had all of the angles covered for the projects I was working on, to look at it from all sides.

That was the year the affiliate hosted the 25th JRCWP(Jimmy & Rossalyn Carter Project), and I remember the long planning meetings, and then the week went by in a blink. We were up before the sun, and didn’t see bed until well after it was down again. There were so many volunteers on the coast that week, between people who just wanted to help out and AmeriCorps who were there as there Build A Thon experience. It was a challenging, exhilarating week and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Oddly, one of my favorite things about HFHMGC was meal times at Yankie stadium. Yankie stadium was converted into a volunteer camp, and the Salvation Army graciously fed all of the AmeriCorps and Volunteers that came through. I enjoyed it because I was able to meet volunteers and hang out with the construction AmeriCorps. I loved listening to them talk about the day on the construction site and the building they were doing. I still can’t build a house, but it made me familiar with the things going on. Often, they would take the time to explain to me the finer points.

How about the Gulf Coast?
I remember the beach, people thanking me for coming down whenever they saw my Habitat t-shirt and the other world experience it was for me. I hadn’t lived anywhere but Philadelphia before Biloxi, and it was very different to be in a place where I had no family and no friends, a place where gentleman would go out of their way to hold the door open for you at the gas station.

The very best part for me was the friends I wound up making. We had a rather large AmeriCorps Direct team, and I miss them all. We were a pretty close team, most of the group lived together, or next door to each other, and we had fun exploring the area. I still talk to a few people on a regular basis, and I’ve met up with a couple since then, but we all live on different coasts, so getting together is a bit hard.

Also, I’m an amateur photographer, and at that point in life, I didn’t really take any photos for myself, I wasn’t happy with anything I as taking. Moving to Mississippi changed that for me, as I had a new world to explore. It also helped that my AmeriCorps friends encouraged me to take photos.

In what way did the experience change you?
Honestly, joining AmeriCorps and working at HFHMGC helped me grow up. I tell people I joined AmeriCorps for selfish reasons. I was 26, no college degree, working a retail job and had no real direction in life. I was extremely unhappy and need a change. When a friend suggested AmeriCorps, I had no idea what it was, or what Habitat for Humanity did.

My experience at HFHMGC made me realize that despite my lack of college education, I had the knowledge and skills to do more than work in an unfulfilling retail job. After my year there, I actually tried working at my old mall job, and I wound up signing up for another AmeriCorps position 8 months later.

Is there a particular story or an event that comes to mind?
I was rarely on the construction site. When I was out there, I was there as an observer, just taking photographs or helping with hospitality for large groups. I loved seeing everyone who was willing to come out and build homes that they’ll never live in, during all kinds of weather.

In January of 2008, we had a bunch of people come down from Schneider Electric; all the staff had to be at the site before seven, I think, and we all crowded around heaters. When the volunteers arrived, they were assigned to one of six or seven houses in the cul-de-sac that were all in various stages of completion. I think one of the houses was just a slab, and the house was planned out, but there were no actual walls up yet. By the end of the day, it had all the walls up and was ready for the roof. It was just amazing to see how fast the group could work.

Would you recommend serving with AC/Vista?
I would absolute recommend serving as an AmeriCorps, in any of the programs: National, VISTA, NCCC—they all allow you to discover things about yourself. I wound up serving two more AmeriCorps terms at different affiliates!

What about HFHMGC?
I’m now working at my fourth affiliate, my first as an actual staff person and not an AmeriCorps. HFHMGC is my go to example of how things can get done. When roadblocks came up in my other affiliates, I drew on my experiences with HFHMGC to figure out how we could get past them.

After I left HFHMGC, I signed up for a second AmeriCorps term, this time at the Lafayette Habitat for Humanity in Louisiana, as the AmeriCorps National Direct Family Services Coordinator. During Build A Thon that year, I found out there was another AmeriCorps position available close to home, and I thought, “Why not?” and signed up for a third term, as the AmeriCorps*VISTA Family Services Coordinator at the Burlington County NJ Habitat for Humanity. Taking the last AmeriCorps position turned out to be a very smart move. In June of 2011, my supervisor met the new Executive Director at Camden County Habitat for Humanity during an affiliate conference, and found out he was hiring a new Family Services person as the previous one was moving out of state. My supervisor gave me a glowing review, and I was pretty much hired without even giving him my resume.

Did HFHMGC &/or AC Vista help prepare you for your new job?
Most definitely; HFHMGC and AmeriCorps allowed me to have many experiences in the Habitat world that are very helpful as a staff here. I am the only one that has experienced other affiliates and has had the benefit of meeting and working with other AmeriCorps from different areas of the country. Being an AmeriCorps allowed me the time to research policies and best practiced from other affiliates, so I can help coworkers with all the knowledge I’ve gained.

Do you see yourself volunteering in the future? In any particular field?
If I can find time again, I would like to volunteer. I may start volunteering at my church’s nursery.

Thanks Amanda for your service with us, and your continued support of Habitat’s mission! Keep taking those amazing photos!

PS: The Yankie Stadium has recently been torn down and replaced by The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It is a pretty awesome community center: http://krocmscoast.org/ or on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kroccentermscoast