Americorps volunteers arrive in Montana as part of nationwide COVID response

Kat Freeman, Americorps
Americorps COVID-19 response
Americorps covid-19 response
Posted at 6:34 PM, Jan 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-01 19:40:12-05

HELENA — Approximately 230 young adults from across the nation are departing for their second round of service with AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). These teams have piled into vans and deployed across the country to “Get Things Done for America” during the pandemic.

In a press release, the NCCC says the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated communities across the nation and that the pandemic has contributed to rising food insecurity and increased homelessness due to a lack of affordable housing and the ability to make ends meet.

The need for volunteers at Food Banks, Habitat for Humanity sites, and other nonprofits is increasing, while the ability for volunteers to serve is going down, according to the NCCC.

AmeriCorps’ NCCC is bridging the gap by providing volunteers and people power. One of these teams is in Helena with the Helena Habitat for Humanity and Helena Food Share to help combat the affordable housing crisis and food security issues in the Helena area.

The team will assist with the construction of four new homes and help the Helena Food Share with a number of projects, including donation management, building food boxes, and supporting food programs.

Helena Habitat typically works with AmeriCorps members and they recognized the challenges with finding affordable housing. In an effort to support the AmeriCorps members on Helena Habitat’s staff, Helena Habitat announced in a press release they are offering a permanent housing opportunity for the organization and also an opportunity to further serve the community.

Americorps COVID-19 response

Helena Area Habitat for Humanity announced, currently, they have two 4-bedroom houses specifically to support AmeriCorps programs within the Helena community. One house is offered to AmeriCorps members, non-NCCC, only so that they have access to affordable housing during their service term.

Right now, Habitat for Humanity say there are AmeriCorps members living in this house from four different AmeriCorps programs, such as YWCA Helena, Department of Justice - Office of the Child and Family Ombudsman (OCFO), and Montana Tech.

The other house is dedicated to only NCCC crews so that they have housing during their term of service.

In the past, Helena Habitat say crews have been housed in churches and at the Helena Area Habitat for Humanity ReStore, but due to challenges with COVID-19 and finding housing, utilizing one house and having it be permanently available for NCCC crews is important and necessary so that they have their own space.

Both AmeriCorps houses were built through the homeownership program and when past homeowners sold them. Helena Habitat made the decision to keep them in-house to serve as affordable housing options to support AmeriCorps volunteers. The Wall Foundation grant supported the purchase of the NCCC House, which means an NCCC crew would be able to work with nonprofits in Helena throughout the year. There are multiple partners that Helena Habitat is working with so that NCCC teams have a variety of work to do and also, to make sure that that their service supports other organizations as well.

Americorps covid-19 response

Current partners include Helena Area Habitat for Humanity, Helena Food Share, and Prickly Pear Land Trust.

Due to COVID-19 and Helena Habitat needing to limit and suspend the volunteer program, NCCC teams have supported the build site and help affiliates continue to build homes for future homeowners. They also support the ReStore with projects that involve labor, which, combined with their work on the build site, helps Helena Habitat, as a whole, sustain and continue to grow its capacity to serve the Helena community even during a pandemic. Helena Habitat is currently building four homes, condos, in the subdivision of Red Fox Meadows in East Helena, which will be directly supported by the current NCCC team.

From a previous round of the NCCC in Helena, the following statistics are specific to the crew’s work with Helena Habitat:

  • Hours of total work on housing related projects – 2,500
    • Helena Habitat says this is equivalent of hiring one full-time staff person for about one year or two part-time staff for one year
  • Pounds of debris or trash removed – 200+ lbs.

From a previous round of the NCCC, following are statistics specific to the crew’s work with Helena Food Share:

  • Household’s served – 2,095
  • # of Emergency Share’s (regular pantry service) – 5,321
  • Total Services (includes programs like Kid Packs and Senior Commodities) – 22,283
  • Pounds of food distributed – 788,843 lbs.

This previous crew supported every program that Food Share has while they were in Helena for their service term of about three months.