“I had a few friends and acquaintances who served in AmeriCorps before and recommended the experience,” explains Tara Joy when asked how she first became interested in a year of service. “I was also interested in learning more about working in affordable/fair housing, so this program seemed like a great opportunity.”

 Tara found her fit at HOPE Fair Housing Center. HOPE is based in Wheaton, Illinois, but serves most of the northern half of the state. The organization works to protect fair housing: the right for anyone to buy or rent a home free from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, familial status. HOPE investigatescomplaints of housing discrimination, provides assistance and referrals to complainants, and hosts education and outreach events.

One of Tara’s main projects has been helping HOPE expand its service area by “researching and evaluating communities throughout Southern Illinois as potential targets for expansion.” While this research is integral to increasing HOPE’s network of support, it has also been limited by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tara is currently serving her year remotely from Washington. “Under normal circumstances I would most likely be traveling to some, if not all, of the communities I am researching. Obviously, travel is not really an option right now, so there has definitely been a learning curve in figuring out how to best assess these communities from a distance.” 

Tara Joy Portrait

Tara Joy during her service term.

When asked what she wished more people understood about housing, Tara replies that she would like more people to know what a fair housing organization really is and to understand the difference between fair housing and affordable housing. She admits that before working with HOPE, she wasn’t fully aware of the difference herself. “HOPE’s work is specifically in combatting housing discrimination against legally protected classes (e.g. discrimination based on race, or based on disability), rather than providing or advocating for affordable housing,” she says. That is not to say that the two types of advocacy can’t go hand in hand. “The long history of housing discrimination (in Illinois and throughout the country) has played a huge role in the lack of housing available to certain populations, which is why it’s necessary to have organizations doing both of those types of work.”

Despite the hurdles that she has faced in doing a service year during a global pandemic, Tara would still recommend the program. “Being an AmeriCorps Member has been a really great experience for me. It can be a great learning experience and a good way to give back to a cause or community you care about.” Her recommendation for future applicants is to choose their organization of service with care. “Spend a lot of time considering the specific program or programs you are applying to, as different programs vary hugely. Being passionate about the type of work you will be doing will make or break your experience.”

 

 

About AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps is a national service program that connects people and organizations to help end poverty and strengthen communities. Since 2010, Housing Action has managed a network of AmeriCorps members in the VISTA program, with up to 30 full-year AmeriCorps members and 30+ AmeriCorps Summer Associates serving each year. As an AmeriCorps member, you help nonprofit organizations build their capacity to meet community needs by improving and expanding their services and creating new programs.