When she first came to Northern Illinois Regional Affordable Community Housing (NI ReACH) in May 2022, Ezella thought she was just going to stay for a three-month internship. She was thinking about what she would do next when her supervisor encouraged her to apply for an AmeriCorps position and stay on at the organization. 

“About halfway through [the internship], Emily asked if I had heard about the AmeriCorps VISTA program,” Ezella says. “She told me to apply and that she thought I would be a good fit for it. I was a little nervous, but I applied, and here we are!”

Now six months into her year of service, Ezella is glad she took the chance to serve with AmeriCorps and is motivated by the support NI ReACH provides to communities across northern Illinois. 

 “This is the most perfect [role] I have ever had. Hands down,” explains Ezella. “[NI ReACH helps people with] anything from low-income housing, job stability, resources for utilities, furniture—they have it all. If you don’t have it, come here and ask around, and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.”

NI ReACH manages housing and supportive services for both the Winnebago County Housing Authority and the Boone County Housing Authority. Among the many programs NI ReACH provides, Housing Action highlighted the recent launch of their Rental Housing Support Program

Ezella is helping NI ReACH offer new services and resources to support their residents. She is researching and compiling a list of community resources related to housing, childcare, transportation, housekeeping, employment, and education that NI ReACH will be able to use long after her service term ends. 

In January, Ezella coordinated a food distribution event for residents from three NI ReACH Communities, which has grown into a monthly program. The first step in the process involved building a relationship with the Northern Illinois Food Bank. 

“I started working with the Northern Illinois Food Bank [in December] and I learned that they have senior food boxes, mobile food trucks, and they work with food pantries. They offer something for everybody,” Ezella describes. “With a little bit of research, we felt that the three communities we work with—who are mostly seniors and people with disabilities—would be a good fit for the senior food boxes. [Residents] get a 20-pound box, and fresh produce on top of that, each month.”

Tara Joy Portrait

Ezella is all smiles at January’s food box event

Tara Joy Portrait

Ezella with supplies for February’s food distribution

Each time the distribution event is offered, the number of residents who sign up grows. At the February event, more than 100 households received food boxes. Ezella recognizes how important these food boxes are to preventing hunger in the community. 

“People were very, very grateful for the boxes,” notes Ezella. “They like the fact that the box has shelf-stable food. It helps with the in-between times—when you don’t have anything that you went shopping for and need to fill in a meal.” 

Alongside her growing knowledge of community resources, Ezella has learned a lot about herself during her AmeriCorps service. 

“I learned that I really like helping people. Considering that I live in a low-income community, I can see myself in a few of the residents,” Ezella explains. “This is the type of thing that I would have needed when I was starting out. I’m the person I needed years ago. So to be that person for someone else—it’s amazing.”

After her year of service, Ezella hopes to pursue a career in social work. 

“Being a part of the AmeriCorps program is making me highly consider going back to school to get my Bachelor of Social Work,” says Ezella. “Before interning here, I thought I was just going to be working for the rest of my life. But after continuing on with AmeriCorps, I realized I really like doing this. It lit a fire under me.”

When asked what advice she has for others who are considering AmeriCorps service, Ezella had an immediate response. 

“If you’re thinking about it, just do it,” she describes. “Be prepared to learn things you never knew about yourself, about the people around you. Some of the people you see might look fine, but sometimes those are the people that are really in need and just don’t know quite how to say it. Seeing that you’re there to help makes them open up.”

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 summer and full-year AmeriCorps members in the VISTA program. 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. 

Learn more and see available opportunities »