Each year, AmeriCorps members around the nation support September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance by participating in day-long, direct service projects. With 40 full-year AmeriCorps members serving throughout Illinois and in 6 other states, the Housing Action AmeriCorps Network engaged in a variety of meaningful community service projects.

Transforming Houses to Homes with Recycled Furniture in Chicago

AmeriCorps members serving in the greater Chicago area, as well as members serving in Decatur and Sycamore, IL, gathered at the Chicago Furniture Bank on Monday, September 11. The Chicago Furniture Bank provides dignity, stability, and comfort to Chicago residents by offering low-to-no cost home furnishings.

Dabney Lyles recently began serving as a Volunteer Engagement VISTA at the Chicago Furniture Bank. She helped coordinate the service project for our AmeriCorps network and is excited to support the Chicago Furniture Bank’s mission during her AmeriCorps year. 

“I applied to serve with the Chicago Furniture Bank because the organization is committed to making sure that no one sleeps on the bare floor or eats without plates after they transition out of homelessness,” Dabney reflects. 

Throughout the day, 30 AmeriCorps members worked on multiple projects that will help the Chicago Furniture Bank continue to provide vital furniture and household items to the community. They sorted kitchenware and packed items in boxes, organized household donations into categories, and arranged several sections of the furniture showroom.

Colorful mural of two people loading a couch into a moving truck with Chicago Furniture Bank on the side
Group of AmeriCorps members smiling in a warehouse

AmeriCorps members completed several projects at the Furniture Bank’s warehouse

“The 9/11 Day of Service was hugely beneficial to the Furniture Bank and our clients,” explains Dabney. “AmeriCorps members packed over 40 kitchenware boxes of pots, pans, plates, and utensils, sorted through box after box of donations…and our showroom has never looked so well organized!”

Jacob Merrill, who recently started as a Community Outreach VISTA at Habitat for Humanity of DeKalb County, was excited to tackle hands-on projects for 9/11 Day.

“Working to help sort through all the items at the Furniture Bank felt so much more visceral than a lot of other service work,” Jacob says. “Seeing an item and just knowing that this pot, lamp, or whatever else, is going to make a real difference in someone’s life is powerful.”

For Jacob, the Day of Service also provided an opportunity to make connections with other AmeriCorps members who are dedicated to housing justice. 

“Getting to know all of these other people who are dedicated to housing was great,” Jacob describes. “As the only one serving out of DeKalb, and at an organization with a very small staff, it’s hard to not feel like you’re working in a David-and-Goliath-style fight for housing justice. Meeting the rest of the network really helped remind me how many people are out there doing this fight too.”

Reducing Food Waste, Increasing Food Security in Philadelphia

This year, the Housing Action AmeriCorps Network began placing Housing Counseling Corps members at housing counseling agencies nationwide. These members spend their service term learning about the housing counseling field and preparing for the HUD Housing Counseling Certification Exam.

One such Housing Counseling Corps member is Naara, who recently became a Housing Counseling Community Outreach VISTA at the Affordable Housing Centers of Pennsylvania (AHCOPA). As a HUD-Certified housing counseling agency, AHCOPA provides free housing counseling, education, and advocacy for the Greater Philadelphia area.

On 9/11 Day, Naara supported the Northeast Philadelphia community by volunteering with Feast of Justice, an organization providing food distribution, resources, and community programs. She witnessed firsthand how Feast of Justice is able to partner with other food organizations and pantries to counteract food waste and help families facing food insecurity.

“My day of service…provided a stark glimpse of the enormous amount of food waste America generates everyday,” Naara describes. “As a volunteer, I was tasked with sorting through donated goods. For the feminine hygiene products, we put together care bags with essentials. While sorting produce, I removed spoiled fruits and vegetables from the donation boxes to prevent them from being placed in the selection bins.”

Selfie of an AmeriCorps member surrounded by boxes of produce

When it was time to BeReal on 9/11 Day, Naara was sorting boxes of donated produce

The structure of the Community Cupboard at Feast of Justice allows guests to choose their own produce, dairy, meat, and pantry items.

“Families who come to Feast of Justice are given the power of choice,” Naara says. “The food bank is set up similarly to a regular grocery store, and guests are allowed to select the items they take home.”

Serving Communities, Serving Ourselves

For Housing Action’s National Service Program Manager Willie Heineke, the impact of the 9/11 Day of Service extends not just to organizations and communities served by these projects, but to the AmeriCorps members themselves. While AmeriCorps members in the VISTA program focus on capacity building projects during their year of service, 9/11 Day allows them to engage in direct, hands-on activities.

“Our 9/11 Day of Service projects are a great opportunity for new AmeriCorps members to bond and get to know one another, while also experiencing the relationship between indirect and direct services,” Willie says. “By the end of the day, our AmeriCorps cohort is more connected to each other and their community, each individual has a better understanding of their project’s theory of change, and the services provided by local organizations are sustained through our volunteerism.”

From their first day of service to the last, AmeriCorps members are dedicated to strengthening communities. When asked what motivates him most about AmeriCorps, Jacob had an immediate answer: the people we serve. 

“I think within all of us there is the power to turn the darkness into light,” Jacob reflects. “We can sit around and do nothing, or we can do something and help someone. Once you help one person, you have to help a secondand it just snowballs from there. That momentum is what gets me excited every morning on my way to the office.”

Interested in volunteering with the Chicago Furniture Bank

The Chicago Furniture Bank has a variety of volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups. Contact Dabney Lyles (dabney@chicagofurniturebank.org) for more information.

Learn more about the Housing Action AmeriCorps Network »