Group at a new home

Tips from an AmeriCorps Member: How Serving Helps Prepare for Her Future

Shortly after Christy Ohlrogge graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree communication studies in August 2018, she realized a great opportunity waited for her in service to her home state. The 23-year-old North St. Paul native joined Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, an organization that works to provide affordable housing in the metro area as well as assistance with home repair, home ownership classes and more. Now six months in on her one-year term with the organization, she shares her experiences, wisdom and tips with ServeMinnesota.

Why did you choose to serve with AmeriCorps instead of something else after graduation?

I was looking for a job after graduation, and I didn’t seem to have the right experience for the work I was looking for. It turned out that AmeriCorps could provide me with that. It was great because it’s allowed me to transition into a fulltime position, and it was much better than taking an unpaid internship, which was also a possibility.

What kind of work do you do with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity?

I am a communications associate. My position is the best, in my opinion, because it’s always moving and changing. My general role is to work on a variety of communications – whether that’s event support, blog writing, photography, videography or other things related to communications. Why I like it, though, is it gives me freedom to try new things and learn from what the awesome staff members here are doing. (Editor’s note: Christy also helps with ServeMinnesota’s social media.)

Christy
Christy Ohlrogge, AmeriCorps Member for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity

In terms of your service, is it unusual that you work at an office rather than outside on a construction site?

It’s new that Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity is adding more capacity building positions. I’m the first, and I didn’t start in construction. I was lucky enough to come across this right after it was posted and got through the application process pretty quickly. We now have five AmeriCorps members in the office. 

What is your favorite project you’ve worked on with Habitat so far, and why?

My service position is about sharing stories about strong, unique and caring families and volunteers. I love being able to tell others about them and about Habitat’s programs because I feel that the organization is really making a difference by giving their families a solid foundation on which to become truly successful – and then spread that into Minnesota communities.

The reason why a lot of us who serve and work at Habitat hold the mission so close to our hearts is we feel that homeownership is really the beginning of the spectrum. When families have a safe, stable and affordable home, they are happier and healthier and grow to become strong pillars in their neighborhoods.

What is your advice for others thinking about joining AmeriCorps in Minnesota?

My advice is to give it a try. There are many programs to choose from – so anyone can find something that interests them while doubling as a way to give back to communities that they care about. On top of the vast array of purposes to the programs you can serve in, there’s a myriad of choices as far as commitment level – whether that’s a summer term like I started with, or jumping in with both feet for a year of service.

How do you live on the modest stipend? What advice would you give others who might be worried about getting by?

My advice is to do your research, ask current AmeriCorps members and do anything to cut corners. It is such a privilege to serve – and there are definitely many ways to make it doable. A lot of programs offer things that help make it more of an option for people interested in serving. Habitat, for example, offers an affordable housing option at a four-plex and the rent is $200 a month. Reading Corps, Math Corps, Opportunity Corps and Recovery Corps also offer a housing stipend if you serve in the metro.

Also, AmeriCorps members can become eligible for SNAP Benefits, discounts at certain gyms, transportation discounts and other programs. There are ways to get creative to live on an AmeriCorps allowance.  

How will this kind of service prepare you for the future?

I hope to have a career in communications, possibly for a nonprofit, so it’s a really attractive alternative to an internship. A lot of nonprofit organizations do not pay interns, so AmeriCorps is better than an internship in that way. And as my Program Director, Kristal, always likes to say: Serving as an AmeriCorps member provides a massive opportunity for the ability to step up in the organization you’re serving in.

Plus, AmeriCorps is well known for its passionate and driven alumni, so having AmeriCorps on your resume is always a plus.

What’s the best part of serving your state and country?

I think personally I would have to say the ability to explore. I already have had a lot of experiences that provide me with insight both to myself and the nonprofit sphere. Trust me when I say that even if you are familiar with nonprofits, you have no idea the vast amount of programs there are and the amazing work they accomplish.