Author: Savannah Haney, THN VISTA Leader
My journey and previous experiences are what motivate me to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader and do the work that I do. As a child, I was interested in engineering and was always building things with my hands and thinking about how to make them better. As I started college, I quickly realized that engineering was not for me and I started looking into construction-related degrees. By the time I got my bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, I had done a little bit of everything under the College of Architecture umbrella before going on to get a Master’s degree in Land and Property Development.
While at Texas A&M, I was part of various mentoring groups including one that was aimed at elementary school students at an economically disadvantaged school. I worked with kids who told me about their lives and talked to them about how first-generation, low-income students can make it into and graduate from college. I was also a mentor for first-generation low-income students who were on scholarships and didn’t quite make the grades they needed during their first year. One of the students I mentored had hit a financial rough spot and was about to be evicted from their apartment. They had started a GoFundMe page to raise money for rent and I reposted it on my Facebook page. People that I knew donated, despite not knowing anything about this student, because I vouched for them. That is when I realized that I could use my voice for good and speak up for others in need.
Unfortunately, my childhood home burned down during my senior year of high school, along with a good portion of the town I grew up in. It showed me that most people are just one natural disaster away from being homeless. My family was lucky enough that we had other family to stay with but many of our neighbors didn’t have that option. This made me think about how difficult it would be to keep a job when you don’t have a comfortable place to call home. Without a permanent place to live it’s very hard to focus on anything else. It was even hard for me to focus on schoolwork while I lived with my aunt and helped my mom search for housing. My aunt also helped with so many other things. I can only imagine what it would have been like not having that support system, or not having them close by.
These are just a few of the life experiences that led me to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I spent a summer in California where I assisted with minor home repairs for low-income individuals and families. I then served Colorado where I spent the majority of my service year learning more about issues surrounding local housing policy and how to solve them, in efforts to prevent a spike in homelessness.
Now I’m finishing my last year of service in November 2020 at Texas Homeless Network. I’ve been honored to spend the last 12 months working to support AmeriCorps VISTA members as their VISTA Leader. I’ve had the opportunity to make a real difference by helping coordinate statewide recruitment, building resources and sustainable project materials, and supporting our members as they work to prevent and reduce homelessness across the state of Texas.