Meet Our Member: Brittany Nevins
Housing Resource Specialist, Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS)
Originally from Waltham, Vermont, Brittany Nevins comes to VHCB AmeriCorps with a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Vermont and professional experience in human rights activism and grassroots organizing. In addition to her position with the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), Brittany is pursuing a master’s degree in Sustainable Development, with a concentration in Policy Advocacy & Analysis at the School of International Training (SIT). She also teaches children and adults with autism how to swim at the local Greater Burlington YMCA on the weekends. When she can find the time, Brittany enjoys keeping up-to-date on current events, yoga, writing in her journal, swimming and attempting to run (she is recovering from knee surgery). She loves to paint acrylic paintings as well where she replicates photographs in black and white and adds some color.
Could you describe your AmeriCorps position with COTS?
First, I meet with clients who are literally homeless or about to lose their housing, collect intake information, and assess their needs. I then make appropriate referrals to government benefit programs and nonprofits in the community. I act as a liaison between clients, landlords, and housing authorities to preserve or obtain housing vouchers or to create payment plans.
We have a meeting every Thursday where we work closely with other grantees in advocating for clients with Reach Up, the Agency of Human Services, Women Helping Battered Women, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunities, as well as a couple of other organizations. In this meeting we decide whether we should administer in-house resources for rental arrearage and security deposit assistance to a particular client. Depending upon the result I will deliver good or bad news to the client and refer them accordingly. In the case of an approval I will send a check to their landlord and follow up 3 months following assistance to see if they are still in their housing and if they are facing an eviction. There are many details day to day, but this is it in a nutshell!
Why did you join VHCB AmeriCorps?
To be honest I planned on going to the Dominican Republic in the Peace Corps in August 2014. I then had a serious knee injury last May that required surgery and prevented me from going. I realized in late August that I was able enough to work somewhere. I immediately thought of AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps provided me with the flexibility to start when I could in a location nearby. I also needed to work or serve at an organization for a minimum of 6 months to complete my practicum phase of my masters program and AmeriCorps seemed like the perfect opportunity. Ultimately, I am happy that things turned out the way they did. I am learning a tremendous amount about the community I grew up in and learning a lot about me.
What are you learning or gaining out of your service?
As I am doing direct service, I am learning about the struggles that my clients face and the potential root causes of these struggles. I am learning a bit about generational and situational poverty. I am learning about the benefits cliff and barriers to access to services for clients. Additionally, I am learning how best to navigate this system in order to effectively advocate for my clients.
Also, I am learning quite a bit about myself. I have been reflecting upon my childhood and the way I was raised and what privileges I may have been born with. As a continuous student since pre-school, this is also my first full time, 9-5pm desk position, which has been a hard transition for me. I am learning about the challenges and benefits of working within an open office environment, with a lot happening at once. I am learning about leadership and effective communication. These are all important lessons that I plan to take with me in my next adventure.
What has surprised you about serving in AmeriCorps?
I am surprised by the variety of my Vermont Housing and Conservation Board program, where there are many AmeriCorps positions. These positions range from environmental education to service in homeless shelters. I have come to really value this. I am also surprised by the high turnover of AmeriCorps members into employees at our prospective organizations. In my program at COTS I work with three former AmeriCorps members right in my office, two of which served in the position I am currently in.
What’s the best thing about serving at your site?
The best piece about my role at COTS is the direct service aspect. I thoroughly love meeting new people every day that I likely wouldn’t have met in my personal life. These are wonderful people who are in a tough spot in their lives and they have experienced a significant amount of hardship in various forms. It is quite amazing what can be accomplished together, often along with other organizations, in this work. A home can make a world of difference for an individual or for a family. I feel like I go through a whirlwind rollercoaster ride with clients often, but ultimately I do feel that something beneficial comes out of our time together. Often times this means a place they can call home and financial stability. Those outcomes are what I like best about serving at COTS.
What would you like other people to know about serving in AmeriCorps?
Particularly in working with people who are homeless or about to lose their housing, I do feel that it is essential to not take your work home. Things will come up that are very hard to hear. People will become homeless no matter how hard you try. This isn’t your fault. Work should be left at work and not brought back home with you. You have to set boundaries for yourself. I also would want people to know that this is an experience that isn’t primarily about the work that you are doing, but rather an experience where you are primarily learning about yourself, while all the while trying to make a meaningful impact in this work.