Derelict and vacant for nearly two years, nine apartments at Homestead Affordable Housing in Marion are getting a long overdue facelift, thanks to 10 young adults who hail from across the country.
A dozen residents were relocated in Dec. 2014 when their Homestead II apartments were declared unlivable, and the property’s Holton-based management has struggled to find resources to rehabilitate them.
This week, a team of National Civilian Community Corps workers from the AmeriCorps national service program, ages 18 to 24, are ripping out carpet, painting walls, cleaning appliances, and doing other odd jobs to make many of the apartments habitable again.
Rebecca Huffman of Albany, Oregon, graduated high school last spring, and plans to go to college to become a massage therapist.
“I wanted a break between high school and college,” she said. “I wanted to give back in some way and not just stay at home.
She joined more than 300 other service-minded workers at NCCC’s Denver training facility, where they were divided into four large groups, hers nicknamed Alpine. Within that group, smaller work teams were formed.
“We’re Alpine Seven,” Huffman said.
The team has been working on projects in Holton since early November, and arrived Friday in Marion. Team member Emma Hodgson of Saratoga Springs, New York said she’s enjoyed coming to rural Kansas.
“When I got to Holton I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s just a town square and a bunch of neighborhoods,’” she said. “We got to Marion and I went ‘Oh wow, Holton seems big now.’ I really like it, I really like the small town feel now that I’m used to it.”
Hodgson joined AmeriCorps to explore career options after graduating with a degree in sociology from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
On tap before getting to work was a trip to Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve at Strong City, where Hodgson had her first encounter with bison.
“The bison came right up to the bus,” she said.
Group members also went bowling and explored Marion, and one discovery fit well with their leisure time interest in board games.
“There’s this new game one of our team members, Lukas, got at TC’s What Not Shop; it’s called Careers, and that’s a huge hit,” Hodgson said.
Playing cards, watching videos, and physical activities such as basketball and soccer are other diversions from work.
“We’re going to go run a mile after work, and we’re probably going to swim after,” Huffman said Monday.
The chemistry among team members is good, Huffman said, which makes working together enjoyable.
“Obviously we had a little fun today,” she said as she explained why she was covered with paint. “We cleaned up right after. We always joke around with each other. We know what to do to get the job done, but we like to be casual and have fun.”
Huffman said she was surprised at how open and adaptable team members have been to learning about new cultures.
“I thought some people were going to have more of a difficult time learning about new cultures and cities and understanding other people’s daily routines,” she said. “Everybody is especially open.”
“We all come from different places and have different backgrounds, but we’re all so close,” she said. “Even though people seem like they’re so different from you, there’s still ways to connect, and you’re not as different from other people as you think.”
Other members of the group include team leader Ashley White of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Jahan Shephardson of Baltimore, Maryland, Dre Gadson of Andrews, South Carolina, Sam Rutz of Farmington, Minnesota, Brynn Furnace of Norfolk, New York, Nicole Rockwell of San Jose, California, Suzie DeLoera of Oklahoma City, Sarah Conley of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Lukas Kelly of Half Moon Bay, California.
Once Alpine Seven is finished, they will move on to two more 12-week service experiences to complete their 10-month NCCC commitment. Both Huffman and Hodgson said they are considering signing up for a second year.
Hodgson said she also was considering signing up for a two-year Peace Corps stint, but that AmeriCorps is a good way for people to do service with a shorter commitment of time.
Homestead executive director Tom Bishop said that some of the apartments the team has been working on could be available to rent early next year, while others need more extensive rehabilitation.
When finished, the apartments will not be subject to income guidelines, Bishop said. Prospective residents will have to meet an age requirement of 55 or older.