This is a guest blog post from VAHPP Community Organizer Cherai Mills (’16), of Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
What My Host Site Does:
My name is Cherai Mills and I am an AmeriCorps VISTA Community Organizer with the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants (MAHT) in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. I help to organize, train, and provide technical assistance to tenant groups in Eastern and Central Massachusetts living in privately owned, HUD-subsidized multifamily housing, whose contracts expire within the next five years. MAHT’s mission is to “preserve and improve at-risk HUD buildings as permanently affordable housing with a maximum of resident participation, ownership and control.” When an opportunity to engage a new building arises, my fellow VISTA and I work from the ground up by knocking on doors, explaining our mission, and listening to tenants’ concerns. Next, we organize a meeting with tenants to get a broader sense of their issues. It is great when tenants want to take control of the meetings, as that is the ultimate goal. We hope to empower tenants to become educated so that they may voice their concerns, and work through them together with the building’s owner.
Why I Joined AmeriCorps:
During high school, all students were required to complete 140 hours of community service in order to graduate. As soon as I started, I fell in love with volunteering. I mostly served within my town, aside from a special volunteer opportunity with City Year for Kids. During a school vacation, I helped to provide activities to kids who would otherwise have nowhere to go while their parents were at work. This experience got me interested in AmeriCorps and its work. I continued to volunteer after graduating high school, and heard great stories about AmeriCorps. Sadly, I never got the opportunity to get into City Year, as I waited too long and was no longer eligible. Luckily I am connected to many people through my current volunteer work, and while searching for a new job, someone told me that my current organization was hiring. At first, I did not know the position was through AmeriCorps VISTA, but once I found out I was even more excited to join. I was more than happy to quit two jobs to do something more meaningful.
One big project early on was organizing the annual holiday party, which is a chance for tenants, MAHT members, and MAHT supporters to come together and celebrate the year’s achievements. Along with MAHT’s Director, the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT)’s Assistant Director, and MAHT board members, my fellow VISTA and I jumped right in to planning the event. From organizing mailing lists to calling donors and funders, there was a lot to do. I also got the opportunity to help create the annual newsletter, which is a chance to highlight important events and victories from the last year. In the end, sixty-two guests attended the party, and among the attendees were 51 tenants from tenant associations that MAHT helped to organize. Several tenants delivered speeches about their experiences as leaders of tenant associations, including successful strategies and the challenges they faced. It was great to connect with tenants and supporters during our year of service. Being able to jump right into a big project early on in my time as a VISTA helped me to learn more about MAHT and the success it has had in the past with organizing.