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Volunteer coordinator comes on board for Habitat for Humanity

July 26, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Who better to help empower people to improve their opportunities in housing, in the work force as well as in life than a woman who already has embarked on the same journey?

Kelly Collins just signed on as the first paid VISTA volunteer coordinator with Washington County's Habitat for Humanity, and the native Floridian is eager to share her experiences and ideas.

"I saw an advertisement on the Hagerstown Community College Web site while I was working at the call center there," Collins said. "I sent in a rsum and they called me right away."

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Collins, 38, said she married young and dropped out of high school. Realizing her need for education, she got her diploma two years later and completed two semesters of college. Working two jobs at the same time, she found she couldn't keep up.

She stopped school, promising herself she would go back someday, but the years began to pass.

"I got married a second time and was able to stay at home with my son for awhile," Collins said.

Another life change left her a single mom, working and going to school again to improve her work skills, which had deteriorated while she was home.

In 2003, Collins came to Hagerstown with her son to continue her journey to a better life. Her job at HCC as a part-time/benefitted employee came as a result of her contact with a temporary job agency.

"Habitat fits well with people on low incomes who need housing," she said. "But there is so much more these people need, especially women like me who are trying to rebuild their lives."

Started in 1965 by then-President Johnson, Volunteers in Service to America was formed to combat the problems of "the invisible poor" in the United States. In 1993, VISTA officially came under the control of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) as part of AmeriCorps.

The cost to the local Habitat for Collins' services is $5,000. A single mom putting herself through college, Collins will benefit from a $4,750 education award through the VISTA program after she completes her service work with Habitat.

"I get $816 a month for a living allowance during my year with Habitat, which will end June 30, 2005," Collins said.

Encouragement from the people in her life made a big difference to Collins. She plans to offer lots of that to the clients she works with at Habitat.

While at Habitat, Collins will be developing volunteer programs, helping with organization, sparking interest in the work of Habitat and rebuilding partnerships between Habitat and the community.

"I come in each day and examine opportunities for growth and map solutions. The goal is to then find a volunteer to continue on," Collins said.

The reason that Habitat has Collins as a paid VISTA volunteer now is because it wants to grow from building one or two houses a year to three or four a year, she said.

"We have lots of volunteers who come out to build houses, but we need to broaden the base of people from the community, churches and civic groups to work on committees," Collins said.

Habitat for Humanity of Washington County is at 20 S. Prospect St., Hagerstown. For more information, call 301-791-9009; send faxes to 301-791-7701 or send e-mail to hfhwc@worldnet.att.net.

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