Josh Neirman recently completed his year of service with AVODAH in DC and is heading to Israel to work for The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. During his time as a Corps member, he worked at Housing Unlimited, Inc., an organization that provides permanent affordable housing for low-income individuals with psychiatric disabilities who are able to live independently.
As I sit here, typing, just before the New Year and ready to start a new eleven month adventure in Israel, I would like to reflect on my past year with AVODAH. I was fortunate enough to be placed at one of DC AVODAH’s newest placement organizations, Housing Unlimited, Inc. (HUI). HUI provides affordable, independent and permanent housing for low-income adults with psychiatric disabilities in Montgomery County, Maryland (for those of you who do not know the DC Metro area, Montgomery County is directly north of Washington, DC).
I had a truly rewarding experience while at HUI. When I first started on the job back in September of 2009, I realized that HUI was not shrinking in the recession (like many non-profits did), but expanding. I became the fourth full-time staff member at HUI, and while I was there we increased the number of homes we owned from 40 to 45. HUI currently serves 133 wonderful tenants, and it was a pleasure getting to meet many of them through weekly housing inspections that served as my direct service work. Many of HUI’s tenants are truly incredible people. They go to college, work, paid internships at HUI, are on HUI’s autonomous tenant’s council, volunteer, and just enjoy life.
I joined AVODAH after graduating from the University of Vermont with a degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in Middle East Studies. I had never taken a psychology course in my life and had no experience with affordable housing issues. However, the staff at HUI were great and taught me everything from affordable housing 101 to accounting to how to conduct a housing inspection. Not only did I help some of the most vulnerable people in Montgomery County get housing, but I also learned invaluable non-profit management skills.
I will always remember when the other DC Corps members came to visit my work site and one of our tenants, Frank (I changed his name for privacy reasons), spoke about the stigma he faced while growing up. (Editor’s Note: As a group, Corps members make visits to each others’ work sites as part of AVODAH programming, learning about the work of that organization and its role in the broader anti-poverty movement.) He told the DC Corps members how his classmates would always pick on him and how he used drugs to cope with his illness. Frank also told us how he was misdiagnosed until his forties. Today, Frank is an avid baseball fan and historian, lives in his own town home, works for HUI through paid internships and has a girlfriend. In the future, he hopes to get a job and live in his own place. Frank always reminded me how HUI gave him his independence.
Besides my experience at HUI, I also had a wonderful time with the programming that AVODAH provided. Learning about the DC shelter crisis and the lack of voting rights in the District of Columbia really helped me understand some major issues facing the city. Learning about the history of the Jewish social justice movement and engaging in text studies, relating Judaism to what we were dealing with on a daily basis, helped motivate me to keep going and work harder.
All of these great experiences and memories are something that I will take with me for the rest of my life. It will be quite hard for me to have a year that was more fulfilling and rewarding than this past year. However, with my AVODAH experience I will continue to strive to heal the world. Happy New Year to all!