Oliver joined Open Communities this June as the AmeriCorps VISTA* Research Associate. â€œI chose AmeriCorps because I wanted to move from hospitality to social justiceâ€ said Jury. After graduating cum laude from the University of New Mexico with his B.A. in History and Political Science, he relocated to Chicago to begin his year of service at Open Communities. â€œI chose Open Communities because standing for equal opportunity starts with where you are allowed to call home [and Open Communities] has comprehensive and comprehensible projects that Iâ€™m able to work on.â€
In his three months at Open Communities, Oliverâ€™s impact is already very apparent. He works with the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), investigating the maintenance of bank-owned properties. National studies show a disparity [in upkeep of vacant/foreclosed homes] between communities of color versus predominantly white communities. Oliver is also organizing the housing counseling files, detailing the important case notes and creating a database of service history. His efforts assist Open Communities programs with grant writing as well as publicity and transparency.
He also has many goals for his next nine months at Open Communities. When asked what he hopes to accomplish, he said, â€œWhat donâ€™t I hope to accomplish by the end of the year?â€ In addition to organizing information and completing NFHA foreclosure evaluations, his ultimate goal is to study the broad monetary impact of Open Communitiesâ€™ services. â€œFor instance, how much does keeping someone in their home benefit the value of the homes surrounding it? Are there any ways to quantify the less tangible benefits of our services, like living assistance and mental health improvements?â€ Open Communities staff has seen many successes in programs like Homesharing and housing counseling but has never quantified this data to measure real economic benefits for individuals and the community. Oliver is up for this challenge.
â€œSomehow, there remains order among the chaosâ€ he said when asked about challenges. â€œI was surprised by how much work is done by organizations like Open Communities without any fanfare or press. Open Communities is always bustling. It seems before one issue is resolved, there is always a queue for more assistance, more advocacy, or more advice. As a newcomer, it was overwhelming.â€ It is thanks, though, to Oliver that there is so much order. â€œOliver jumped in head first to assist on projects.â€ said Jasmine Brewer, Director of Foreclosure Prevention Housing Counseling. Oliverâ€™s work has â€œhelped our staff look at projects in a different light. Viki Rivkin and I have been happy to work with Oliver and we are pleased to welcome him as part of our team of advocates!â€ she continued. We are so lucky to have him on board and we cannot wait to see what he achieves during his year of service.
* The Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program was founded in 1965 as a national service program designed specifically to fight poverty in America. In 1993, VISTA was incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs. VISTA members created many well-known anti-poverty programs, including Head Start and Upward Bound.