A Lesson in How Service Works on Make A Difference Day

Oct 27, 2014

Just five miles from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Covenant House helps homeless, disconnected and exploited young adults by providing meals, emergency housing, job training, education programs and child care.

cov_house_2_resized.jpgVolunteers clean up in the library at Covenant House on Make A Difference Day. (Photo by Max Taylor)

On Saturday, a team of new AmeriCorps VISTA members – assigned to Covenant House to run ServiceWorks, a program that uses volunteer service as the primary strategy to help underserved young adults develop the skills they need to prepare for college and careers – showed they know a thing or two about how service works.

The five AmeriCorps members organized a Make A Difference Day event that brought 130 volunteers to Covenant House to help make life a bit easier for the hundreds of at-risk youth who often turn to the organization for help.

Volunteers organized libraries for young children and adults. They packed hundreds of toiletry kits for distribution to the homeless. They sorted, ironed and folded tens of thousands of clothing items. They cleaned up the grounds and the neighborhood.

“A lot of people say you can’t make a difference in a day,” said Vernell Payton, coordinator of outreach and intake at Covenant House for 18 years. “But you can. You’d be surprised at how many young people who come here talk about basic stuff. Toiletry kits, for example. If you have one, you can dip into the bathroom at the Exxon station and be ready for that job or that appointment.”

cov_house_1_resized.jpgJasmine Hortberg, an AmeriCorps VISTA member, gives volunteers instructions just before a Make A Difference Day project at Covenant House. (Photo by Max Taylor)

Paul Monteiro, director of AmeriCorps VISTA, showed up to inspire the crowd and stayed to sort clothes for hours. He applauded ServiceWorks, a partnership among AmeriCorps, the Citi Foundation and Points of Light and the nation’s largest corporate-funded AmeriCorps VISTA program, for showing young people “a pathway forward through service.”

That point wasn’t lost on Jasmine Hortberg, 25, an AmeriCorps VISTA member from Birmingham, Ala. “My mother is an addict and has been my whole life,” Jasmine said. “She taught me to be a wonderful, compassionate human being, that everyone needs help sometimes. She taught me not to judge.”

After graduating from Auburn University, Hortberg joined AmeriCorps VISTA to help other young people who have had a tough time. “A lot of people think they [underserved young adults] don’t have passion and goals, but they do. They just don’t have the means to pursue them. That’s what I want to give them,” she said.

“Finding that inner motivation is something these kids can definitely have,” Hortberg added. “It’s just about somebody believing in them, and that’s something they haven’t had a lot of.”

Make A Difference Day – the nation’s largest day of doing good and caring for others – is sponsored by Gannett’s USA WEEKEND and Points of Light, with support from the Citi Foundation and the makers of Advil®. 

ServiceWorks is now operating in 10 cities – Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Newark, San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. If you live in one of these cities and would like to volunteer as a mentor or trainer, please send an email to LaRhonda Jackson, [email protected].