AmeriCorps challenged Renee Harvey to ‘stand up and stand out’

Renee Harvey sits at her desk.
Two years with AmeriCorps helped Renee Harvey build the confidence she needed to change careers, pursue a degree in photography and stay active in her community. Photo: Duane Elling

Former nursing student Renee Harvey worked more than 20 years in the medical field before reevaluating where she was headed in her professional life. Though her son, now a sergeant in the U.S. Army, was grown, her irregular working hours and increasingly heavy academic load left very little time to do what she loved best: volunteering in her community.

“I needed more flexibility. I wanted to be more involved in the community, and I wanted a job that would keep me here in Flint,” said Harvey, who also was serving as the citizen’s advisory committee contact for her ward.

She spotted a job posting from the Genesee County Land Bank and applied for the position of Land Access Coordinator. Though she didn’t realize it at the time, it was an AmeriCorps position.

“I knew almost nothing about AmeriCorps,” she said. “But I ended up serving two years, and the experience opened my mind to other possibilities. If you’re stuck and don’t know what you want to do — or you know what you want to do, but you don’t know how to get there — AmeriCorps can help.”

You may want to sit in a corner, but AmeriCorps challenges you to stand up and stand out.” Renee Harvey

Through her AmeriCorps experience, Harvey’s belief in community was reaffirmed. “I learned I could make a difference.  And by getting involved and working with community groups, we could give each other hope.”

As the Land Access Coordinator, Harvey reviewed all requests for adoption and lease of vacant properties — a position that put her on the ground, talking with community residents about what could and couldn’t be done with empty lots.

“If approved, we would try to connect community groups with nonprofit organizations or other groups who could help them fulfill their dream — to get what they wanted done.”

Her most useful service experience, said Harvey, was her involvement in a land purchase by Israel Unger, an urban farmer who is working with Pastor Tommy McDoniel of the Asbury United Methodist Church to develop a business model for a project called the Flint Farming Initiative. Unger, who holds a master’s degree in Finance and Economics, visited Flint to learn more about the water crisis and remained in the city to develop his own and other urban farms. “Now greenhouses are popping up all over Flint’s east side,” said Harvey.

Not only did her two years with AmeriCorps help her obtain a permanent position with the Genesee County Land Bank, but it also helped her grow as an individual, she said.

“I’m basically an introvert, but AmeriCorps has helped build my confidence. You may want to sit in a corner, but AmeriCorps challenges you to stand up and stand out. I have learned so much through our trainings — especially around conflict resolution. I found out I could get a lot closer to conflict than I ever thought I could and still be comfortable.”

AmeriCorps bestowed one more gift to her, said Harvey. She is using her Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to complete an associate’s degree in photography — a favorite pastime, second only to community work. “It’s the AmeriCorps experience,” she says, “that is making this happen.”