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Unintended Consequences

October 22, 2013

Today’s guest blog comes from Barbara Ernsberger (AmeriCorps ’01), a Michigan AmeriCorps Alum who was honored in April 2013 as the Outstanding AmeriCorps Alum of the Year by the Michigan Community Service Commission.  The post originally appeared at


Barbara Ernsberger

Greetings AmeriCorps world! My name is Barbara Ernsberger and I am the Executive Director at Blue Water Habitat for Humanity. We serve all of St. Clair and Sanilac Counties in the Thumb area of the state.  We are an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that works in over 90 countries worldwide helping families secure decent, simple, affordable housing solutions.

Sometimes, I have those mornings when I wake up and say “How did I get here? What prepared me for this incredible work?”  I get to do mission work in my own backyard…amazing!

The opportunity to become an AmeriCorps member with the very first class of the Habitat for Humanity of Michigan’s AmeriCorps team came to me in January of 2001. I was a mom trying to return to the workplace full time. After taking much time out of the workplace to care for two children with severe medical issues, it was time for me to do something new.

The AmeriCorps position of Volunteer Coordinator at Blue Water Habitat for Humanity came to me in numerous ways, but I did not think I had the qualifications.  One day I decided to take the leap and apply. The interview was on my birthday, and the position was offered to me directly following my interview. I did not expect that…first unintended consequence.

When I started serving, I realized so many things in life had prepared me for the position I had taken on. I had volunteered at numerous places in my community including my church, cooperative preschool, and I think most importantly for this position, Boy Scouts of America. I had done everything from actually getting the attention of 80 boys under the age of 12 at one time, to planning events for up to 1,400 for a weekend camp-out. All of that had prepared me to recruit volunteers far beyond my wildest dreams….second unintended consequence.

Following my second AmeriCorps term, the affiliate offered me full time employment. Wow…they wanted to keep me! I stayed on as Volunteer Manager until 2006, when I had to leave due to family medical issues. In 2007, when the mountain of medical issues came under control, I applied for and was hired as the Executive Director. It felt like coming back home!

Since that time, lots of changes have taken place at our affiliate and I am so thrilled to have helped the affiliate grow and make those changes; reaching out to serve more and more families in our community each year.

2013.10.22 Affiliate of the Year

Blue Water Habitat for Humanity: 2011 Michigan Affiliate of the Year

In addition to our new home construction program, we now do partial and full gut rehabs of existing foreclosed homes in our community, selling them with a zero equivalent interest loan just like we do our newly constructed homes.  In addition we have added a Critical Home Repair Program, our Veterans Repair Corps Program, and the Brush With Kindness Program.  Each of these programs is to help homeowners stay in their homes while addressing health and safety.

We also have a much more comprehensive program to prepare our home-buyer applicants for home-ownership. Preparing our applicants on the front end truly makes a difference down the road. Helping our home buyers with financial literacy has become a key part of homeowner preparation.  We launched a scholarship program for Habitat partner families this year as well, providing a small scholarship to applicants for higher education.

I get to actually participate in joy with families as they not only become homeowners, but they become much more confident in themselves and the direction they are headed. It is awesome to watch a family beat the odds and obtain the American dream of a place to call home… all their own!

There is so much more that Habitat accomplishes worldwide, but my world is right here in my community. And I came to all of this because of an AmeriCorps opportunity…how awesome is that!

Oh, one more thing I want to mention…and this is obviously in no particular order…each of my 3 children, ages 31, 29, and 25, are involved locally in the community they live. A few of the things they have done in their communities are chair the YMCA Fund Development Committee, Chair the Redistricting Committee for a city, organize Art Hops, and sit on the board of the local conservation club. It seems service may be in their genes… unintended consequences!

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