Building a foundation of service

“A lot of my family is from Louisiana, from Opelousas to New Orleans,” says Kirby Page, who grew up in the nearby Texas Gulf Coast. “Post-Katrina, I remember getting in the family car and going back to that area, where I spent much of my childhood, with my mom. Instead of houses, we saw blocks and blocks of slab foundations.”

As they continued driving east, somewhere near Biloxi, Mississippi, Kirby says the scenery shifted. “With everything around them leveled, we saw rows and rows of Habitat for Humanity houses rising up.” Kirby took in the scene with wonder as her mom explained the work and mission of Habitat to her young daughter.

“Immediately, the seed was planted,” Kirby, now 25, says. “I remember turning to my mom and saying, ‘I want to be a part of that.’”

Building on education

As a teen, Kirby followed that calling into leadership positions with the Habitat campus chapters at her high school in Texas and her university in Massachusetts. In addition to recruiting volunteers, raising funds and constructing homes near those two campuses, she also traveled out of state and country to build and learn with Habitat.

“My first trip was to Trinidad and Tobago back in 2013, and, in a lot of ways, it evolved my understanding and commitment to Habitat and affordable housing,” says Kirby. In addition to hand-mixing concrete and helping families lay the groundwork for their new homes, trip participants examined the causes and effects of unstable, unsafe and unaffordable housing and how Habitat partners with families and communities to resolve them.

“The focus on education made those trips such formative experiences,” she recounts. “I came home from each of them well-versed in the importance of home and homeownership and what action items are needed to move that effort forward. It changed the game for me. They helped me become an advocate before I even knew Habitat was involved in advocacy work.”

An inclusive approach

In 2016, going into her junior year of university, Kirby’s advocacy efforts were formally recognized with her appointment as a youth representative to the advocacy committee of Habitat’s U.S. Council. Habitat for Humanity International’s board of directors established the council to serve as a planning and policy-recommending body guiding the growth of our work in the U.S.

By bringing her experience in youth engagement to the committee, Kirby helped ensure that Habitat’s local, state and federal advocacy initiatives — including the national Cost of Home campaign — would reach and mobilize housing champions of all ages and backgrounds.

“With policy, we want to make sure it scoops up everyone — especially those with marginal identities regarding age, race, class, ability. Because if we make sure everyone is included, everyone is built up,” Kirby says. “The same goes for the internal work, the advocacy work. Who are we inviting to the table?”

Addressing who decides what the policy focus should be in the first place, who drafts the language, and who is brought into policymakers’ offices to advocate for it all impact how policy, once implemented, actually affects communities, she explains. “Renewing our internal focus on equity, diversity and inclusion affects the work that we put out,” she says. “By interrogating ourselves and our organizational practices, it enables us to serve our mission better and carry out work that is responsive to and indicative of the needs of the nation and the globe.”

“A never-ending process”

Kirby’s skills and passion for advocacy and inclusive teambuilding, honed during her volunteer assignments with Habitat, have helped guide her career as an equity, diversity and inclusion manager at a nonprofit global health organization. In turn, her professional experience and insights into the fields of global health and social justice — especially as they intersect with housing — have benefited the teams and committees she has served on.

“My time with Habitat has been a back and forth journey, always building off of itself,” Kirby says. “In the future, I want to continue to mirror these lessons, gaining new ones and reflecting them in new ways. A never-ending process of learning and growing.”

Visit https://www.habitat.org/volunteer/near-you/youth-programs for information on youth engagement opportunities near you.

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