Interview: RD Bonnaghan, AmeriCorps Site Supervisor

March 31, 2021
by Katy Martin, Senior Manager, Marketing and Communications at Rebuilding Together National

Hey RD! You’re a [Re]Builder. What does that mean for you on a day-to-day basis?
Hi Katy, thanks for chatting with me. To me, being a [Re]Builder means being part of a solution to one of the biggest challenges facing my community here in Gainesville, Florida and truly the entirety of our nation. Being a [Re]Builder means showing up regularly to offer the skills, time and passion I have to be part of comprehensive housing solutions. I think of it as being part of a huge team tackling the same problem—so, being a [Re]Builder to me looks different from how it might look to you, but we all have a part to play. For me it's really personal because it's my job--I've dedicated my life and career to being a [Re]Builder because it's where my interests, passions and skills align with the needs I see locally.

How did you get started in all of this?
Well, I guess you could say I started really early. As a kid, my parents were super active in church groups and missions designed to make sure members of their communities with less means were still able to make it, and I guess that rubbed off. During my senior year of college, my dad invited me on a father-son trip to New Orleans; this was a few years post-Katrina, so we were doing housing rehab work over there, and that's where I met quite a few folks serving in the AmeriCorps program and I was hooked. I signed up to do AmeriCorps the day we returned. I guess you could say the rest is history.

R.D. standing in the door frame between the two current AmeriCorps members on site at a renovation project Rebuilding Together North Central Florida is working on in partnership with another local nonprofit.

Amazing! Well, I understand Rebuilding Together North Central Florida hosts AmeriCorps members. When did your affiliate get onboard with this program?
Rebuilding Together North Central Florida has actually been hosting AmeriCorps members since before I arrived, so it was an easy transition for me to go from being an AmeriCorps member to being on staff and to becoming the AmeriCorps site supervisor.

Our affiliate has hosted members through the CapacityCorps program on and off since 2010; I officially became our site supervisor in 2012 or 2013. We've also hosted a few NCCC teams, which allows us to work with teams of ten or so AmeriCorps members for a few weeks or months at a time. If you can't tell…I love AmeriCorps.

What sort of obstacles does your affiliate face? How does hosting AmeriCorps members help to overcome them?
I know it's a common story, and probably a cliché, but our staff capacity and our funding always limit our ability to serve more of our neighbors or to increase the amount of work completed at each neighbor's home. AmeriCorps has been a great tool for us because Rebuilding Together focuses so strongly on utilizing members as a way of setting up systems and increasing internal capacities at the affiliate level. Members have developed and implemented resources--heck, even whole programs that are still in operation today! They're also an incredible pipeline for amazing, dedicated people who we often hire on as staff when their terms end. 

Our current biggest challenge is more of the same--we're looking to really scale in the next couple of years and are going to be looking for the talented and passionate people we'll need to do that. I can think of no better place to find them than in the AmeriCorps pool.

Can you give us an example of one or two AmeriCorps members who stand out over the years? Do you have any anecdotes to share about their service term? What made them successful?
Katy, why you gotta ask a question like that? I'm currently hosting some great members, and our past members have been awesome too and I'd hate to leave anyone out by naming names.

Honestly, the recruitment process is key here and we've only ever had amazing members. Our interview process is challenging on everyone, but it results in members who are really dedicated to being here and doing this work, which is the key to success. We also do our best to provide flexibility for our members to hone in on their particular passions within our mission so their efforts are personally and professionally rewarding.

What’s the best part about hosting AmeriCorps members? What is challenging?
Watching people fall in love with the [Re]Build movement is obviously the best part and seeing them get excited about housing and safety and all the nerdy stuff that makes this my dream job. AmeriCorps members have great attitudes, energy and turn so much of the work we do from burdensome into educational and rewarding. It's an amazing experience!

Challenging? Getting the right people to begin with--if you nail that process and everyone's on the same page, AmeriCorps members offer the same regular challenges that come with staff, funders, volunteers, family--any of the people in our lives. You have to figure out how to best work together and how to manage the work itself. I think we've got a great system though.

I guess some of the AmeriCorps rules are bit daunting your first year or two, but our national office does a great job of training site supervisors for the challenge and their staff are easy to get ahold of if you have questions or problems.

Any advice for affiliates who might be thinking about hosting an AmeriCorps member?
Do it. You'll have no regrets and if you're still hesitant, call me so I can talk you into it. It'll change your life, for real. In a good way.

R.D. (far right) and his NCCC team from 2010 in New Orleans (R.D. Bonnaghan).

So, you yourself served in AmeriCorps. Tell me more about that. Also, is there anyone else close to you who has?
Yes! I actually served in two different programs. First, I served as an NCCC member (shoutout to Raven 7, CAWWW) in the northeastern U.S. I did some work with Rebuilding Together Baltimore, did some conservation work and some construction for other organizations. I got waaaay too attached to my team--we still chat and are planning a reunion if we ever get the COVID under control enough for that. NCCC was one of the best experiences of my life for sure. From there, I moved back to Florida and landed a different AmeriCorps position at my current affiliate, Rebuilding Together North Central Florida. I was pretty excited about it because after my NCCC year of serving at different nonprofits in a rapidfire way (we had eight projects over the course of the year, some for as short as two weeks) I wanted to get a better grasp of what the long-term looked like. I guess the joke is that I'm getting the long-term still--I'm in my tenth year with Rebuilding Together if you count my CapacityCorps year, but honestly that's because I fell in love with this organization and the work it does. It still feels like a privilege every day to wake up and get to do my job.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
Dangerous question, Katy, I obviously have no trouble with long-winded answers, am I right? In all seriousness, though, AmeriCorps and Rebuilding Together are two of the best and most wonderful parts of my life, and it's an absolute pleasure to share them with all the folks who have been through any of our programs in any capacity. I love this work, the people who are doing it, the communities it's happening in…it's overwhelming sometimes. I feel so lucky to be part of it.