5-year Our House Volunteer Sad Her Service Must End

“In one single image, Amanda was able to capture everything I always wanted to say about Our House”

By Chelsea Boozer

This article was published March 7, 2014 at 2:35 a.m.

Amanda Woods spent the past five years living below the federal poverty level as a full-time volunteer at Our House homeless shelter in Little Rock.

She was one of 11 Volunteers In Service To America participants working at Our House until last month, when she reached the position’s service limit of five years and three months. Woods became the longest-serving program volunteer in the shelter’s history. A third of its staff members are Volunteers In Service To America or AmeriCorps participants funded by grants.

“The biggest thing is I don’t want to stop,” Woods said. “I wish so much that the position didn’t have a limit. I don’t want to quit.”

Program participants are given a $10,800 annual living allowance and aren’t allowed to take any other paid jobs to supplement that income. The federal poverty threshold for a single person is $11,490 per year.

These volunteers “choose to live at the poverty line while serving people in poverty,” Our House Executive Director Georgia Mjartan said.

Woods served as the shelter’s communication specialist, taking photographs, organizing a monthly newsletter and handling graphic-design duties.

Mjartan recalled a photograph Woods took one morning of an Our House client – a single mother of two -getting ready for work. The mother, dressed in scrubs, wore her name tag clipped on her shirt and gripped a coffee thermos and house keys in her hand. Two children stood behind her on the porch of one of the shelter’s family homes with backpacks on their backs, wide-eyed and ready to go to school.

“In one single image, Amanda was able to capture everything I always wanted to say about Our House,” Mjartan said.

Witnessing an encounter between police and a homeless student at Carson-Newman University, paired with personal issues Woods chose not to share, is what motivated her to join the program and work at Our House, she said.

Woods, 33, graduated from Carson-Newman with a degree in photography.

“In college I saw how horrible people are treated because of stereotypes,” she said. “Two city police officers showed up at my school to try to remove a homeless student from the art building. They said homeless people were violent – that she shouldn’t be allowed in school. That still makes me so mad. I have to fix that. I’ve still got to change that. And my photos are doing it. I have to keep doing it.”

Woods, who came to Little Rock from Kentucky, plans to stay in the city. She’s looking for paying jobs that will cover her basic needs and allow her to continue to volunteer at Our House.

Arkansas, Pages 12 on 03/07/2014

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