An Architect’s Volunteer Journey with Habitat Chicago
From completing his AmeriCorps term with us in 2021 to joining our Associate Board in 2023, Christian Rios’s support of Habitat Chicago has differed throughout the years, yet his passion and commitment to healthy neighborhoods has remained steadfast.
We interviewed the current architect to learn what motivated him to join our team, what his experience was like, and why he continues to champion our mission.
Why did you become an AmeriCorps Volunteer?
I believe that the answer to systemic issues lies in local interventions. Growing up in Chicago, I witnessed firsthand the difficulties created by disinvestment on the South Side. After studying Architecture at the University of Michigan, I desired to come back to my city and be the change I wanted to see in my community. Volunteering with Habitat Chicago gave me the opportunity to give back while learning critical hands-on skills when designing spaces for underrepresented communities.
How did your AmeriCorps service prepare you for your current job?
My term of service was critical towards my path of becoming a licensed architect. Apart from the hands-on construction, I learned the unique management and planning that is required for building Habitat homes—taking a design from construction documents to a physical structure and building it with and for the community. I fostered relationships within the neighborhoods I continue to support and made friendships with those who share similar goals. Today I work as an architectural designer for Ghafari Associates, a company that specializes in large scale projects in aviation, automotive, and industrial complexes.
Why do you stay involved with Habitat Chicago?
I truly believe in the Habitat Chicago mission and love meeting the diverse groups of people with the common interest in helping each other. On the weekends, I continue to be a crew leader to learn from others, teach those that are new to the construction process and to Habitat Chicago’s mission, and push towards social equity. Towards the end of my year of service, I grew interested in the complexity of receiving and allocating donations. I joined the Associate Board to continue to advocate for social equity in corporate environments while learning about the finances behind building a house with community involvement.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I recently took an interest in street photography. You’ll find me in downtown Chicago with a camera in-hand looking for beauty in anything and everything.
Do you have advice for anyone who wants to get involved with Habitat Chicago?
The only requirement to get involved is a smile and a willingness to learn. Whether it is on the build site, in the office, or financially, there will always be an opportunity for you to get involved. One of my favorite events is Habitat Chicago’s Women Build. It’s an annual event that sends a powerful message of community building rooted in teamwork, hands-on learning, and supporting women homebuyers. I encourage anyone to get involved in some aspect of Women Build to elevate women’s voices and exemplify the importance of representation in male-controlled industries and traditions.