Smile Politely

Keeping the house in order

With any social organization, it’s easy to overlook the people who make sure the lights are on and the heating and air conditioning works. At the U-C Independent Media Center, one of those people is Meiosha Polk. Meme (pronounced mee-mee) has been plugging away as the AmeriCorps building coordinator since October.

“I’m responsible for the daily maintenance of the building: cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, and those things,” Polk explained. “I’m responsible for responding to tenant requests, advertising the spaces we lease, and maintaining those spaces to some extent.” And while it may not be glamorous, it needs to be done.

Last week, for instance, the boiler that provides building heat required repair, and with temperatures hovering around zero, the building temperature plummeted rapidly. Polk helped coordinate the repair and informed tenants of the status of the situation.

Dealing with contractors and facilitating repairs is right up the Chicago native’s alley. She’s set to graduate from Western Illinois with a degree in construction management upon completion of a qualifying nine-week internship, which she hopes to arrange while she’s in Champaign-Urbana.

Polk already had some hands-on relevant experience before taking the AmeriCorps position, as she did an internship building homes in Juarez, Mexico. “We select families and build houses,” she noted. “Kind of like Extreme Home Makeover, but not as fancy,” she said, laughing.

The cultural immersion was valuable, along with the work experience. “It was intense,” she recalled. “If you go to the ATM, they have two [Federales] on each side of the ATM with machine guns.”

Polk learned some tips about dealing with the Mexican police. She said, “Even if you speak Spanish and you’re American, it’s best that you pretend that you don’t speak Spanish. The police there are so corrupt, when they pull you over, they’re really just looking for a bribe, because they know they can get it.”

The people that she interacted with at the home sites were great, however. She noted, “The people were really nice people. They were the poorest of the poor, but they’d still try to feed a team of 30, making tacos and stuff. It was an awesome experience.”

Polk found her AmeriCorps position while searching for an internship; she’d had a friend who’d worked for AmeriCorps feeding the homeless, and Polk “thought it would be really beneficial to the community for me to come and work here.

“I know [the IMC is] doing a lot of things that are helping the community… I figured if I’m going to get experience I’ve got to start somewhere. Why not start helping people?”

Polk and her husband (they’ll be celebrating their first wedding anniversary on Friday, the 15th) relocated to C-U from Macomb when she took the position. Although they weren’t familiar with the area beforehand, they’re adjusting pretty well. “I don’t think I’d been in Urbana before now,” having visited friends on campus. “And I like it — better than Champaign. The people are nicer, more friendly I guess.”

At this point, Polk says they’re planning to try to stay in C-U after her AmeriCorps position ends next fall. “Hopefully I’ll be able to find a job in Urbana; I don’t want to move again,” she said, laughing.


This article is part of a series profiling the UC-IMC’s AmeriCorps volunteers. Previous entries include:

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