At the end of this year, I will be retiring as the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity in Orange County. For 26 years, I've had the great privilege of leading an organization that I love; serving a cause that nourishes my soul and speaks to my heart. I will be leaving an organization that is strong and respected in the community. I will be leaving an organization that is poised to take on new and exciting challenges that will expand and deepen our impact on the affordable housing crisis in our community. I feel really good about that.
When I was hired in December of 1992 as the first Executive Director, I knew that helping people secure decent affordable housing was my life's work. I had just moved from Durham, where my career in housing began in 1978. In Durham, then a much sleepier Southern town than it is today, I worked as a community organizer in several neighborhoods. By going to door to door and listening to the concerns of residents, I learned that inadequate housing and unresponsive landlords were high on the list of critical issues in those neighborhoods. The organizing work I did shone a light on the terrible state of unaffordable rental housing in underserved neighborhoods, and also taught me how important having access to safe, stable housing is to a healthy and productive life.
My experience as a community organizer led me to the decision to get a graduate degree in City and Regional Planning at UNC. Not surprisingly, my focus while in grad school was on housing and community development. After completing my degree, I helped to found and run a community land trust focused on creating permanently affordable housing in my neighborhood in Durham. When I was offered the position of Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity of Orange County in December 1992, I was elated to take on the challenge of helping to build an organization dedicated to providing affordable home ownership and helping to build strong neighborhoods.
After 26 years at Habitat and nearly forty years in the affordable housing field, I have to admit I have sometimes felt discouraged. Far too many families and individuals still struggle right here in Orange County to secure that most basic of human rights—decent shelter. But when I talk to Habitat homeowners, to volunteers, to donors- all of whose lives have been positively changed by their connection to Habitat, I feel reenergized and hopeful. I know that we are making a difference. With persistence, focus, passion, and compassion we are slowly but surely creating a more just and equitable community here in Orange County.
Over the next six months, I'd love to hear your stories about your Habitat experiences. Please email or call me if you'd like to share some of your memories, thoughts, or suggestions. I welcome your ideas for how Habitat can do even more in our community in the future.
I can be reached at my email address firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can text or call me at 919-697-1905. I hope to hear from you!