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Habitat on the grow

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Habitat on the grow
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

"The need for housing is certainly going to continue," said Bob Jeffrey, a St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity Board member.

Jeffrey and other board members have turned their attention toward growing the local organization.

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The 12-year-old local branch of Habitat has helped 33 families since it started. Six homes sprung up in 2007, three of those thanks to partnerships with Thrivent Builds Homes, a program of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

Growth spurts, pains

Jeffrey said he's still getting acclimated on the local chapter's 17-member board that he joined in January but says all themes point to growth.

Strategic Plan: The organization recently analyzed its strength, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges, helping it to define a plan for the future.

A few of its strengths lie in constant need for services, a good base of volunteers and 10-plus years of experience.

Some weaknesses include the lack of a fundraising and volunteer committee, structure not aligned with national organization's growth plans and in some cases less-than-adequate homeowner participation (owners must work 500 hours on their house).

Jeffrey said about the strategic plan, "That lays out the road map for the next five years."

Soon, he said a Habitat consultant comes to assess the organization and make suggestions as to how the chapter can operate more efficiently.

Employees: "The board also made the decision to hire a full-time construction site supervisor," said Jeffrey.

Joel Palmquist, a former university employee, left his job to volunteer as a construction supervisor for several builds. As goals grew, so did the demand for construction oversight.

Jeffrey said the board decided SCVHFH needs a full-time resource it can count on to lead construction, partner with donors and help write grants. He said Palmquist competed with three other applicants for the paid position.

"We're hoping Joel's work will self-fund his salary," Jeffrey said.

Part-time Office Assistant Pamela Thurow became the full-time office supervisor. SCVHFH Executive Director Amy Muzzy said Thurow coordinates partnerships, financing, reports and more along with her responsibility as the affiliate project leader for the Thrivent Builds Homes grant.

Muzzy said Palmquist will work with the site selection committee to evaluate lots, develop house plans and budgets, put together construction schedules, obtain permits, seek in-kind donations and recruit and train volunteer site supervisors.

"I think that Joel's position and Pamela being hired full time will bring better organization to the affiliate, which will in turn mean a better experience for our volunteers and family partners," Muzzy said.

Jeffrey said about the new hires: "We're trying to build infrastructure (for growth) with more staff."

Committee power: In addition to sitting on the Family-Selection committee, Jeffrey recently agreed to chair the chapter's struggling Fundraising Committee. All board members either serve on or lead a committee.

The board seeks a chairperson and members for a Volunteer Committee, a group that would assist Habitat's many volunteers with scheduling, organization and general information.

The chapter's Public Relations Committee gained momentum with new members, quarterly newsletters, formation of a speaker's bureau and some valuable donations.

Jeffrey said, "We're just doing more things to strengthen and get organized..."

Luck, bring a truck

"What we're hoping to find is a new or used vehicle that could be donated...The most important criterion is that it have an 8-foot bed," Jeffrey said, adding that four-wheel drive would be helpful but isn't necessary.

SCVHFH needs a truck to travel and carry materials to and from job sites in the St. Croix Valley.

He said the truck needs to be in decent condition so that it's reliable. Habitat could give the donor credit with lettering or a sign. According to him, the chapter could pay a small amount for the vehicle but would appreciate a full donation.

Director perspective

Muzzy thinks it's important to stress that Habitat works because of partnerships in the community. She said it draws together the resources -- funding and volunteers -- to build simple, affordable homes and provide interest-free mortgages.

She said Habitat is one of many organizations working to create affordable housing and cites a recent report showing the high rate of foreclosure in St. Croix County. It testifies to the fact that "...we are in some very tough economic times..."

"We need to be a voice in the community that brings awareness to the fact that everyone deserves a decent place to live," Muzzy said. "As the need increases we need to build our capacity to make sure that we have enough funding and volunteer resources within the community to respond to that need."

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