The Union Recorder

November 26, 2012

Case study confirms thriving Habitat affiliate

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE —  

Habitat for Humanity International's Senior Fiscal Analyst Todd Fox opened work with the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Habitat affiliate in January.

The outlook wasn't bright to start 2012. 

Fox helps struggling affiliates get back on their feet, and Milledgeville definitely qualified. The local non-profit lost its tax-exempt status.

Habitat Executive Director Murali Thirumal credits the board with rectifying the tax issue before his arrival late spring.

“You can't ask for a penny if you don't have that status. The board cleaned it up. We are back in the good graces of the IRS,” Thirumal said.

The progress since caught the eye of Habitat International. The local affiliate implemented speedy plans for fiscal success.

Currently, Habitat is the focus of a case study within the organization. Family need continues to be met, as the Milledgeville Habitat moves ahead aggressively.

“The work I do is by assignment. It's for affiliates that may be struggling or looking for some new guidance on different things. The Milledgeville-Baldwin County Habitat is a little different because they were at one time considered a failing affiliate,” Fox said. “We intervened and started to give guidelines. We recommended certain things and immediately there was connection with the board. Once they hired Murali, the commitment of the staff and the board took the affiliate from failing status to a thriving situation.”

The local Habitat will become a blueprint for some within a network of more than 1,500 national affiliates that may need help turning another mission around.

Thirumal said Habitat must be a business first to succeed.

Fox envisions others calling Milledgeville to see how certain implementations provided a shot upward.

“The next 50 affiliates that go down they will say go to Milledgeville and talk to their crew and see how they did it,” Thirumal said.

The local community rose to help, laying the foundation for Habitat to add to its county homeowners. Fox predicts this affiliate's momentum continuing to build over the next few years.

Like the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Habitat, others continue impacting families despite a dire economic situation. Fox said if anything there is a greater opportunity to make positive change.

“My personal feel of Habitat across the nation is extremely strong. Even in an economic downtime, we are still seeing families reached and impacting lives. The need is being met. The true heart of the people wants to impact families. The board has to be able to endorse the whole movement and get behind the mission,” Fox said.

Presently, Habitat is looking at more than 50 applications for the next family to be served either with a new or rehabilitated home. 

“The ultimate role of Habitat is to serve families in the housing arena,” Thirumal said. “It's thrilling to know we can even take applications because we are extremely comfortable to know we are going to serve a family in the not too distant future.”

Candidates are narrowed down based on criteria and guidelines setup by Habitat International. Hopes to build one or two more homes next year aren't far fetched. 

The Habitat Selection Committee chaired by Cathy Chapman must be diligent during the process to ensure homeowners will flourish.

In addition to the required sweat equity hours that all applicants must complete helping others, the selection committee does home visits to evaluate how the current residence is kept up as well as establishing need level.

If the housing is considered unsafe because of heating issues or plumbing problems, those concerns are factored.

“We need to be sure we are not qualifying someone that will then get into difficulties. We want this to be a successful partnership and venture,” Chapman said. “We have to have the revenue from homeowners paying their mortgages to continue to do this work.”

Not everyone can own a home. A balance inside the statement a hand up not a hand out is often tough to take, according to Chapman.

Everyone involved with Habitat wants to help people establish a legacy for their children. Unfortunately, some families can't support themselves in the process.

“That is hard. It’s nice to build a house for everyone who comes in and expresses the desire, but as I said, we have to operate it as a business or it would not continue to exist,” Chapman said.

The selection committee chair would like to approve several applicants, so they can work on others homes as well as their personal residence.

Milledgeville-Baldwin County Habitat's next goal is becoming an affiliate of distinction, ranking among the top percentile nationwide. It's measured by how well a particular Habitat mission functions qualitatively.

The program kicks off this 2013 fiscal year. The first best of the best groups are rewarded in March.

Fox said the recognition is based on an overview of an affiliate in good standing's strength through ratios and analysis. Those awarded carry the title for two years.

 

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