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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Sep. 4, 2014 5 years ago

W.O. Habitat hires first executive director

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by: Amy Quesinberry Community Editor

Patrice Phillips will manage West Orange Habitat from an office in Oakland. Behind her, a home is being constructed for the Pamela Fikes family on Bethune Avenue in Winter Garden.

Patrice Phillips sure can swing a hammer, and there’s a house in Pine Hills as proof of her handiwork.

The new executive director of West Orange Habitat for Humanity was first introduced to the international, non-profit Christian housing ministry three years ago when she served on Habitat’s Women Build Committee in Orlando. Earlier this year, she and a team of females helped construct a house through this annual endeavor.

Not only did she tackle the nails with a hammer, but she grabbed a nail gun to get business done.

“I challenged myself because I’m terrified of heights, and I got on the second floor and used a nail gun,” Phillips said. “That’s what Women Build does — it empowers you.”

It is with this confidence that Phillips will operate West Orange Habitat for Humanity as the affiliate’s first executive director.

The local chapter, one of 67 in the state, was started in 1990 and has been run by a board of directors for 24 years. It recently created Phillips’ position, and she is the only paid professional staff member.

Alberto Herran, president of West Orange Habitat, said when the board decided to hired an executive director, he knew immediately that he wanted Phillips considered for the job.

“She’s very involved with non-profits, and she was involved with Habitat for Humanity, so she had extensive experience working with Habitat,” Herran said. “From my experience knowing her, she knew how to fundraise.”

Prior to coming to West Orange, Phillips spent two years as the development officer for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando, successfully completing several fundraising projects that raised more than $250,000.

She’s eager to do the same in West Orange County, where 29 houses have been built for low-income families in Winter Garden and Oakland. In 2015, the local Habitat has committed to building four houses, two of which will be in partnership with St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Windermere. The church has pledged $250,000 during the next five years and will help build two houses a year on the east side of Winter Garden.

Two homes are under way on Bethune Avenue. The framing is up on the first house, for Pamela Fikes, her daughter and her granddaughter. Down the street, a lot has been cleared for Naomi Carbajal and her son and daughter.

Phillips, an Apopka resident, will manage the organization at an office in Oakland; she said she is excited to work in the town. Oakland officials expect to break ground in late September on a new version of the Little White House on Tubb Street near Town Hall. The original building was demolished last year after it was determined that renovations would be too costly. The town and West Orange Habitat are partnering to construct the building, which will be used as Phillips’ office, as well as public space for concessions, restrooms, a small office and a large room to be used for conferences or to display art or historic artifacts.

This space will also be used for Habitat officials to meet with families who are receiving a house and to hold classes. All families must take 20 homeowner education workshops as part of their agreement.

“This will give us a chance to engage with families on a more regular basis,” Phillips said. “We can also meet with businesses or people who want to learn more about Habitat. We’re making West Orange Habitat open to the public.”

As executive director, Phillips is charged with fundraising and making sure Habitat International’s guidelines are followed and the mission statement is carried out.

“We fit our focus on what that particular area’s needs are,” she said.

She’s looking forward to getting in her new office and recognizing the West Orange affiliate’s 25th anniversary.

“We’re going to celebrate all year long,” she said. “It is my goal to raise $250,000.”

Wish list

Phillips has a long list of needs for the West Orange organization:

• board members and community leaders who want to get involved in Habitat.

• partners and corporate sponsors.

• a general contractor interested in donating his or her services to build the Habitat office in Oakland.

• items for the Winter Garden Habitat ReStore, on Dillard Street, which generates income to pay Phillips’ salary and build more houses. Donations can include furniture, housewares, gym equipment, appliances and building supplies.

“If anyone is renovating their home, we’ll take toilets, cabinets, anything they’re getting rid of, to sell in the Restore,” Phillips said. “We never put them in Habitat homes; they get new items.”

Hotels and restaurants have given furniture and materials to Habitat after remodeling. When a local hotel donated a pile of safes, she said, they sold within 20 minutes of putting them on the floor.

• donated lots or houses or lots that can be purchased.

• vehicles.

• someone with ideas for revamping the ReStore to make it more customer-friendly.

• females to participate in next spring’s Women Build campaign.

“In Orlando, I raised $160,000 with about 300 women, and I know the women of West Orange can do better,” Phillips said.

What is Habitat?

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian ministry founded on the conviction that “every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live.”

There are more than 1,400 local affiliates in the United States and more than 70 national organizations around the world. Habitat has helped to build or repair more than 800,000 houses and serve more than 4 million people worldwide.

Families receiving a Habitat home are expected to invest hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” in building their house and others.

Habitat history

Habitat for Humanity International was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller. The idea began in a small Christian community near Americus, Ga., where the Fullers developed the concept of “partnership housing,” according to Habitat International’s website. “The concept centered on those in need of adequate shelter working side by side with volunteers to build simple, decent houses.”

Habitat houses are built without profit and are funded from new homeowners’ house payments, no-interest loans provided by supporters and money earned through fund-raising activities.

In recent years, West Orange Habitat has sponsored Home At Last projects, in which combat-wounded, permanently disabled veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns are given mortgage-free, disability-friendly homes.

The Home At Last Project Inc. has built five such homes and is working on a sixth — all in Oakland. Last month, HAL and Habitat officials agreed to actively pursue their special interests.

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