A “Harvard education,” no matter how small, is benefitting Habitat for Humanity of Mesa County in meeting its mission of changing lives.
When Amy Rogers went in front of Habitat for Humanity of Mesa County’s (Habitat) executive committee for her annual review in early 2011, she knew better than to ask for a raise. Not because she was anticipating a bad review, “It’s was simple economics,” says Rogers, “The economy was tough and dollars for our organization were at a premium.” So instead she asked the board for more education opportunities to aid her in helping Habitat meet the growing challenges in the coming years. And what she received in return was a life-changing experience that she cannot put a price tag on.
The board took Rogers’ desire to heart and decided to nominate her, and apply for a scholarship, for an opportunity to study at Harvard University’s Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management course, for which she was accepted and attended in July of 2011. Rogers won the scholarship and attended the class with CEOs of other non-profits from around the world.
“The course has changed how we look at literally everything in our process of getting people into homes,” says Rogers, “The Domain of Cherished Theory has us looking at every level of our organization to make sure we are solely focused on the one thing we are charged with doing in our mission, changing lives. What we are doing is so much more than building homes. Our Domain of Cherished Theory was that if we build homes, we’d change lives – so we evaluated if we were changing lives the way we hoped to, and education came to the forefront. And education is at the heart of what Habitat is now doing.”
“In looking over our processes, we realized that out of the 500 hours of volunteer service we require from our homeowners, only about 15 hours were for education.” says Rogers. Now at Habitat, potential homeowners are walked through the credit and approval process, learn about what it means to be a homeowner vs. being a renter, learning home maintenance, budgeting to afford mortgage payments, down payments and expected home-owner repairs and purchases among other educational information that is continually supplied along the process.
Previously, new homeowner applicants were given a thick packet of forms when coming into the Habitat affiliate, something many applicants found daunting. “Now that visit has changed to filling out a single sheet of paper, and having a conversation with our staff over a cup of coffee or bottle of water,” says Rogers. This change has led to a more cooperative effort in working through the credit and screening process for both Habitat and the applicants. “We needed to understand that people in poverty hear the word “no” ten times more often than those that aren’t,” added Rogers, “And we needed to re-affirm at the affiliate that our goal is not to deny people, but to get them into a house if at all possible, and this change positively affects that process.”
As the education and support grows at the affiliate, so do excited and satisfied applicants. “They are genuinely excited when they solve their credit issues because they were integral in fixing what was once a problem,” says Rogers, “This new skill of being true problem solvers transfers to when families are looking to schedule their sweat equity hours, get family and friends to volunteer in helping with support ,and in working with Habitat supporters like Lowe’s and Abbey Carpet.”
The theory extends as well to Habitat’s Hoffman Country Village development as well. Habitat worked with Blythe Design (who donated countless hours) in creating the landscaping and cosmetic design for Hoffman so “the 51st home we build will be as good in quality and attractive in aesthetics as the first home we built,” added Rogers.
“In previous jobs that I’ve held, it seemed to be that I moved from crises to crisis some days, and now I am focused on solutions,” said Rogers, “I mean, how much better is it that instead of saying no to someone, I can say, ‘you know, if you budget “x” number of dollars and a few hours per month for the next year, you can be in your own home and your life will change dramatically for the better? It’s no contest.”
“Every night I go home with a full heart,” Rogers concludes, “I met a man when I was at Harvard who is making a difference in a third world country with virtually none of the resources we have here. If he can do that there, we can certainly change lives in Mesa County.”