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Leader and teacher

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Habitat chief retires to pursue dream.

By Ret Boney

RALEIGH, N.C. — After 23 years in the nonprofit sector, it’s time for Greg Kirkpatrick to get back to the dream he put on hold two decades ago – teaching high-school English.

“I’m between two things, two loves if you will,” says Kirkpatrick, former executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Wake County.  “I’m seriously looking at doing a lateral entry into teaching high school English.  The other thing is to stay in the nonprofit sector and do a combination of consulting and teaching.”

He retired from Habitat in November after six-and-a-half years at the helm, during which the organization built 165 houses, including 50 last year, more than tripled its net assets and won Habitat International’s Affiliate of the Year award in 2003 for urban groups serving 250,000 people or more.

Kirkpatrick, an English major and poetry buff, started in the nonprofit sector in 1980 by writing a grant for the Rape Crisis Center, then worked on a master’s in English and took over the Rex Hospital Blood Plan in 1982.

In 1985, he was in the process of earning his teaching certificate when the top spot at the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina came open.

He applied, became the executive director and spent 13 years there, distributing more than $10 million worth of food to the state’s most needy citizens before joining Habitat in 1998.

“All of it was good,” says Kirkpatrick, a lover of, and occasional author of poetry.  “But always my own sense of it being mixed with the sense that I wanted to be in the classroom.”

Greg Kirkpatrick

Job: Consultant/writer for nonprofits, Raleigh, N.C.

Born: 1954, New York City

Family: Wife, Lauren; son, Sam, age 18; daughter, Molly, age 16

Education: B.A., English, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio

Just Read: “Love Medicine,” by Louise Erdrich

Hobbies: Reading and writing poetry; singing; reading; New York Times crossword puzzles

Favorite Novel: “Anna Karenina,” by Leo Tolstoy

Favorite Poem: “Tintern Abbey,” by William Wordsworth

Inspiration: Mother: “She has been critical to the development of my consciousness.  I share her heroes and add to them some of my own, like Vaclav Havel and Pablo Neruda.

He still consults with Habitat of Wake County and other nonprofits, and plans to build his consulting practice, either part-time while he teaches, or full-time if the classroom doesn’t work out.

“After 23 years of experience, it’s time to get my name out there in the mix,” Kirkpatrick says.  “I feel I could be helpful to almost any nonprofit.  My experience was taking an organization that was either moribund or directionless and transforming it.”

Born in New York City, Kirkpatrick grew up in Westchester County, his father a Madison Avenue ad exec.

He refers to his mother as a Dorothy Day Catholic, “a devout Catholic, a JFK, RFK, MLK Catholic,” who would take him to Spanish Harlem with their church group to paint the interiors of tenements.

“I got this ridiculous concern for social justice,” he says.  “From her I got the sense that I had to do something worthwhile.”

He and his mother still talk politics by phone every day, and Kirkpatrick says he hasn’t ruled out working for government or running for office at some point.

But while that next step is uncertain, Kirkpatrick says, he knows he will work to help people conquer the forces in the world that hold them down, whether that happens through teaching, consulting or public service.

“Life is short, and most people on this planet kind of get screwed,” he says.  “I’ll always be on their side and the side of the people who are trying to elevate them.”

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