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Our Towns Habitat expands

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Terry Laney

Terry Laney

Todd Cohen

CORNELIUS, N.C. — Our Towns Habitat for Humanity, which is based in Cornelius and also serves Davidson, Huntersville and Mooresville, had its best year ever in 2008.

That year, its 20th, the affiliate built 19 houses locally and another 198 in Guatemala, where as part of its tithe it typically builds two houses for every house it builds locally.

And in December 2008, Habitat for Humanity International named Our Towns its National Habitat Affiliate of the Year among affiliates serving communities with 50,000 to 250,000 people.

But the following month, the organization finally felt the impact of the economic collapse that had begun the previous September.

“We realized that we could not continue to do what we had in the past,” says Terry Laney, the group’s executive director.

So Habitat, which has built 193 houses locally and funded, or funded and built, 858 houses in Guatemala and another 15 in Sri Lanka, began developing plans to move beyond house construction by and rehabilitating, repairing and weatherizing existing housing.

That effort, known as ReHabitat and launched last July, has enabled the organization to serve more clients and engage more volunteers, Laney says.

“We focused on what we could do, and not on what we couldn’t do,” says Laney, who served as director of operations for all Pizza Hut restaurants in North Carolina and some in South Carolina before joining Habitat in 2000, initially as manager of its ReStore, which sells donated household items and building materials.

That new strategy also serves as the foundation for Habitat’s participation in a new Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative launched by Habitat International that focuses on collaboration to strengthen communities.

Habitat, for example, is part of the Lake Norman Community Development Council, a group of 40 social-service agencies whose executive directors or development directors get together every month to talk about their work and share ideas about community needs and ways to partner with one another to address those needs.

Habitat, for example, refers families needing food to local soup kitchens, and refers families with a member needing end-of-life care to a local Hospice.

For several years, Habitat also has worked in the Cornelius neighborhood of Smithville, partnering with the local police department, for example, to sponsor a neighborhood clean-up.

And Habitat now is partnering with Grace Covenant Church, which plans to provide outreach services for kids, older adults and families in the neighborhood this spring or summer.

Habitat also is looking for another church to focus on Smithville for an entire month next year, and also aims to engage the entire town of Cornelius in efforts to help the neighborhood strengthen itself.

Operating with an annual budget of $3.7 million and a staff of 36 employees, including two ReStores that generate nearly $1.7 million a year in revenue, Habitat focuses on what it does best, a strategy that lets it serve and engage more people in the work of transforming neighborhoods, Laney says.

“People who have never volunteered before,” he says, “are getting in touch with us, and it’s changing their lives.”

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