New Habitat director excited about organization's future

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By Chris Sardelli

Three months after becoming executive director of Habitat for Humanity’s Lancaster office, Traci Watterson is confident in the organization’s new direction.

Watterson, 34, a lifelong Lancaster resident who became the executive director on Nov. 1, immediately immersed herself in the organization’s initiatives and inner-workings, looking for ways to make the group more efficient and better known in the community. Along with help from Habitat’s national office, she has been busy revamping the local organization.

“We’re doing very well and we’re working with the national office to create a stronger base here in Lancaster County,” Watterson said. “They will shape us into a stronger affiliate.”

She said the national office is helping the local affiliate make sure its processes and finances are in good standing.  

“The first step is turning us into a top-notch community resource,” Watterson said.

Watterson said the group is on track financially and has enough money to cover its operations and some programs.

“We have managed our money well,” she said. “It’s not going to push us through to our next big endeavor, which is why we’re looking for grants and fundraisers. We have enough money to maintain, but not enough to grow.”

Watterson said the local Habitat for Humanity is busy working to obtain grants to fund its initiatives.

But she said the group isn’t sure whether it will be eligible for grants through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program anymore. Recent changes to the CDBG program may affect which grants, if any, Habitat for Humanity receives.

CDBG is one of the longest running programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It provides grants to communities with urgent needs and had been a major funding source for the local Habitat.

“We relied heavily on that and we’re waiting to see if we still qualify for various development grants through it,” she said. “Otherwise, we’ll be looking at alternative means.”

The board of directors of the local Habitat is planning a meeting to develop a strategic plan for the next year and to create a basic operations outline for the next five years.

Watterson’s primary focus is to develop ways to reintroduce Habitat for Humanity to the community. She said the group was without an executive director for a few years, and thus hasn’t had a great presence in the community.  

“We knew we needed to be stronger administratively,” she said. “We have not been as active in the past few years as we should be, and this is necessary to breathe new life into this program. We needed a little CPR.”

Another of Watterson’s priorities has been searching for additional board members to fill some empty seats. The board members, which include a new fundraising chairperson, a public relations chair and a church relations chair, will be revealed at the group’s board meeting on Feb. 17.

Upcoming initiatives

Watterson said the local Habitat has been busy working on several initiatives that can help the community.

One is a partnership with YouthBuild, a youth program that helps low-income students learn job skills through the construction of buildings. Together the two groups will construct new homes on Miller Street in Lancaster.

The plan is to create a neighborhood of more than 25 homes over the course of 10 years. Watterson expects YouthBuild will be able to construct at least two homes in the first year.

As part of the initiative, YouthBuild will use grant money it receives to pay for 50 percent of the cost of each home.  

Watterson is also looking forward to implementing the Apostles’ Build program here.

Already being used by Habitat on the national level, the idea is to unite a large group of area churches to help build homes, with each church responsible for recruiting volunteers.

The project can involve any church, regardless of denomination or location. Initially the project could help build one house at a time, but Watterson’s “grand idea” is to create whole neighborhoods through the project.

She has already recruited several local churches to participate, with several others under consideration, and will announce the names of those involved at Habitat’s next board meeting.

Watterson’s office has also developed a Web site, www.hfhlancaster.org, where residents can download applications to receive Habitat aid, look up application deadlines and see the group’s meeting schedule.

“We’ve got about five different things going on at one time,” Watterson said. “Everyone’s excited.”

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416