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Growth at Habitat for Humanity ‘a direct correlation to the people we hire’

Employees say they’re motivated by the hope they see in families.
 
Lupe Jimenez, senior field superintendent, with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties, on the site of 12 new Habitat for Humanity homes at 4564 43rd St N, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 in Lealman. Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties is one of the places featured in Top Workplaces this year.
Lupe Jimenez, senior field superintendent, with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties, on the site of 12 new Habitat for Humanity homes at 4564 43rd St N, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 in Lealman. Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties is one of the places featured in Top Workplaces this year. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published March 22

On a recent February morning, a small crowd of employees, volunteers and sponsors gathered around a newly completed Lealman home to present the keys to its new owners. At the end of the dedication, the crowd stretched their arms to touch the freshly painted stucco and pray over the family’s future.

To many employees of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco counties, this is the most special part of the process — when a house is completed and a client becomes a homeowner.

For Lupe Jimenez, the feeling is familiar. Jimenez bought his home through Habitat about a decade ago. Today, he is a senior field superintendent for the organization, overseeing 28 build sites in two counties.

“It’s become so much fun, when a homeowner would come and I’d explain how it feels …” he said. “It’s the best place I’ve ever been in my life.”

At the local affiliate of the international nonprofit, eligible applicants can purchase a home with a zero-interest loan. In exchange, they contribute hundreds of hours to the building, a process that takes about a year.

“I wanted to be in the house pretty much every day,” said Jimenez, who was quickly drawn into the technical world of construction. About four years after moving into his home with his wife and children, he returned to the organization as a volunteer. Four months later, he was an employee.

Several Habitat employees said they were drawn by the hope and smiles they see working with clients fulfilling dreams of homeownership. The work is fast-paced and challenging, said Camila Gonzãlez, vice president of mortgage services, but its focus on helping families is rewarding.

Gonzãlez came to Habitat after volunteering at a build site in 2014, then participating in a Global Village trip, where she spent a week working on homes in Malawi.

“I knew that this was my calling, just from that trip,” she said. “Locally you can see (the impact); it’s more tangible. Internationally, it’s the impact you can sometimes be blind to.”

Tampa Bay has struggled in recent years with mounting rent burden and home costs, fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, population growth and inflation. In the last four years, the local affiliate had to pivot in many ways — building townhomes in addition to single-family units, putting properties into a county land trust to keep prices down, increasing fundraising and partnering with municipalities.

An aerial drone view of Lupe Jimenez, senior field superintendent, with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties, on the site of 12 new Habitat for Humanity homes at 4564 43rd St N, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 in Lealman. Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties is one of the places featured in Top Workplaces this year.
An aerial drone view of Lupe Jimenez, senior field superintendent, with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties, on the site of 12 new Habitat for Humanity homes at 4564 43rd St N, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 in Lealman. Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties is one of the places featured in Top Workplaces this year. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“We have to find new and creative ways to make things work,” said Mike Sutton, chief executive officer. “We saw this massive increase in costs four years ago, and it’s never come back down.”

Candi Hagler, chief strategy officer, said the organization’s conversations on planning and sustainability have shifted, mindful of a quickly changing economic landscape. She said the challenges of working in a nonprofit dedicated to housing during an affordable housing crisis are made worth it by the organization’s cohesiveness and culture of support.

“There’s just a unity,” she said. “We’re all pulling for the same thing, which is impact.”

Despite the recent economic barriers, the local affiliate, since 2018 has produced more homes each fiscal year than the previous year and has grown from 19 to more than 70 employees in the last 10 years.

“The growth is a direct correlation to the people we hire,” Sutton said. “They have to buy into the mission of what we’re trying to do and never be satisfied with the fact that we need to find more ways to serve families in our community.”

Lupe Jimenez, senior field superintendent, with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties, on the site of 12 new Habitat for Humanity homes at 4564 43rd St N, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 in Lealman. Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties is one of the places featured in Top Workplaces this year.
Lupe Jimenez, senior field superintendent, with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties, on the site of 12 new Habitat for Humanity homes at 4564 43rd St N, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 in Lealman. Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties is one of the places featured in Top Workplaces this year. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

About 10% of the employees are like Jimenez — homeowners who helped build their own houses, then came back to the organization as volunteers or staff members.

Kevin Dorsey was an engineer three years ago, when he was accepted into the program as a homeowner. His enthusiasm caught the eye of program leaders and shortly after moving into his house, he was offered a position as a program recruitment and engagement coordinator. His job is to recruit potential applicants and encourage them throughout the process.

“It’s just awesome to see from the beginning and to see them get to the finish line,” Dorsey said.

• • •

Habitat For Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties

Location: Clearwater

Employees: 71

Website: habitatpwp.org/

Employee comments: “I can make an impact on the community I live in.”

“I know that I make a difference. I am surrounded by people who are all working towards the same goal and possess those work ethics needed to succeed and grow as an organization.”

“Working together with a team to empower those that qaualify to purchase a home they otherwise would not be able to.”