"This is my dream job," says Staci Thompson, the new executive director of the Martin and Faribault County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity. "And, I am passionate about it."
Now Thompson has plans to turn that passion into a total revamping of the local chapter of the international organization which builds homes for lower income people.
"There is so much to do," she says. "I am keeping very busy."
Since Jan. 9 when she was first hired, Thompson has moved the office from a garage in Fairmont to the Thrivent Building in Blue Earth. She has cleared material from storage and set up a new filing system in file cabinets instead of boxes. She has worked on getting new brochures, business cards and office machines. She has attended a Habitat for Humanity convention in Willmar.
Now, she is on a mission to find a family or two to partner with in order to build a new house.
"We have not done a project in over two years," Thompson says. "And, we need to do one now in order to keep our chapter operating."
The last house built by the local Habitat for Humanity group was in Fairmont. Now, they want to build one somewhere in Faribault County. The last one built locally was in Elmore, over four years ago.
"We still own a lot in Blue Earth, on the east side of Highway 169," Thompson says. "We are also looking at two other lots in Blue Earth, which are owned by the city and we can purchase for $1 each."
Those are small lots on which the city demolished homes and which have not generated much interest because of their size.
"But we build smaller houses, and make them fit on the lot," Thompson says. "And we don't build a garage. We want to spend money to house people, not their things."
The new director says the Habitat board is going to look at a house on Saturday in Delavan which someone wants to donate to the group.
"But, we are careful about rehabbing we call it recycling old houses," Thompson says. "It can sometimes take a lot of money and effort to fix them up. It might be better to build new."
That is because Habitat wants the house they build to not cost the new homeowner anything in maintenance for up to 20 years. The families often don't have much money for repairs.
"We want our partner families to succeed," Thompson says. "We don't want to set them up to fail and that can happen with an older home. The furnace goes out, things like that, and they suddenly have too many expenses."
Ideally, Thompson says she wants to start at least one project this year, and possibly two or three.
"It would be wonderful if we were building a house in Blue Earth, recycling one in Delavan and also doing a "Brush with Kindness" project in Martin County," she says. "That is a new Habitat program where we do painting, fixing up or landscaping on a house for a family."
All of those projects hinge on one factor. Finding families to work with.
"Ideally we want a family which is living in substandard housing; either a house or an apartment with lots of issues," Thompson explains. "And they are paying 30 percent or more of their income for housing."
Thompson says there are many misconceptions about what Habitat for Humanity does.
"This is not a give away program," she says. "This is not a government agency. We want to give people a hand up, not a hand out."
The houses are also not free.
The new homeowners agree to put in at least 500 hours of what Thompson calls "sweat equity," meaning they will work hard constructing their new home. They also pay for the house, with a mortgage, but at a zero percent interest rate.
"If anyone is interested in our program, or knows someone who might be, please contact me," Thompson asks. Her office is located at 216 N. Main Street in Blue Earth in the Thrivent Building. Leave a message at the Habitat for Humanity phone number of (507) 235-9790 or call her on her cell phone at (507) 525-0937 or check out their new Facebook page.
Thompson also invites people who are interested in helping build a house or donating to Habitat to Humanity to also contact her.
"You don't have to be able to swing a hammer," she says. "We will find a way for you to help."
While she is the newly hired director, this is not the first time Thompson has worked for Habitat. Years ago, fresh out of college and unable to find a teaching job, she was hired by the Habitat for Humanity chapter in Mankato and worked for them for two years.
"I always loved what they did and so I got involved here and served on the board of directors," she says, even serving as president of the local board.
When that group decided at their Jan. 9 meeting they needed a part-time director, Thompson said she would love to do it.
"Good," board members said. "Can you start tomorrow?"
And she said, "yes, why not?"
After all, it has always been her dream job.