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Habitat’s dream-building director
Lori Oberlander has been at the helm of Habitat for Humanity of Kitsap County for nine years, making her the longest-standing Habitat director in Western Washington.
The Long Island, N.Y. native has been involved with Habitat for years and can’t imagine her life without the organization.
During her husband’s time in the Navy, the couple bounced from location to location. Italy and Maine are just a few places they’ve called home, but they always knew they wanted to retire and settle down in the Puget Sound region after being briefly stationed here years ago.
Habitat for Humanity of Kitsap County was responsible for building 12-13 homes for families last year alone. The 18-unit New Hope development is nearing completion and the final three homes are scheduled to be dedicated March 28.
Oberlander recently invited us into her Bremerton office to chat about her role as executive director, love of community service and how the economic times are affecting the organization.
Question: What drew you to Habitat?
Answer: Well, lots of things. I think the people first of all. When I first started volunteering with Habitat I noticed everyone was really dedicated to the cause of ending poverty housing. What I loved about Habitat was that people were so giving to me. They were willing to give me a chance. It was just an opportunity for so many different things. We’re homebuilders, we’re social services, we’re fund-raisers — there’s a whole bunch of aspects to Habitat.
Q: What did you do before joining Habitat?
A: My husband was in the service, so I was a Navy wife. Some people don’t like being called a Navy wife, but I’m proud of it. It is the toughest job in the Navy. I used to be active duty myself, for six years. My twin sister was also in the service.
Q: What do you like the most about your job?
A: I think what I like most is variety. I’m never bored. Every day is challenging and rewarding. I get to work with such great people — the volunteers, the staff, the board. It is exciting watching us grow. This is the perfect role for me. I’m kind of all over — I’m not an accountant, I’m not a public relations person, I’m not a human resources person — I get to dabble in everything.
Q: Do you have a least favorite side of the job?
A: The least ... I think any human resources person would agree — having to let people go, personnel management. I have a great staff. I don’t have to scold very often. Times have been tough on us over the past few months, so I had to let one person go.
Our ultimate goal is to keep families in houses, but now and then you have to do foreclosures. In spite of all of our attempts, families still make bad decisions. Out of 49 mortgages we hold right now, we’ve only had one foreclosure.
Q: Is there one Habitat house or development you are most proud of?
A: Well, I think every home we create is a great achievement. We just completed an 18-unit development, New Hope. We limped our way through the massive amounts of hoops to get it done. We’re dedicating the last three houses March 28. That was a big undertaking. A lot of people thought we were crazy starting with an 18-unit development rather than something smaller, like a six-unit one.
Q: How many people volunteer with Habitat for Humanity of Kitsap County?
A: I’m sure we have in excess of 1,500 volunteers who come out be it once a year or more frequently. Some of those volunteers have been around longer than me. Since we’ve been building New Hope, they all have been coming to Bremerton to help. People want to be involved with that project and we couldn’t do it without them.
Q: Do you have a favorite hobby?
A: I like to swim and I love to be around people. Anything else is just me being active in my local church that I belong to. I’d like to say my hobby is Habitat, is that bad?
Q: Is there any one project or specific goal you’d like to see Habitat accomplish?
A: For me, I want to see Habitat continue to grow and serve the people we do — the low income people who need housing. We’re facing very difficult times right now and I’d like to see us continue to grow. We receive no government funding, we really rely on people. Our private giving has been diminished and we’re really struggling this year. I’d really love for us to be able to keep up the pace. It’s very exciting to watch dreams come true every day.