Sunday, September 19, 1999

Habitat aims to merge efforts


8 of 9 local groups support unification

BY EARNEST WINSTON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A majority of the Tristate Habitat for Humanity affiliates have taken the first step toward a 2000 merger.

        Eight of the nine local groups, which voted in principle recently to merge by July 1, hope the unification will enable them to build more houses and do a better job of nurturing and supporting partner families. The merger would also help Habitat improve its visibility in the community, officials say.

        The new affiliate would be called Habitat for Humanity-Tri-State of Greater Cincinnati. Habitat, a non-profit ecumenical Christian housing ministry, builds new houses for families in need.

        The eight affiliates that voted in principle to merge are: Cincinnati, Clermont County, Dearborn and Ohio counties, Hope Habitat (covers parts of Warren County), Middletown, Mill Creek Valley, West Chester-Mason and Northern Kentucky. The Hamilton-Oxford affiliate voted not to merge.

        But before the merger can become effective, each affiliate has to be audited and task forces will be created to work on such things as coordinating volunteers, bookkeeping, recruiting and fund-raising.

        By creating one chapter, Habitat officials say they can build 150 houses over the next three years. Since 1986, when the first two local affiliates began, the nine affiliates have built 142 houses in the Tristate.

        Vicky Nicolaci, president of Northern Kentucky Habitat for Humanity, said the merger will allow affiliates to consolidate efforts.

        “It will allow us to be able to do some things that we currently can't do simply because of a shortage of volunteers,” she said. “We'll be able to focus a little bit more on our construction and be working one on one with the families.”

        “We are bringing together a lot of different entities to create the power of one, and hopefully a lot of synergy that goes with it,” said Tony Brunsman, executive director of Southwestern Ohio-Northern Kentucky Habitat for Humanity (SWONKY), which promotes, markets and raises funds for six of the nine affiliates.

        Noel Horne of Wyoming, who is helping spearhead the merger, says affiliates face two challenges:

        • Obtaining funding from corporate donors to build houses.

        • Coordinating volunteers.

        Both issues would be solved by the organization and efficiency a merger would create, said Mr. Horne, a board member of Mill Creek Valley Habitat for Humanity.

        “What we believe is that you can do that more efficiently if you're organized across the region,” he said.

        If the merger is ultimately ap proved, the local groups would become one large affiliate, and each group would become chapters that continue to serve their geographical areas.

        The Rev. Melissa Sevier, president of the Habitat affiliate that covers Dearborn and Ohio counties in Indiana, said the merger means her all-volunteer group would rely less on volunteers for operational duties. A paid staff would assume many administrative duties, said the Rev. Ms. Sevier, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Aurora.

        But Pat Wilkerson, president of the Hamilton-Oxford affiliate, said her all-volunteer group opposes the merger because of concerns they would incur higher costs by paying for administrative expenses. She added the larger affiliate wouldn't be in touch with the needs of her local group.

        “It was a difficult decision for us,” she said. “But we just felt like we could do a better job on our own.”

       



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