Sunday, January 16, 2000

Cincinnati Habitat not joining Tristate affiliates

Group will try to build more houses by itself

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity has decided for the time being not to join eight Tristate affiliates in a merger expected to become effective January 2001.

        John Cerniglia, executive director of Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit ecumenical Christian housing ministry that builds new houses for families in need, said he believes his affiliate can build more houses and do a better job serving its part ner families by remaining independent for now.

        “Through the last year, as we discussed the potential of a merger, I think it became clear that there are sufficient enough differences in the cultures and management styles to indicate that we can build the greatest number of houses in this region by Cincinnati Habitat remaining independent,” he said.

        “Our hope is that three to five years out from now — after the merger of the eight other affiliates are complete — there might be more alignment in cultures and management styles to warrant reconsideration of a merger with Cincinnati.”

        Last year, Cincinnati voted in principle to merge with Clermont County, Dearborn and Ohio counties, Hope Habitat (covers parts of Warren County), Middletown, Mill Creek Valley, West Chester-Mason and Northern Ken tucky. The Hamilton-Oxford affiliate, which voted not to merge, has since decided to join the merger. Southwestern Ohio-Northern Kentucky Habitat for Humanity (SWONKY), which promotes, markets and raises funds for six of the nine affiliates, will also be a part of the merger.

        Wilma Wood, who has been executive director of the Middletown affiliate for four years, will be appointed executive director of the new group. She began her career with Habitat as a volunteer in 1992.

        “The affiliates that are coming together represent about two-thirds of the home- building capabilities in the area. And, obviously, we'd rather have three-thirds than two-thirds, but it just didn't work out,” said Noel Horne of Wyoming, who is helping spearhead the merger.

        Over the next year, the merger preparation will include establishing a transitional task force with teams that will develop principles and procedures for the various activities and responsibilities of the new group, appointing a board of directors, putting in place a staff and finding a location for the group's office.

        Under the merger, the local groups will become one large affiliate, and each group would become chapters that continue to serve their geographical areas. The new group will be called Habitat for Humanity-Tristate of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

        “This is something that has never been done before, where a group of affiliates has joined together to increase their efficiency,” Mrs. Wood said.

        “This is a new adventure for me. It's a leap of faith. I have been quite active with Habitat: In 1997, I went on a foreign mission trip with Habitat for Humanity International, and I spent two weeks living homeless in El Salvador helping to build five homes there in two weeks. I not only share the vision locally, but I share the vision of Habitat internationally.”

        She said she'd like to see the day when there is no longer a need for Habitat.

        “When we eliminate poverty housing from the face of the earth, Habitat will be out of business. Wouldn't that be great?” she said.

        She hopes the new merged affiliate can set an example.

        “Maybe we can set an example across the country to make other affili ates more efficient. It's a challenge for me, and I always enjoy a new challenge. We need to communicate to the community who we are and share our vision,” she said.

        The merged affiliate and SWONKY have set a goal of building 250 homes in five years, compared with 98 homes built by the eight affiliates in the five years preceding the merger. The local groups and SWONKY believe the merger 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.

        Cincinnati Habitat built 12 houses in 1999 for a total of 53 houses to date. It plans to build 15 houses in 2000, and within the next five years it expects to start building 25 or more houses each year.


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