An Interview with Kari Murphy from Loudoun Habitat for Humanity
Loudoun Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create safe and affordable housing for residents in Loudoun County. We sat down with its Director of Resource Development, Kari Murphy and got her insights into how the program works, how you can contribute and the impact it has on the community.
Kari, could you tell us about yourself, and what you do at Loudoun Habitat for Humanity?
I am the Director of Resource Development for Loudoun Habitat for Humanity. I am also a wife and mother of two wonderful boys. I grew up in the mid-west in a small town. I mention this because what I love about serving the community through my job was learned by growing up in a tiny mid-western town. In my hometown, individuals supported each other and the local business within the community. I saw an outpouring of support and assistance within the community all throughout my childhood. I love that I am now able to practice that in my profession on a day-to-day basis.
What attracted you to joining Loudoun Habitat for Humanity?
The thing that first attracted me to Loudoun Habitat for Humanity was the people. I had the privilege of interacting with the staff through my previous job and as a Habitat volunteer. I thought they were a great group of people to work for and everyone seemed so happy to be doing what they do every day. It looked like a pretty fantastic and fulfilling place to work.
Could you please give us your insight into what Loudoun Habitat for Humanity does?
We provide a “hand up” not a “hand out” to help break the cycle of poverty. We offer the opportunity for affordable home ownership to empower applicants to take ownership of their home. Home ownership is made affordable through donations and volunteer labor on the construction and renovation of the home which reduces expenses. This is going to be their home and they go to closing and pay a mortgage like anyone else who buys a home.
There are some general misconceptions about what we do. So, I always welcome an opportunity to explain how our program works. One of the questions I am asked most often is “How do you choose families who become your homeowners?” We have a basic set of criteria; The applying individual(s) must work or live in Loudoun County for at least a year, and they must have a financial need. Our parameters are set by HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) based on income levels. Depending on the family size, a family must have a household income of 30-60% of the average medium income for that county in that year. The individual also must have good credit.
Loudoun Habitat for Humanity also requires that the future homeowners partner with our organization through volunteering and provide what we call “sweat equity.” They are required to contribute a certain number of hours towards the building of their home, the building of another families’ home, the renovation of a home, working in the ReStore, or even working in our office. Those are the basic requirements but we also go through a deep vetting and application process.
How long does a typical application process take?
It takes a little bit longer than we like primarily because of the real estate market. We must find homes that are affordable and can be renovated, or find land that is available to purchase to build upon. We just have to make sure the inventory is there. The wait to find this type of real estate can take longer and that continues to demonstrates the huge need and lack of affordable housing in Loudoun County.
What is the average number of applications you receive a year?
We want people to know that we are here to help. We want to make sure we are doing a good job of marketing our services. I would say on average we receive around fifteen or more applications every year. We are currently building a home for a woman who serves our community with another non-profit. She happened to be at a Chamber of Commerce meeting and one of our board members was there representing our organization talking about the basic qualifications to join our program. She realized that she met all the qualifications of the program and consequently applied, was approved and will move into her new home this summer.
Could you tell us more about the Loudoun Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore?
The ReStore is a retail operation run by Loudoun Habitat for Humanity in Leesburg. It is a nonprofit home improvement store and donation center that sells new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories, building materials and more to the public at a fraction of the retail price. The profit generated from the store goes back to our mission. The ReStore offers free pickup of larger items and is a great environmentally sound operation in regards to that these items are not ending up in a land fill.
What types of volunteer programs does Loudoun Habitat for Humanity offer youth?
We have a specific targeted youth volunteer program available right now which involves fundraising, advocacy and educating the community on behalf of Loudoun Habitat. The culmination of this effort will be for the kids to build flower boxes for our homeowners. Volunteers are vital to our organization. What I love about the youth initiative is that Habitat for Humanity is an organization that they can volunteer with anywhere and not just in Loudoun County. Also, they can start serving their community, let’s say in 2nd grade and can continue all the way through college and the rest of their lives.
How can a small business owner who has 2-3 people working for them contribute to Loudoun Habitat for Humanity?
I love this question because I have found that the small business community in Loudoun County is unbelievably supportive in saying yes to helping us out in some shape or form. Loudoun Habitat loves to work with businesses as a part of their corporate social responsibility or their desire to want to give back. We work with each business individually on what works with their budget and what they are trying to accomplish. It can be anything from buying lunch for our builders one day, volunteering at their place of business to hold a ReStore drive, or even putting a poster about us, or one of events, in their store front. We are very grateful for that and in return if we can promote their business within our capacity, then we will.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
The biggest challenge is that there are over 400 nonprofits in Loudoun County who are all vying for the same dollars. I have learned over the years as a Development Director, that even though Loudoun County is the wealthiest county in the U.S., there is a smaller percentage of household giving than the national average. So, it can be challenging to differentiate your worthy cause from another when all the nonprofits are vying for the same audience.
What are some achievements you have made or feel most proud about?
There is nothing like going to a home dedication ceremony and watching a family cut that ribbon to their new home, especially families with young children. Those kids burst into their home and run upstairs trying to choose which bedroom is going to be theirs. It is just awesome and incredible because this is finally their very own home. We know what home means to us and our families – having everyone in that safe, stable environment. To know that hopefully something that I have done in my work day-to-day has had an impact on that family’s life and to know that in 30+ years from now I can drive by that home again and see a physical representation of lives changed, that is an incredible feeling.
Who is your role model?
My biggest influence is my paternal grandmother who is still living at 95 years old. She was a teacher who grew up in the Depression, went to college, and raised two great kids. She is very faithful and true to her family. She is very practical in her day-to day living and we can all aspire to be like that. That is the first person who comes to my mind but there are also some fabulous individuals in our community who continue to serve their respective nonprofit organizations selflessly. I love learning from these other professionals.
What kind of advice do you have for young women aspiring to be in leadership roles especially in Loudoun County?
I would say get out there and network. There are a number of opportunities to meet a lot of great people in this community whether it be through volunteering or a networking group. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and take risks. Networking provides a platform to meeting those professionals and maybe, perhaps seeking a mentor who can be your sounding board. I think we have to be open as women to supporting each other and lifting each other up because we are capable and have accomplished some pretty amazing things.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Be Bold For Change.” What does this mean to you?
You can’t be afraid to ask and act. If you have an idea just go with it and try to make it happen. A person who believes in their idea and has a passion for it should act on it. Instead of that idea just filtering around in your beautiful brain, just throw it out there. If it doesn’t stick, then maybe it wasn’t meant to be and the next best idea is coming.
We thank Kari for her valuable time and for her insights into this amazing organization!