Working together for positive impact on the community

There are many great non-profit organizations that exist in the world, but few with such a widely recognizable name as Habitat for Humanity. A Christian housing ministry dedicated to building homes for impoverished families, Habitat for Humanity has been in operation since 1976, and has locations all over the world.

Local families in need can be thankful that Williamsport has its own Habitat location, the Greater Lycoming Habitat for Humanity, 540 Lycoming St.

GLHFH has been in the region since 1989, and ReStore, a secondhand homeowner’s store similar to Lowes, opened in 2008.

Despite all of its successful projects over the years, with a small staff of volunteers, it can be difficult to attain all of the goals an organization would like to reach outside of the major projects, like holding events and fundraising.

Staff at Habitat realized this and reached out to Leadership Lycoming, a program established by the Williamsport/Lycoming County Chamber of Commerce that is “specialized training program designed to understand the needs of the community it serves and develop and motivate effective leaders,” according to

Leadership Lycoming splits its classmembers into groups and assigns them different community projects. Organizations in need of assistance reach out to them through an application process.

The group that helped Habitat, starting in September 2012, included Joe Geffre, Pennsylvania College of Technology; Greg Harrison, Susquehanna Health; Megan Lehman, Lycoming County Planning Department; Sherry Paulhamus, Range Resources; Jamie Snyder, North Central Sight Services; Heather Willis Lewis, McNerney Page, Vanderlin & Hall; and Stacie Schearer, Halliburton. Leadership participants are nominated by their employer and selected, according to Leadership’s website, based on “their demonstrated leadership potential and sincere desire to contribute time and effort within their community.”

Generally, after an organization is accepted into a partnership with Leadership Lycoming, the two organizations work together to attain the goal that the organization wants to reach. However, when Greater Lycoming Habitat for Humanity reached out to Leadership Lycoming, something different happened. GLHFH reached out to Leadership Lycoming for help with a specific event; they wanted to hold a volunteer recognition event. But once the leadership group assessed Habitat’s situation, they determined a bigger effort to help the organization’s presence in the community as a whole was needed before planning and holding an event.

“Habitat employs a small staff; we didn’t feel they had enough resources and volunteers to do a successful fundraising event. They had no budget for advertising or event planning,” said Leadership group member, Sherry Paulhamus.

“With Habitat’s agreement, the project goal was modified to develop a marketing plan for the current year and serve as a template for long-range marketing strategy.”

Habitat’s new executive director, Tina McDowell, called Leadership Lycoming’s change in plans an unexpected component, but expressed the good that it did for them.

“You know, I think it was a valuable lesson to this organization … that there are other things to be done before you can reach the ultimate goal of an event,” McDowell said.

The Leadership Lycoming team identified three goals: increase public awareness, expand the number of volunteers with specific skill sets and increase and sustain donations to the organization.

“Collectively we all wanted to see this organization increase public awareness about Habitat and dispel myths about who receives houses from Habitat, and generally how the program works to assist families,” Paulhamus said.

According to McDowell, there is a big myth that Habitat for Humanity simply gives away homes to those in need. This is something both Paulhamus and the Leadership Lycoming group wanted to change.

“There is a dangerous perception in the community that Habitat is giving away its houses, possibly to people who cannot even afford to maintain them,” Paulhamus said.

In reality, Habitat has an application process in which the potential homeowner must be approved. If they qualify, they must have the ability to pay the mortgage that does in fact exist, as well as complete 250 “sweat equity” hours per adult in the household; these consist of “hours of labor our homeowners dedicate to building their homes and the homes of their neighbors, as well as the time they spend investing in their own self-improvement,” according to Habitat’s website. Workshops and classes also are required.

A local, engaged mother-of-five is one of the most recent new homeowners to work through Greater Lycoming’s Habitat program.

“I was looking for anything for homeowners with bad credit; it was really hard because I have five kids,” said Libby Williams, the now new homeowner of a house on Linn Street in Newberry.

The Linn Street Habitat house was owned previously by a couple who separated and when neither of them could afford it on their own, the deed to the home was given back to Habitat. Williams came along, and to accommodate her big family, Habitat is now adding an extension to the vacant house.

They recently broke ground in construction on July 1, and Williams and her family plan to live in the new home by the end of summer.

“I got the home that I dreamed of, it’s perfect; it’s ranch style which is what I always wanted,” she said.

In the midst of endless thanks, she emphasized that the experience with Habitat also helped her straighten out her credit, and that she plans to help give back to Habitat as much as she can in the future to “help further someone else’s dream.”

In addition to the success of breaking ground at the Linn Street location and giving Williams a home, GLHFH is constructing a home on Diamond Street, also in Newberry. But they’re not stopping there; they have many goals in sight, especially after working with Leadership Lycoming and adopting Leadership’s recommended strategies.

A fundraising campaign is set to begin on Sept. 1, and as a kickoff for the campaign, Habitat is now finally planning that event that they initially reached out to Leadership Lycoming for: an event not only to thank donors and volunteers, but also to raise awareness of their efforts – an important aspect learned from the partnership with Leadership Lycoming.