Springfield, MO

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Five Questions: Linda Stewart

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Linda Stewart is a woman on a mission: to inform as many people as she can about the work being done to serve some of the most vulnerable members of the Springfield community. She started on this mission Sept. 19, her first day as director of the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. A former executive officer of Habitat’s Wichita, Kan., chapter, Stewart helped organize an open house to meet businesspeople, whom she hopes will help connect people with homes. She succeeds Jan Sederholm, who left the post in March.

Open House
It was a great event. It gave me an opportunity to meet many of the other people from the nonprofit groups, businesses, donor groups, volunteers and families. It is easy to see that this community has a significant appetite for supporting the efforts of Habitat ending poverty housing.

Without exception, this staff and board are passionate about the cause. They have seen the results of lives transformed when children can have the simple things in place to live – parents can become homeowners and stay in the same school district year after year. They’ve seen the pride ... when (families have) accomplished their sweat equity, signed their mortgage documents and moved into their first home.

Not in Kansas Anymore
I was with Wichita Habitat for six years, and before that I was doing disaster recovery work in different parts of the United States. Habitat is a natural extension of that. I believe in Habitat because it is a Christian housing ministry, and I am an ordained United Methodist deacon. My call in the ministry is to serve in the world and bridge the community of faith with the needs of the world and the church.
I had left the Wichita community to do disaster work, and (the Habitat officials) sought me out and asked me to come back and be their executive director. I had been their volunteer coordinator. When my husband and I moved back to Wichita, we planned to stay. But my husband and I know that when we make plans, God chuckles.

House Calling
There were 17,000 substandard homes in (Wichita), and at the rate of rebuilding four to five homes per year, you know you’re not making much of a dent. So we began accelerating, and in that first year, we finished eight houses, then 10, then 14 and our peak during that time was 19 homes. So, the organization grew because there were people who share that vision and passion for the call to serve – people who were generous donors, who believe it’s about more than a house. It’s about changing lives.

Behind the Building Walls
One of the beautiful things that people don’t realize is that Habitat isn’t just a home builder, it’s a trainer. Our family services department holds a series of classes to equip the homeowner with the life skills to be successful homeowners. A lot of people think that the homes are being given away, and they don’t realize that the families are doing 300 to 350 hours of sweat equity and attending the Tools for Life classes. They sign a mortgage with this organization, and they pay us back for our costs to build. Now, we are unique in that we … offer 20-year no-interest loans to purchase the house.

Taking on Springfield
There’s already a great foundation here. They already have a plan and are working to build 10 homes by the end of the year. … What I have found is that the model for Habitat is to engage the local community, both as donors and as volunteers. It’s all about letting the community know what’s happening and how they can connect.
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