Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry counties has a new leader.
Becky Lucas recently was named chief executive officer and president to co-lead the organization.
Lucas, 44, who most recently served as the vice president of community outreach, has been with the Lee and Hendry counties Habitat affiliate for 19 years as both a volunteer and employee.
Gary Aubuchon, board chair of the affiliate, spoke highly of Lucas’s long tenure with Habitat.
“She has the respect of those within the organization, but she also has the respect of the community and in particular, people that support Habitat financially and through their volunteer efforts think a great deal of Becky and the work that she performs,” he said.
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Rick Mercer, who previously served as vice president of construction, has taken over as president. Mercer, 59, has been with the affiliate for the past two years, following a 30-year career in the real estate development industry.
“(Rick) is really an outstanding individual who knows not only how to build Habitat homes efficiently so that we can build more of them, but really how to manage the people in the process,” Aubuchon said.
Additionally, the board named Tanya Soholt as the chief operating officer, according to a news release.
This split-leadership structure is often adopted by large organizations. It will allow for two “very skilled and valued employees” to take on different roles that had previously held by former President and CEO Katherine Green, Aubuchon said.
“I think will bode well for us in the future as we continue to grow the organization so that we can serve more people,” he said.
Green left the organization to accept the position of vice president for advancement at Florida Gulf Coast University, the news release said.
As CEO, Lucas is responsible for the daily leadership of the organization both internally and externally, she said. Mercer, on the other hand, will focus on the organization’s future in building, Lucas explained.
“For us to have these roles together just allows us to use our expertise in ways that make sense for our mission,” she said.
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That mission, Mercer said, would be expanding the organization’s building approach into a model that focuses on building homes within master-planned communities rather than a largely scattered-lot program.
Additionally, Lucas stressed the importance of continuing to provide additional housing solutions to the most vulnerable families in Lee and Hendry counties, such as counseling, disaster recovery repairs and senior housing.
“I’m excited to further consider what those solutions look like as our organization continues to grow,” she said.
According to the 2018 report on attainable housing in Lee County, there were more than 52,000 families who spent more than 50% of their income on housing. Habitat for Humanity plays an essential role in the local community because it continues to raise awareness and educate people on the need for decent, affordable housing, Mercer said.
In conjunction with Habitat for Humanity International, the Lee and Hendry county affiliate is launching an advocacy campaign called “Cost of Home.”
According to the Habitat website, the campaign involves mobilizing local Habitat organizations across the country over the next five years to “find the solutions and help create the policies that will allow 10 million individuals to meet their most basic needs.”
Lucas and Mercer officially took over in their new positions on June 17. While the day-to-day of their jobs will look different, both agreed that their favorite part of working for Habitat will remain the same: attending home dedication ceremonies.
The ceremonies, Mercer explained, take place after the family closes their mortgage. Everyone from volunteers, donors, sponsors and Habitat staff gather to welcome the family in their new home, having a prayer and a blessing.
“We can go sometimes a week or so and not have a dedication, and you’ll get frustrated by the job just like anyone else gets frustrated by the job,” he said. “Then you go to one of these dedications and you go, ‘OK, this is why I do this. This is the fuel that fuels our souls.’”
Lucas agreed, sharing that she still gets emotional at each dedication despite having attended hundreds throughout her career.
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“When you have a family walk into their home … and the kids are showing you where their bedroom is gonna be and prior to that, you know, maybe they’ve never had a bed,” Lucas said.
“And they talk about the basketball hoop they’re gonna put up outside, or being able to play outside for the first time. You are reminded how privileged you are to do this work.”
The difference in working at a place such as Habitat for Humanity than in the for-profit world is because it’s a mission, Mercer said.
“The purpose here has a greater and a higher meaning, because the results of our efforts on a daily basis help people,” he said. “Your heart’s in a different place as you’re working because you know the end result is going to be something good, that provides something good for another human being.”
About Becky Lucas
Position: New CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties
Where they live: Fort Myers
Personal: Lucas lives with her husband and their five children.
Education: University of South Florida
Professional: In addition to her work at Habitat for Humanity, Lucas formerly served as associate director of philanthropy for The Nature Conservancy, as well as director of the Children’s Hunger Alliance in Columbus, Ohio.
What they had to say: “When I think of Habitat, I think of an organization that is meeting, effectively, one of the most critical needs that our country is facing.”
About Rick Mercer
Position: New president of Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties
Where they live: Estero
Personal: Mercer has four children and four grandchildren.
Education: University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Professional: Before coming to Habitat, Mercer worked in the real estate development industry for over 30 years.
What they had to say: “When I look at this organization and see how well it is run … and the people we are blessed to have in leadership roles here, it is truly an honor because it’s a very esteemed organization.”