Jackson — For 15 of the 18 years that Habitat for Humanity has operated in the metro area, Nina Redding has been at its helm.
But the long-time executive director is demoting herself this December, from the top post to the role of volunteer.
“I’ve been going at break-neck speed for a long time. I like to live my life that way,” Redding said. “But I’ve just reached the point where it was time to slow down a little, to retire. I will remain as a volunteer.”
Redding’s preferred pace is a key reason that Habitat for Humanity/Metro Jackson is one of the top 20 Habitat for Humanity International affiliates. The ranking is based on the number of houses built, and this Habitat will begin construction on its 300th house in December.
Early in November, the organization also celebrated the completion of Adelle Street, a mostly uninhabitable inner-city alley that Habitat, the City of Jackson and property owners transformed into a new neighborhood block, with curbs and guttering, landscaping, six new houses and newly-painted rental properties, over a four-year period.
“It’s all very exciting, especially when you consider that we raise our money locally to build our houses and transform these neighborhoods,” Redding said. “We can’t raise money in Memphis or New Orleans or anywhere else, because they have their own Habitat organizations, so this community literally supports the transformation of its own neighborhoods. This community has been so generous and supportive that we’ve been able to reach the level of growth that we have.”
It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, few were familiar with Habitat’s mission.
“We limped along in the early days and the whole thing nearly died at times, but then we’d have a spurt of growth with additional contributions or volunteer help,” said Elise
Winter, a current board member who helped found the local affiliate, established in 1986. “Then Nina Redding came along. She’s been terrific, as has the staff that she’s surrounded herself with.”
The turning point: Midtown
The turning point, says Redding, was when Habitat launched its Midtown project, an aggressive effort to rebuild the inner-city Jackson neighborhood that resulted in 190 new homes in the area over a period of 11 years. Few other Habitat organizations were building in their inner cities, despite the fact that deteriorating neighborhoods are one of the bigger problems cities face.
“When we started building in Midtown, that news was exciting to everyone in the city,” said Redding. “We all were energized by the thought that we could change the inner city and make a difference there, so we grew very rapidly then. A lot of people called us wanting to build houses and we had to grow our staff to be able to do that.”
What was a staff of two when Redding joined is today a staff of 8-1/2 office employees, 6-1/2 on-site construction workers and four full- and two part-time employees who operate Habitat Home Source, the organization’s retail store for recycled and donated building materials.
One of those employees, Cindy Griffin, has been tapped to fill Redding’s shoes when she retires at the end of this year. After volunteering with Habitat through her church, Griffin formally joined the organization three years ago at Redding’s encouragement.
“What really energizes me and calls me to this work is that Habitat gives people a foundation to step out of poverty,” said Griffin, who is currently deputy director. “If you solve the housing issue of a poverty household, it frees up more income for healthcare, childcare, education and more.
Habitat also respects what the person living in poverty can do — they can work on their own house, they can pay a no-interest mortgage — so I see it as real empowerment.”
Griffin sees her role as continuing Redding’s legacy.
“This first year, I’d like to make sure we keep up the pace of what we are already doing, and that we also fulfill our Nehemiah goal,” said Griffin, in speaking about the Nehemiah project, a $5.4-million effort launched in the fall of 2003 that aims to build 100 homes in three years in other inner-city Jackson neighborhoods. “We are well on our way, but still have about 50 houses to build.
“After that, we want to step out even further-to look at the next three years and see what we can do in these neighborhoods,” she continued. “We want to have strong families in strong neighborhoods. We want to support these neighborhoods and ensure that they can grow and continue to progress. That challenge gets a little more powerful, or bigger, the more neighborhoods we go into.”
Habitat Jackson builds approximately 30 houses a year in the capital city and nearby Rankin County. The nonprofit organization has invested some $10 million over the years in revitalizing some of Jackson’s older neighborhoods.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Mara Hartmann at email@example.com.