POWHATAN – For her first few months as executive director of Habitat for Humanity-Powhatan, Susan Winiecki was a sponge soaking up all the information she could get. After starting her new position on July 6, Winiecki said she spent a great deal of time listening and gathering data. She wanted to learn about the local Habitat, which is a cause close to her heart, and that meant meetings with the board of directors, getting to know volunteers, studying the budget, examining previous builds, and familiarizing herself with the Habitat store. But understanding the organization also meant getting to know the community it serves. So that is what she did. She began looking at the demographics and trends of the county; traveling around to familiarize herself with the landscape; reaching out to other community groups, civic organizations, and businesses; reviewing the county’s comprehensive plan; attending community events such as the Powhatan Farmers Market, and meeting with local officials. “I just want to say thank you for everyone who has taken time to welcome me, to sit down and talk with me, to fill me in on history, to share their hopes with me about the county. It has all been so valuable and it will help Habitat Powhatan serve even more people going forward,” she said. Throughout those visits, she has been repeatedly asking an important question – what else can Habitat be doing to help the community?
Winiecki said she felt like she was in a great position coming into the job because of the strong foundation set by Habitat for Humanity-Powhatan under the leadership of Roseleen “Spud” Rick. During her two years as executive director, the nonprofit constructed its 13th and 14 houses, built up its flourishing critical repair program, and opened the store. Having served six years on the Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity board, Winiecki brings connections throughout the region that will help ensure Powhatan is part of the larger discussion about workforce housing and critical home repair in the region. In hiring Winiecki, the board wanted her to help build upon previous successes and take the local nonprofit to the next level, said Terry Sanders, board president. The members were looking for someone with nonprofit experience, fundraising experience, the ability to interact well with strangers and speak in front of a group, and a pleasant personality that would mesh with the board and with clients. She said Winiecki ticked all those boxes. Board members also wanted someone who could expand Habitat’s social media reach, gain exposure for the store, and continue supporting the mission of building affordable houses and doing critical home repairs in the Powhatan community. “She is very conscientious in what she is doing and very concerned to do what is right for the community and the residents through our Habitat outreach. It has been an amazing experience watching her come on board,” Sanders said.
Winiecki came to Habitat as a career change from working as the associate publisher of Richmond magazine. During her two decades with the publication, she also worked as the editorial director, managing and expanding its coverage of the Richmond region, its custom publications, its online and social media presence, and its community events. Sanders said it was fascinating to watch Winiecki approach getting to know Powhatan like a story she was meticulously researching. Through that process, the board actually has come to better understand its own history and principles, she added. With the groundwork laid, Winiecki started moving forward on what promises to be a busy few months for Habitat for Humanity-Powhatan. To begin, she and the board are about to start the process of creating a formal strategic plan for the nonprofit for the next three years that reflects how they want to impact the county, Winiecki said. Having the strategic plan would be a road map for her, the board, and the community. The way the fiscal year, which began July 1, is going so far, it is clear there is a growing need in the community, making the need for clear direction essential, she said. In the last fiscal year, Habitat completed 30 critical home repairs during the entire year. In the first quarter this fiscal year, it has completed 15 and has 18 that are in process for the second quarter, whether it is in the application phase, ongoing work, or a finished job.
With the critical home repair costs averaging $1,200 each and the nonprofit looking like it may double its numbers this year, that means more fundraising. The store, located at 1922 Urbine Road, will help. The first and third Saturday hours were slightly extended, with it opening from 9 to 2 p.m. It is also now open the Tuesday after each Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. The new hours have been well received so far, she said. Also new to the store, Habitat launched an online shop on Oct. 26 that will allow people to purchase items and then pick them up on certain days. The shop can be found at habitatpowhatanstore.square.site. Winiecki saw the idea successfully implemented in Richmond after COVID-19 saw so many businesses closing temporarily in March. “We have had a couple sales. That was exciting to see come through,” she said. Dr. Barbara Brown, store manager and a Habitat board member, said she has gotten to know Winiecki through her involvement in the store. Winiecki has worked in the store and learned how to use the register. She has also been excellent at promoting the store to expand its outreach. “She is a wonderful greeter and reaches out to people to see if they are satisfied with their experience in the store. She openly welcomes them to the store and encourages them to participate with Habitat,” Brown said.
Habitat also has plenty of special events planned for the near future. The nonprofit will hold a building kickoff on Nov. 24 for its 15th house, which is expected to be finished in spring 2021. The process may go a little slower because of limits on the number of volunteers they can have on a build site at a time. However, Winiecki was excited about a new partnership with Clay Street Builders and more than 15 of their suppliers and building professionals to help move the project along. Habitat will hold its first Home Fore the Holidays Golf Tournament from Dec. 19 to 27. Adopting a new format for this fundraiser, participants in three adult and adult/child tournament divisions will schedule their own tee-time at Independence Golf Club in Powhatan and keep track of their scores using a special tournament app. The event will also include a longest marshmallow drive, a gingerbread house building contest, and an ugly golf sweater contest. As part of its 20th anniversary celebration, which Habitat will celebrate in January 2021, Winiecki wants to form a young leaders guild to develop young leaders who are interested in Habitat’s mission. The nonprofit is still working with the Free Clinic of Powhatan on a Valentine’s event, which is always a huge fundraiser for both organizations. As part of furthering the Powhatan Habitat’s involvement in the larger regional community, it has become part of the Housing Resource Line (HRL), a centralized access point to help connect residents to programs and services that will help address their housing needs. When people call into the hotline, the goal is to help determine which housing services they are eligible for and assist them in making those connections. The HRL can be reached at 804-422-5061 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. More information is online at https://pharva.com/housing-hotline/.
Overall, Winiecki said she is thrilled about what is happening and what could happen in Habitat for Humanity-Powhatan’s future. “I think the exciting thing here is, as an individual, I love to build things. We have this incredible foundation here at Powhatan Habitat. I just can’t wait to see where we all can go together,” she said. “I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. There is so much that can be done and I do feel like all the right people are in the right place to do it.” Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.