Habitat holding out

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For an organization whose members are dedicated to providing affordable homes, Teller County Habitat for Humanity is at a crossroads. With a reduced staff, the result of a board decision to end the contracts of Robbi Ripley and Joe Monaco, Habitat is losing its family services coordinator and the site supervisor.

In addition, the executive director, Rick Shafer is working part-time while giving notice of his pending retirement. “I am paid hourly now,” he said.

Shafer, who has diabetes, has been ordered by his physician to get more exercise to reduce the negative effects of the disease. “Working part-time has a two-fold benefit; I have more time to spend on my health and the ancillary benefit is reducing the expense for Habitat,” he said.

However, the Habitat board plans to hire Shafer's replacement.

Still in charge, Shafer has halted all building, including the completion of the remaining three townhomes in Las Casas at Forest Edge. “What happened before is that we had to delay the move-in because we didn't have enough money; it wasn't fair to the families,” he said.

The three homes are estimated to cost $400,000. Habitat has about $150,000 in the bank. “People have been supportive of Habitat but I think it would be foolish for us to think we're going to get $250,000,” he said. “I have to look at this from a business standpoint. And the most efficient thing we can do is to have the financing available before we start. We learned a hard lesson.”

The loans for the three completed townhomes were picked up by the USDA, said Deb Petty, the board's treasurer. “We don't want to do that again,” she said. “We've got a good start but with the budget cuts in Washington… If we are not going to build this year we have no reason to have a site manager and with no families for the homes, we have no reason for Robbi.”

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Where do we go from here?

Clearly, Ripley and Monaco are disappointed in the board's decision. Over the past decade, for instance, Ripley has distinguished the organization with her fundraising prowess through her former business, Woodland Floral, while volunteering and leading the Women's Build Habitat project in Teller County.

“I believe in helping these families. I'm very disappointed that we have five families who haven't been communicated with nor is the community communicated with as to what our plans are,” Ripley said. “There is money in the bank. We could borrow from our line of credit. I was told that was going to happen. We're just kind of out-there, a void.”

Ripley's feelings are echoed somewhat by Petty and Shafer. “It's sad because Robbi did a lot,” Petty said. “But it's tough economic times.”

Shafer, too, is concerned for the families waiting in the wings. “I will miss Robbi,” he said. “She's terrific with the families' I'd say she lives and breathes trying to help people.”

With his white beard and a twinkle in his eye, Joe Monaco, whose card says AKA Santa, is the face of Habitat. General contractor and carpentry teacher for the volunteers, Monaco is torn between moving on and waiting for Habitat construction to begin.

“Bless his heart; I understand that it would be his decision. We'd have to find somebody else and that's not going to be easy,” Shafer said. “He's great with our volunteers, does a wonderful job.”

But Monaco remains in construction limbo “The issue right now is that we don't know,” Monaco said. “We need people to write grants and people to make donations so we can move forward.”

In addition to the townhome project, Habitat has two lots in Cripple Creek and two in Sherwood Forest. “We are very dependent on donations to keep the projects going,” Petty said. “We are working on new ideas, some other fundraisers to try and bring in more money.”