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VOL. 115 | NO. 162 | Friday, September 28, 2001

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A helping hand raising housing standards



The Daily News

Five weeks into his new position as executive director of Habitat for Humanity for Greater Memphis, Dwayne Spencer is ready to get his hands dirty.

You have to be a hands-on person in the non-profit world, Spencer said. You have to be willing to stuff the envelopes yourself, then lick them and mail them.

Spencer, 34, who literally began his professional career stuffing envelopes over a decade ago, now brings to the non-profit housing group a clear vision of a financially strong organization geared toward heightening public awareness of Habitats overall goal - to eradicate sub-standard housing. The importance of marketing, public awareness and fund raising really needs to come from the top down, he said, referring to his commitment to become involved at every level of the organization.

It needs to be a broad spectrum of the whole organization.

His first official goal as executive director is to hire a director of development, with whom he will directly work to devise a comprehensive strategic development plan. By establishing a solid fundraising infrastructure through capital campaigns and annual charity events, Spencer said the organization can move toward reaching its financial potential. Increasing revenue will in turn, further Spencers long term goal, which he said is to build more houses - simply said.

Since 1983, the local Habitat for Humanity has built roughly 200 houses in the area, with 15 going up last year, and 20 more by the end of this year, he said. But, ultimately Spencer would like to double the number of new homes built to as many as 30 or 40 a year.

While his goals may sound lofty, Spencer is no stranger to working hard to get what he wants.

Originally from Somerville, Tenn., Spencer was accepted by the University of Memphis (then Memphis State University) right out of high school. But, college wasnt for him.

Instead, the ambitious 18-year-old took a job as a mail clerk at John Malmo Advertising. He soon convinced management to give him a chance as a media assistant, where he learned the ropes of media and print buying, negotiating rates for television and print ads.

After about 5 years with Malmo, Spencer moved around to a couple of different marketing and fund raising positions at other agencies, a local radio station and at the Pink Palace Museum. Then in 1999, he eventually settled into his first non-profit job, with, of all places, Habitat for Humanity - only this time with the international office in Americus, Georgia. But, his first experience with the housing organization was unfulfilling, and he left after just five months. My heart was in non-profits, he said. But, the problem was, this organization was so big I just kind of got lost.

However, he bounced back, and immediately landed a fund raising position with the local non-profit, Hope House, which operates a daycare for children who are affected or infected by HIV or AIDS. While there, Spencer implemented a $1 million capital campaign that will eventually enable the group to double the number of children they serve from 35 to 70. After two years with the childrens organization, he left this summer to accept his current position.

Since then, Spencers life has admittedly been a whirlwind as he defines the future of local Habit housing initiatives. But, for all his talk of money, marketing and development, Spencer is quick to point out that he is committed to the organizations bigger picture.

Every goal, objective and action plan thats put into place all reflect back our goal of eradicating substandard housing, he said. In those rare moments of spare time, Spencer said he often unwinds by cooking a good dinner. But, his favorite pastime, he sheepishly admits is playing old card games like Bid Whist and Skip-Bo with friends and family.

Its such a nice break from work, because I could easily go sit in front of the television or read a book, but that interaction with people does me good.


PROPERTY SALES 106 318 6,336
MORTGAGES 131 363 7,084
BUILDING PERMITS 178 482 13,795
BANKRUPTCIES 40 208 4,301