New Habitat director has always had passion for needy

New Habitat director has always had passion for needy

Image Credit: Melissa Herrera

Holmes Habitat for Humanity has a fresh new face in town as Keith Wengerd, a Hiland graduate, took over the reins as Habitat director from Mary Neutzling this past January.

Having spent the last 30 years in leadership positions in local rubber and plastics manufacturing, Wengerd is currently working in sales at Holmes Lumber, in addition to taking on the director role.

“I was the volunteer coordinator and construction volunteer on a past Habitat build in Loudonville and have always had a passion for helping those in need,” Wengerd said. “I was looking for a career change, and when this position came up, felt it would be a great opportunity to apply my leadership and continuous improvement experience in lean manufacturing to lead the efforts in our community to provide decent, affordable housing to our local neighbors in need.”

Former director Neutzling had some sage words of advice for Wengerd as he stepped into the role. “She said, ‘You’ll want to help everyone, but it is tough due to the huge need in the area and limited resources permitting only one build per year. Property for building is not only hard to come by but is rapidly increasing in price,’” Wengerd said.

Land in Holmes County has been on the rise for some time, and carving out space for cost-effective Habitat homes to be built will continue to be a challenge.

“I started in January 2022 and am getting adjusted quickly. Our current build began with a groundbreaking ceremony on April 5,” Wengerd said. “We are wrapping it up and tentatively expect to have the home completed with the dedication on July 25.”

It can be demanding stepping into a new role and gathering yourself to make a smooth transition, but Wengerd has been up to the challenge.

“There has been no tough part, really, other than staying organized,” he said. “We are in the process of interviewing to select our new partner family for next year’s build.”

Since 1976 when Habitat for Humanity was founded, they have made the world a better place one piece of building material at a time. Forward-thinking folks that coined the term “partnership housing” have been making homes available with sweat equity and interest-free 25-year loans. They call it a hand up, not a handout.

Wengerd has plans and ideas to bolster the Holmes County chapter of Habitat dramatically. With a current 16-member board and a bevy of area businesses that donate or discount labor and materials, Wengerd is excited to share new plans and thoughts.

“It will take a lot of research, but I want to look at the feasibility of opening a Habitat ReStore in Holmes County to accept excess building materials, appliances, home goods and resell them in a thrift store atmosphere. Currently, the closest such stores are in Wooster and Mt. Vernon,” Wengerd said. “I’d like to build more than one house per year, along with figuring out how to do home repairs or renovations for those in need instead of just building new. I’d also like to get more community involvement in support of what we do, along with fundraising, to make these things possible.”

A lifelong resident of Holmes County, Wengerd lives in the western half of the county with his wife Michelle. Their two youngest children are active in West Holmes sports including football, soccer, basketball, and track. They have three grown children who are on their own.

Even though Wengerd is a Holmes County native, learning about its needs can be an eye-opening experience when stepping into a role as big as Habitat director.

“There is a huge need for affordable housing in Holmes County,” he said, “but equally a huge number of generous, willing and able people in our community.”

The Holmes County chapter of Habitat for Humanity is currently on its 28th home build. It has brought hope and joy to folks that have needed a hand up.

“The goal is to give a boost, to help them get to where they couldn’t without the help of those more fortunate,” Wengerd said.

And Wengerd, like he has been for the last 30 years, is on the job.

Anyone with questions on the process, the application or becoming involved in Habitat can call Wengerd at 330-674-4663 or email him at director@holmescountyhabitat.org.