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Marriott group posing.

If you were at a home dedication in the last 20 years, you might have heard Jim Pate tell the shoe joke. It requires an exact set up that cannot be replicated in print, because it only works at a home dedication. We’re going to try anyway, though.

Picture this: a small crowd of people have gathered at a newly finished Habitat home. The freshly painted walls are brightly colored in the tradition of New Orleans neighborhoods. A happy family is standing on the porch with their case manager and a handful of Habitat leaders, including Jim. The ceremony has concluded. The ceremonial gifts–inspired by It’s a Wonderful Life, with messages of welcoming written by Jim–have been given. The key has been raised high for all to cheer, and the home has been blessed.

Jim invites the crowd to tour the home, with the homebuyer’s blessing. With a straight face, he encourages the crowd to take off their shoes before entering the home, so as not to track mud on the brand new floors. And then, with a slight smile, he says, “And when you come back out, find a pair you like better.”

In 20 years, as far as we know, no one ever lost a pair of shoes, so it seems like New Orleans Habitat supporters are fond of their own footwear, but Jim’s warm humor and welcoming presence was integral to the experience of our partner families and a cornerstone of our approach to our mission. His legacy at this affiliate will always be more than the homes built or the major accomplishments achieved. It will be his open door and compassion for the hard-working families we serve.

After 20 years, Jim Pate and Elizabeth Lisle, who led this organization through Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the levees, retired in August. They brought their dedication to Habitat (which they often jokingly called “Habititis”), innovative thinking, and love of New Orleans to their work here, seeing the affiliate become a leading home-builder after the storm. Jim helped found Musicians’ Village with Harry Connick, Jr., and Branford Marsalis, and oversaw the construction of the neighborhood, which remains a beacon of hope in the Upper Ninth Ward. Building communities is what Jim and Elizabeth did for 20 years, and in honor of their legacy, we will continue building communities, one home at a time.

In August, we welcomed Marguerite Oestreicher as our new Executive Director.

Under her leadership, we look forward to continuing to build affordable housing in New Orleans. Though this is a time of change for the affiliate, we remain committed to our mission. With the support of donors, volunteers, shoppers, and supporters like you, dozens of families have become homeowners or gotten the assistance they need for their home repairs this year. Whether it was Mary resting on her porch or Tyrone in his new neighborhood, the hard-working partner families who are part of our programs are the reason we build. They inspires us every day with their commitment, and they make what we do more than building homes–they build the communities.

This year, NOAHH continued to host thousands of student volunteers during the spring and winter breaks, held our third annual Women Build, our second Bench and Bar Build, and our third Unity Build. Longtime friends from NCSY, Credit Suisse, Crossroads Cincinnati, and more joined us on site, as did newer friends like Shirts Across America, Intralox, and Bluegreen Vacations. Volunteers are critical to our mission. Their work makes it possible for us to keep our homes affordable.

New Orleans Habitat opened our second ReStore this year. The new store, located in Kenner, expands our ability to raise awareness and funding for our programs and share affordable home improvement supplies with the community. Both stores are a major part of our mission, as partner families spend their first 100 sweat equity hours volunteering there, connecting with the community, and learning about Habitat.

The Habitat model is one of paying it forward. When you donate your money to the affiliate, your time to building homes, or your furniture, appliances, or building materials to the ReStore, you are making an investment that will be paid forward again and again. Every home built is sold for a 0% interest mortgage to one of our partner families who has worked hard in our program. The money from this builds more homes. The donations you make to the ReStore–or what you spend when you shop–goes toward our programs. Every dollar you spend or hour you give amplifies. This year, your generosity served dozens of families directly through home-building and home repair, and many, many more through affordable home goods and furniture, advocacy and awareness, and especially through the communities you have built, which will thrive for generations.

Thank you all for being part of another incredible year. We look forward to building with you again in 2020.

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