Bob Dister chosen executive director of Lenawee Habitat for Humanity

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Thirteen years have passed since Bob Dister first became involved with Habitat for Humanity, but he clearly remembers how it started in Morenci.bob.dister.jpg

Evans Bentley, a former Methodist pastor here, talked to Bob about the need for affordable housing in the community and they spoke with Harvey Souders of the Bank of Lenawee about the issue. He told them to contact Habitat for Humanity.

Dister soon became involved in Morenci’s first building project. After nearly two years of planning and fund-raising—the first two Labor Day bridge walks were for Habitat—a house was dedicated in 1997.

Dister also played an integral role in Morenci’s second Habitat house, dedicated in 2005.

Now he’s taking a much bigger role in Habitat for Humanity of Lenawee County. Following the resignation of long-time director Dick Drabek, Dister was hired last month by the board to serve as director in an expanded, full-time role.

The board received about 50 applicants for the position, said Habitat board president Gary Dawes, and Dister proved to their top choice.

“Bob’s really excited and we’re glad to have him,” Dawes said. “With Bob serving full time, it should help us reach out to more people. There’s a lot of need right now.”

Dawes cited Dister’s experience with Habitat plus his status as a certified lay pastor as important qualifications.

“I know I have some big shoes to fill,” Dister said about following Drabek’s many years of service. “I’m very grateful to Dick for all he’s done for Habitat of Lenawee. He’s provided the leadership that was needed over the years.”

The Lenawee branch of Habitat will observe its 20th anniversary this year.

Habitat is generally recognized for its volunteer-built houses, Dister said, but it’s much more. It serves as a mortgage company to finance homes.

“It’s not a give-away program by any stretch,” he said.

The organization also serves a social service agency to counsel on issues such as self-sufficiency, paying taxes, etc. It works in partnership with several other agencies such as Goodwill, Community Mental Health and the HOPE Center.

It also operates the Re-Store on Treat Highway—a place to collect and sell construction materials at discounted prices. Left-over materials from a construction project, for example, are donated to the store and sold to raise cash for Habitat projects.

“Habitat is far more complicated that what people see,” Dister said.

The group also helps organize volunteer projects for people who already own a home but are having trouble accomplishing needed updates. A church group, for example, might help build a new porch.

For the past 20 years, Habitat has been known for the construction of new homes—34 have been completed in Lenawee County—but the board is looking in another direction, also.

Dister said there were about 150 foreclosures in Lenawee County in 2007. Last year, the number jumped to 640 and he expects even more this year as economic troubles lead to job loss.

There are so many empty houses on the market now, Dawes said, that new homes aren’t needed as in the past. Instead, Habitat will put more emphasis on rehabilitation of existing housing stock.

Construction experts will determine if rehabilitation makes good economic sense. If it does, Habitat will buy the home and begin renovation.

Dister is raring to go.

“I’m so excited about what we’re doing,” he said.

It’s a true pleasure to go to work.

PASTY PROJECT—Habitat for Humanity of Lenawee County’s most popular fund-raising effort is coming soon: The Great Pasty Project.

Orders are being taken for delivery in Morenci and four other county communities.

The meat pies stuffed with beef and vegetables are made by volunteers, with proceeds going the Habitat. Pasties will be frozen and delivered to the Morenci United Methodist Church Jan. 24, with pickup scheduled from 9 a.m. until noon.

Organizers suggest buying an extra pasty to donate to local programs helping to feed those in need.

This marks the ninth year of the project.

To order pasties, call Sybil Diccion at 458-2200 or order on-line at www.habitat-lenawee.org.

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