Tell us about yourself.
My name is Kristin Vinagro and I am the Director of Communications at Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity. I’ve been with Richmond Habitat for a little over seven years, and I absolutely love it! Prior to working for Habitat, I worked for the United Way in Fredericksburg, Virginia as an Information Services Specialist, helping to direct individuals in need to services and working with local nonprofits to help build their capacity and foster partnerships.
I am a double graduate of the University of Mary Washington, graduating in 2006 with a Bachelors in Historic Preservation, and again in 2007 with a Masters in Education.
In my non-work life, I have a wonderful husband who is a teacher in Chesterfield County and two adorable cats. My favorite hobby is traveling to new and exciting places!
What is the focus of your work?
As the Director of Communications, I oversee all marketing activities for Richmond Habitat, including social media, website, e-newsletters, graphic design, developing printed materials, some event planning, and public relations. I also act as the main grant writer for the organization, helping to raise funds to build homes for local families and individuals.
Richmond Habitat utilizes thousands of local volunteers each year to build and rehab homes for local families and individuals who do not earn enough to qualify for a traditional mortgage. Through us, they qualify for an affordable, zero percent interest mortgage, making their dream of homeownership, and the stability that it brings, a reality. Most of our homeowners come from unsafe, substandard, overcrowded or unaffordable living situations.
Richmond Habitat is an interesting organization because we are really three businesses in one – we are a construction company, we are a mortgage lender, and we also have two ReStore locations (the retail operation for Habitat for Humanity). Painting the full picture of what we do is an exciting and ever-evolving challenge!
ABOVE: A video about the mission of Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
My absolute favorite part of what I do is getting to share the stories of our incredible homeowners! When a new future homeowner is accepted to our program, I take them and their family out to lunch so I can get to know them one-on-one. Our homeowners are some of the most amazing, hardworking and compassionate people I’ve ever met. Being a part of Habitat for Humanity’s home ownership program is a major commitment. Each homeowner must take 10 financial and home ownership education classes, attend monthly one-on-one budgeting sessions and complete 350 hours of “sweat equity,” or volunteer time, building their home and the homes of other future homeowners before closing. On top of that, many of our homeowners are single-parents working at least one full-time, if not two, jobs and taking care of their children. They are putting in the work to better their lives, and it is so inspiring to me.
I also love how community-focused our organization is. Building a home through Habitat is a true community effort. We rely on businesses, faith organizations, individuals, local government and more to not only raise funds, but put in the hard work it takes to build a home. I’ve learned so many construction skills I never thought I would volunteering on a build site!
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
When I first started with Richmond Habitat seven years ago the organization was going through a rough patch. They had had some bad press, were in search of a new CEO, and were trying to rebuild. As a marketing and communications person, the challenge of having to rebuild relationships and regain trust was tough. But, shortly after I started, we got the right staff in place, including our amazing CEO, and we put our all into making the organization the strong, well-respected organization it is today! Many of us really like a challenge, and we celebrated the short-term wins along the way.
I am so proud of myself and the others in our organization who were vital to that rebuilding!
What’s one misconception the public has about your organization?
The biggest misconception people have about Habitat for Humanity is that we give homes away. That could not be further from the truth! As I mentioned above, our homeowners purchase their homes and pay an affordable monthly mortgage payment, the average payment being around $600 per month. On top of that, our homeowners commit to completing ten financial and home ownership education classes, monthly one-on-one budgeting sessions and working 350 hours on the construction site. We like to say our program is truly a hand-up, not a hand-out!
The other misconception is that Jimmy Carter was the founder of Habitat. While he is our most dedicated and famous volunteer and supporter, a man named Millard Fuller was the founder!
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
Right now, we are getting ready to finish up our largest Women Build initiative to date! This year, we are rehabbing an entire home using an all women volunteer crew. We started the build in May of this year and will wrap up around the end of August. In total, 231 local women signed up to volunteer and raised funds to support the build!
We are also in the planning stages of our second Global Village trip. Habitat for Humanity works in 70 countries around the world, and that provides us with the opportunity to take volunteer groups overseas to build homes in different areas. For our first Global Village trip we went to Cambodia and built a home for a family in a village near Siem Reap. We are hoping to take our next trip in early 2019 and are looking into taking a team of volunteers to Guatemala!
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
Last year the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority approached us about the opportunity to acquire properties from them from a program they no longer run. Many of these homes have been vacant for several years and are in great neighborhoods within the City of Richmond. We submitted a proposal, were approved, and are currently we are in the process of rehabilitating 12 homes in the Maymont and Randolph neighborhoods into affordable housing.
Our sister housing organization, project:HOMES, is rehabbing additional homes in the neighborhood as well. The Housing Authority opened up a second round of properties, and we are hoping to acquire additional homes in the Maymont and Randolph neighborhoods later this year. This collaboration is very exciting for everyone involved! We are providing safe, affordable home ownership opportunities and helping to revitalize the neighborhood by putting these vacant properties back into use.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA and the Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
With the opening of our second ReStore location this Spring, we’ve used ConnectVA as one of our main sources for recruiting new staff. We really get a great response from those who look to ConnectVA for job opportunities!
I am a recent graduate of the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program, run by the Community Foundation, and I cannot say enough great things about it! I learned so much about myself and what it means to be the leader of a nonprofit organization here in Richmond. It provided me with the confidence, network of peers, and tools I need to go far!
Finally, we were very lucky to receive a grant through the Community Foundation, and through several of the family foundations hosted through them, which will allow us to continue our work and serve additional families and individuals this year.
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