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New Habitat for Humanity director seeks eligible families

February 2, 2019

The region’s Habitat for Humanity chapter has a new leader, and her first order of business is finding a qualified applicant to help build an affordable home this year.

Eleanor Chiquoine retired Friday after nearly nine years leading Habitat for Humanity of the Wisconsin River Area. She’s being succeeded by Morgan Pfaff, a onetime volunteer who went on to work at two Habitat for Humanity offices elsewhere in Wisconsin. The nonprofit helps low- to moderate-income families become homeowners by providing financing, construction expertise and volunteer labor.

“It just got in my heart,” Pfaff said. “It’s a model I believe in.”

Friday she and Chiquoine visited a Habitat home that’s being built on White Spruce Avenue in southern Baraboo. That home will be dedicated in March.

Pfaff already has turned her attention to soliciting applications for this year’s construction project. The chapter owns several lots within its service area and hopes to build in the Reedsburg, Lake Delton or Portage areas. The organization is looking for working families earning 30 to 80 percent of the area’s median income.

“With every family we’re serving, we’re making a huge, permanent impact on the community,” Pfaff said.

A Waukesha County native, she volunteered at her local Habitat affiliate about six years ago. She ended up working there, and at a Habitat office serving the West Bend area.

Chiquoine said the organization is excited about handing the reins to an experienced hand. The executive director must be knowledgeable about mortgage lending, workplace safety, volunteer recruitment and retail operations. During Chiquoine’s tenure, the affiliate built 32 homes and opened ReStore locations in Baraboo and Portage. “You have to know an awful lot of different stuff,” Chiquoine said.

She joined Habitat after stints at the Sauk County Humane Society and Historical Society. Approaching 65, she decided it was time to retire and announced the move to the board of directors in October. “I was a little tired,” she said. “It was fun, but it definitely was a busy job. I decided I didn’t want all the busyness.”

Founded in 2001, the local chapter serves Sauk, Columbia and Iowa counties. It provides no-interest mortgages to applicants who work side-by-side with volunteers in building their homes. Habitat also offers home repair and rehabilitation programs.

Chiquoine and Pfaff said identifying qualified applicants and rounding up labor has been challenging. “We will build more if we can get the volunteers and the families,” Pfaff said.

Applicants must demonstrate the ability to pay an affordable mortgage on the basis of their income and credit history.

“We feel they’re out there,” Chiquoine said. “They just don’t know help is available.”

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