Over his many years in theatrical directing, Mark Wenderlich has some experience in taking on new roles.
His latest – as the new executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Ontario County – adds another dimension to a career of service in a variety of “hands-on” positions.
According to Wenderlich, he first got involved with Habitat about 16 years ago, volunteering to build one of the organization’s homes. The organization’s ability to meet tangible needs in a concrete way appealed to him, he said.
“I was looking for a way to give back and doing something with my hands was appealing to me,” he said.
When he got to the house, he was put to work putting a lock on a door, and by day’s end, he was helping to finish the roof.
Then about six months ago, the Canandaigua resident noticed the old racquetball club property on County Road 10 had been revived as something called the “ReStore.” Curious, he stopped in and found new and gently used appliances, furniture and other home goods selling at prices 50-70% below retail in a building staffed primarily by volunteers. The organization running the venture? Habitat for Humanity.
As professor of theatre at Keuka and a lighting designer and technical director for dance at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Wenderlich picked up a few supplies he used for props for plays and staging needs. But he also found himself jumping in to help again. After volunteering to work in the ReStore, he was tapped to serve on the ReStore committee and then asked to chair it when the previous chair stepped down. Wenderlich then organized an official grand opening event at the ReStore, and when his organizational, event-planning and marketing skills went public, the board asked him to bring those skills to Habitat’s part-time leadership position.
With his fingers still in the theatrical world, Wenderlich said he sees this new role directing the county’s Habitat group as a “stepping stone.” Eventually, the organization will need a full-time director, he said.
“It’s not about me. There are good people in this organization who have built every one of the approximately 16 houses over the last 20 years. Right now, I’m trying to see how I can help make what they want to do easier and better. The kind of skills I can give back with tend to be organizational, PR/marketing, strategic and planning skills as well as swinging a hammer,” he said.
On average, Ontario County’s Habitat for Humanity completes one house every 1-2 years, and the board challenged him “to double its housing output and see if it can [increase] to two houses per year.” The new residents of each Habitat home are granted a 20-year no-interest mortgage through a Habitat affiliate and payments go into building the next Habitat home, he said. As of 2002, the average Habitat home cost $51,219, according to the organization’s web site.
“There’s a lot of community people, construction companies, heating companies etcetera that donate time or substantially discount their goods and support this work,” he explained. In addition, Habitat requires each family put in 400 hours of “sweat equity” on their new home, in keeping with Habitat’s mission of “a hand up, not a handout.” Often, when their Habitat home is completed, a family will volunteer on the next home for a new family, he said.
Wenderlich has written solicitation letters to outside agencies, as well as some PR and marketing for a home nearly completed for a local family in Geneva. The Lapps and their seven children currently reside in an apartment and hope to move into their Habitat home sometime in February at the latest. Given the size of their family, the new home for the Lapps will be larger than the average 1,100-square foot Habitat home, with two extra bedrooms.
According to Wenderlich, most volunteers, including the family, work Thursdays through Saturdays on the house and so far, the drywall, interior painting and floors are done and the home awaits appliance installation.
“Just the smiles on these little girls’ faces and their family, when they look at their house – it’s phenomenal,” Wenderlich said. “The whole family came in and stuffed envelopes for the last mail merge campaign.
“It’s great helping out an organization that doesn’t just ask for your money,” he said, “but where you can see immediate, concrete results.”