Almost Heaven

AHHFH 25th Anniversary Logo Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, but the organization that provides services across three counties in West Virginia almost didn’t make it to this impressive milestone.  Due to changes in expected funding, Almost Heaven found themselves at risk of closing their doors.  At first they fought against the changes, but staff and CEO Michelle Connor knew their mission was too important to spend all their time fighting, so they embraced the cuts and with help from Fahe put forth several innovative measures to keep Almost Habitat running without sacrificing their coverage area. Almost Heaven serves the West Virginia counties of Greenbrier, Pocahontas, and Pendleton Counties and at their height operated three offices and employed a staff of 27.  Almost Heaven has developed and built three affordable housing subdivisions, have over 2500 active volunteers each year, and performs other crucial community services such as outreach to active duty and retired military families.   Since their founding in 1989, Almost Heaven has built 118 new homes, repaired 332 existing homes.  The organization was also providing 10-15 new, low interest mortgages a year. They felt the operations were going well until several detrimental changes from different funders occurred in relative short succession. Several options were proposed to keep Almost Heaven from going under, but CEO Michelle Connor never considered reducing aid coverage as an option to save money. “The need of the families that we serve is too great,” said Connor.  “We couldn’t close our doors.  I knew if we didn’t have the funds then we would figure out how to change our operations without leaving the community.” Unfortunately, changing operations in a way that didn’t reduce the needed coverage to families meant that some people would lose their jobs.  “It was very hard to deal with letting people go,” said Connor. “They didn’t do anything wrong. Everyone who works here is very mission-driven.  It’s not just a job.  They believe in the work they do. So it was very hard.” But even after some of the hard changes, organization was still in danger of going under.  “We wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for Fahe,” said Connor. “We had the offer to join Fahe for quite some time, but we didn’t think we needed it.  However, we were in Washington D.C. and saw Fahe at the HAC (Housing Assistance Council) conference and decided that there was something we could contribute and decided to join.”  Three months after joining Fahe, Almost Heaven was still facing financial troubles. “When we decided to join Fahe, it was perfect timing.  I sat down with Jon Rogers and Eric Haralson and we began to map out the challenges facing Almost Heaven and on the spot they were already offering solutions.  They put together a financial package that would help us weather the storm.  I was humbled by the fact that Fahe didn’t know us very well but was willing to believe in us, invest in us, and saw what we were doing was far too important. “If Almost Heaven had closed their doors,” stated Tom Carew, Executive Vice President of Membership at Fahe, “It would take another nonprofit 10 years to reach the scale and capacity in which they were operating.” Despite the severe cutbacks, Almost Heaven still employs 17 full time workers, thanks to Fahe’s help. These jobs ensure that the workers at Almost Heaven can still provide for their families and contribute to the community.  Since Almost Heaven is an established organization, they stand a good chance of building back up to their previous size in a short amount of time by utilizing newer resources and funding. However, to keep up with past production and service, they have turned to the community to supplement their manpower.  Local volunteers are now being placed in leadership positions.  For example, two Lutheran Pastors, who are also a married couple, have taken up teaching a financial literacy course that is required to receive aid from Almost Heaven.  Almost Heaven will still provide the packets of learning materials to the families, but the staff that once taught the course is now freed up to focus on other responsibilities. Helping to keep Almost Heaven open not only helped to preserve an essential service for the families in the area, it also preserved 17 jobs. “We are a faith-based organization,” said Connor. “I believe God is using this as a way to refine us.  When we emerge from this, we’ll be more fit and while we didn’t do anything wasteful before, we will learn how to work on a leaner budget.  We fought against changing at first but we soon learned that we needed to adapt or we weren’t going to continue to exist.  The mission is too critical and the need of the families we serve is too great for us to even consider giving up.” We are proud to have played a crucial role in helping Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity reach their 25th anniversary and we hope that the strength of the Fahe network continues to empower them for many, many more years of service.