Dan Simpson has called central Delaware home for all but four of his 48 years, so seems natural he’d want to make it a better place.
“I was born in Wilmington, but we moved to Camden shortly after and it’s been home to me ever since,” he said.
With his Feb. 15 appointment as the new executive director of the Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity, Simpson is hoping to do just that.
Habitat has been working with ecumenical as well as secular groups for more than a quarter-century to provide housing for people in need. Most recently it has been a part of the Restoring Central Dover initiative, which along with the state’s Downtown Development District program has sought to build new homes in distressed areas of Dover.
In October, Habitat oversaw the demolition of three condemned properties on New Street and in December held ceremonies for newly built homes on Kirkwood, New and Queen streets.
It’s part of what has been called “the Delaware Way,” Simpson noted.
“We live in a community that’s small enough that people with similar missions and a sincere interest in making a positive difference can come together,” he said.
Simpson succeeds Jonathan Gallo, who announced his departure in October 2016.
To further Habitat for Humanity’s mission, Simpson can draw upon 30 years of experience in home construction, real estate, marketing, fundraising and public relations.
“In the midst of all of that, my concentration always has been on front-end service, contact with the customer and managing the people who do that every day,” he said.
“There’s a lot of direct and specific correlation between what I’ve done in the past and what this role entails.”
As Habitat for Humanity is a housing ministry, its staff is dedicated to ideals of Christian works. It also operates the ReStore at 544 Webbs Lane, where donated items are sold to support Habitat’s mission.
“I’m really impressed with the quality of people who are involved,” Simpson said. “In every key position, full time or part time, including our volunteers, everyone displays professionalism and a sincere caring for their community.”
But Habitat doesn’t just build a home and allow a family to move in. The group guides prospective homeowners through the application process, which includes mandatory financial training and counseling. Families also are required to pitch in and help volunteer builders during the construction process.
Applicants still must pay for their finished home -- each receives a mortgage -- but it’s a home they’ve actually help build themselves.
Although it’s early in his tenure, Simpson already knows how he wants to move forward.
“I’m excited to say that we are going to continue to create home ownership opportunities,” he said. “We’re going to take in those people who would benefit the most from our programs and partner with them in the long term.”
Habitat for Humanity plans to work with up to 16 possible new homeowners through 2018, he said.
“We’re looking for the right homeowners, setting them up for success and making sure everyone benefits,” Simpson said. “That’s more important than total numbers.”
One recently completed home was built for a military veteran and another veteran’s home still under construction will be dedicated within the next few weeks.
Development Director Chris Cooper noted that two Habitat homeowners recently contacted his office to volunteer their time in helping new applicants.
“You can talk about the difference we make and all the stories about what it’s like going through their new houses for the first time,” he said, “but when someone comes back and says they want to help with what we’re doing, I think that speaks more to anything else about what we do.”
Simpson does manage to take some time for himself, however, to spend with his wife, Laura, and their three children. When he has the opportunity, he enjoys riding motorcycles for fun.
“It’s really the closest thing I have to a hobby,” he said.
As for the future of CDHFH, Simpson sees only good things.
“We’ve built 51 houses since 1990, and when you think about that and how we’re trying to push into another 10 to 16, it’s exponential. We’re trying to have a broader impact in the community and on people’s lives.
“I don’t think we need to do anything differently, we just need to do more of it.”