New Greater Mount Airy Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Neil Cothren said he feels success lies in being a part of the community. He said he has learned as a retail manager the support of community is critical for a business to succeed.
“I became interested in participating in Habitat for Humanity through David Hayes when he was the group’s chairman,” said Cothren, who officially took on the role Sept. 17 after resigning from the Board of Directors to accept the post. He said the executive directorship is a compensated position with an annual amount but does not receive full-time executive directors’ pay. The group would not divulge the compensation figure.
“I saw first hand how wonderful an opportunity the house build project at North Surry High School was for students from all over the county. Dave (Hayes) mentioned joining the group to me a couple of times and I just followed his invitation”
He said he began his involvement with Habitat with only a brief knowledge of what the group’s ministry was about.
“It was an opportunity to pay back the support my store here has received from the community,” said Cothren. “At that point I knew just some basic things about the group. It’s been a learning experience for me and I hope my 21 years of retail experience will help them generally as well as helping them develop their ReStore concept.”
He praised the habitat board of directors for drawing on the talents of a diverse group, ranging from participants not only in retail, but real estate, banking, property management, education and community leaders. He said he feels one of the strengths of the board is its members each bring a fresh perspective into the mix from different walks of life.
“Habitat’s board is a good group who know about a lot of things and who can get a lot of answers,” Cothren said. “I really enjoy the partnership we (Lowes) have with Habitat which allowed us to stage a Women’s build project at the Clark Family Home site. I’d say more than 15 of our ladies participated in that and we staged how-to clinics to prepare participants beforehand.”
Cothren said Lowes also has a Habitat house build project in Charlotte where it has corporate volunteers participate in the various stages of the build. That project’s goal is to have the home built in one month.
“I believe the saying we have in retail that you have to have the courage of a warrior and the heart of a servant,” said Cothren. “Retail is not only about service. It is about giving back. Our store here in Mount Airy is ranked 13th out of 139 stores in the region for customer service overall and 45th in the entire company. We’re doing some good things for our community and they have recognized us for that.”
He said he often gets comments from store associates in surrounding areas about how they enjoy coming to Mount Airy because of the friendly atmosphere. Cothren said this is a positive behavior employees do on their own even when he is not in the store. He said that is the community the store is in and affirms Mount Airy is a friendly city.
“One of the biggest changes I’ve had to adjust to is learning Habitat is not like a large corporation where money is always available for projects,” Cothren said. “Just painting the store here cost $136,000 and upgrades are a constant process for us. Habitat’s resources are not unlimited. It takes hard work and sacrifice for a local affiliate.”
He said this necessity makes Habitat look more carefully and plan how and what it will spend its resources on.
“I am enjoying getting to know everything and enjoy seeing this work become a passion,” Cothren said. “There is nothing better than seeing the smiles on the faces of the family you’ve helped with Habitat when we hand over those keys.”
The local affiliate plans six house this coming year, one of which is under way as the second home build at North Surry High School is underway.
“We’re not going to slow down. The other thing I love to see is how our area high school students and Surry Community students are learning at the house build and having it all together for a career. I see them in the grocery store and they are so proud and excited to have been a part it and to have gotten the experience to build and move a home. That’s a good story to have been a part of.”
Cothren lives in the Trap Hill area. He and his wife, Nancy “Faye” have been married for 13 years and have one child, Evan, who is eleven. Cothren has been the store manager for Lowes Home Improvement in Mount Airy for five years.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-719-1952.