After more than a decade of service to Sanford’s Habitat for Humanity, Executive Director Gary Wicker is retiring.
“It’s been really rewarding,” he said of his time at the nonprofit, sitting in his office on Wicker Street on Monday. “Working with the board that we have, I’ve always enjoyed that. It’s been a positive the whole time I’ve been here.”
Wicker has led the nonprofit for 13 years, managing the organization’s budget, corralling volunteers to build houses, and working with families to help them move into new homes. As the director, Wicker’s responsibilities varied, he said. Over the years, he’s worked in every part of the organization.
“I did the financial end, I write the checks, I did the bookkeeping,” he said. “I answered phones, I looked after the ReStore, the bird store. I was somewhat involved with the building end of it. Whenever they needed me, I tried to find people who would help with the building, did all the paperwork.”
During Wicker’s tenure at Habitat for Humanity, he and other staff helped close to 40 families into new homes, guiding them through the application process and helping them manage their mortgage payments.
“It’s a good feeling when you put a family in a home,” Wicker said. “We put a family in a home in May, a mom and several children. And we’ve had several pay off their homes in the last two or three years.”
Most of the nonprofit’s clients are renters before they move into their first house, Wicker said. In some cases, their rent is higher than a monthly mortgage payment. When clients do move into a house, “it’s something they have to learn,” Wicker said. “When you go from renting to owning a house, you’re responsible for stuff.”
As part of the program, clients help build the house or assist Habitat for Humanity in other ways.
“They have to have sweat equity in the home. We prefer they actually help build their own home, but they can work in the ReStore, volunteer in the bird store,” Wicker said. “We want them to be involved in it, we want them to take ownership of the home and be a partner with us.”
Before Wicker worked for Habitat for Humanity, he directed the Sanford Area Home Builders Association, a nonprofit that represents and promotes the local building industry. He also worked for the Lee County school district as a teacher, athletic director and administrator, Wicker said.
When he retires, Wicker will be busy managing a rental company he co-owns, he said.
“The rental property will keep me busy. And we live on about 40 acres of land and I have to look after that,” he said. “I’ve got plenty to do.”
For now, Wicker is still working hard to reach his last day as director. In past weeks, he’s helped new director Kimberly Rau transition into the role. But before he departs, Wicker also has to balance the organization’s budget one last time. On Monday, he was in the midst of searching for a missing $87.48.
“When I’m balanced, I’m out the door,” he said. “I’m just trying to figure out where that $87 is at.”