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New Habitat executive director raises the bar

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

Newly appointed Habitat for Humanity for Summit & Wasatch Counties’ Executive Director Julie Bernhard aims high.

Within two weeks of becoming the head of the local nonprofit, she has set a tone for an ambitious year, with hopes of giving as many as three families new homes and raising $400,000.

Increasing fundraising events from two to five, and expanding its base of support from local businesses, Habitat has plans to move an unused home from Wasatch County to Duchesne County, begin a home in Kamas this June and hopefully choose a third project.

Bernhard has a rich background as an active leader on various local nonprofit boards, including founding the Park City and Summit County chapter of Planned Parenthood, a four-year position on the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah State Board, a two-year position on the Kimball Art Center Guild board and 12 years on the board of The Egyptian Theatre Company.

The fight to help house those who cannot afford the sky-rocketing Utah real estate market, is personal, she says.

In addition to noticing a community-wide need to shelter those who cannot afford the now $200,000-plus mountain homes, Bernhard says her commitment to help provide shelter for others has a lot to do with her own family history.

Before she moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, to become a nurse, Bernhard’s mother grew up with nine brothers and sisters in a tin house in the Ozarks, she says. Bernhard’s grandmother, however, continued to live in the house long after her children left, and Bernhard can remember visiting the house as a child.

"It’s more than skin deep for me it’s a personal crusade," she says. "My mother really taught me the importance of helping others."

Since volunteering at the Luther Place Women’s Shelter in Washington, D.C., at the age of 23, Bernhard has expanded her volunteer experience from U.S. groups like the March of Dimes, and Special Olympics and Make-a-Wish Foundation, to efforts abroad like the Ouelessebougou Alliance, a nonprofit organization, which has worked cooperatively with villagers in regions of Mali, West Africa.

Part of what Bernhard appreciates about Habitat is that its mission fills an urgent need.

"Habitat for Humanity provides over 175,000 homes providing shelter for 900,000 people worldwide housing for families right here in Summit and Wasatch County," she said. "It’s a common cause that unites us all and that can be supported by everyone."

Since 1995, Habitat for Humanity in Summit and Wasatch County has built seven homes.

Last year, the organization managed to unveil two homes for families in time for Christmas. Both homes are in Heber and have two-bedrooms, a bath and a two-car garage.

As with every low-income family benefiting from Habitat’s program, the families committed 200 hours each of "sweat equity" to help build their home with volunteers each Saturday. Through donated labor and materials, the homes are sold with no interest. The families are each issued a small mortgage that is made out to the "Fund For Humanity," an account that, in turn, helps to build future Habitat homes.

For June, Habitat has its sights set on breaking ground for "The Grassy Creek Project" in Kamas.

In an effort to support the project and the one in Duchesne County, the organization will attempt to raise $200,000 by the middle of the year with fundraising events such as The Hard Hat Ball in April and The 5th Annual Garden Party in July.

Bernhard notes the Park City Board of Realtors is among the top contributors to Habitat’s projects. For their Building Balance Golf Tourney fundraiser June 4, the organization plans to double its donation from last year bringing their contribution to $100,000.

Additional new fundraisers are in the pipeline as well, including a Building Balance Bowl-A-Thon this October and a Holiday Ornament fundraiser scheduled for November or December, she says.

For several years, the board has lacked an executive director, but Bernhard takes the appointment in stride, and feels that all of her charitable endeavors have somehow led her to this opportunity, she says.

"I am excited about joining the organization it has accomplished so much already," Bernhard said. "From my 20 years in Park City, I can see that we have only touched the surface of our potential involvement and I am looking forward to engaging different community groups and mobilizing individual participants to get involved."

For more information about Habitat for Humanity of Summit and Wasatch Counties visit http://www.habitatutah.org or call 658-1400 or 640-5119.


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