What is your role at CEI and how does that play out on any given day?
My job at CEI is varied, and so are my days, which makes my work life really interesting. I work with our Corporate Development team on grant funding for operations and capital. I oversee and raise grant funds for CEI’s Housing Counseling program. I work on affordable housing policy initiatives at the state and federal level – trying to bring the Maine and rural focus to these issues. So, for example, I’m on the board of the National Rural Housing Coalition, and on the board of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition. I work on a lot of special projects – for instance, I led CEI’s successful efforts to join both the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston and NeighborWorks America.
What knowledge and experience do you bring to the CEI team?
I came to CEI with 18 years of experience in the non-profit and community development world. I’d been living and working in the Boston area, and my experience was mainly with smaller, neighborhood-based Community Development Corporations – so they came out of the same history and reflected many of the same values as CEI, but typically had a much more urban slant. I’ve been a community organizer and planner, an executive director, and a consultant to a number of organizations. I’ve worked with boards of directors, tenant organizations, social services programs, and community action agencies, but the CDFI world was pretty new to me when I came on board – and it’s been a fascinating education so far!
What do you see as the major challenges facing rural America, particularly in your focus area?
Right now and in recent years, federal budget constraints and the fighting in Congress make it really challenging to maintain adequate support for important housing programs, especially those that work in rural communities. Right now in Maine there are 8000 rental units financed by USDA that will be threatened as their mortgages mature or when their owners want to exit the program, and there isn’t nearly enough funding available to preserve or replace that housing. In rural states like Maine, it’s also hard to make the case to funders and others about the real need that is here, because poverty is spread out, not concentrated, and it’s often not visible.
How does CEI partner with groups such as Rural LISC to bring resources to underserved communities?
CEI is a founding member of Rural LISC, and we work together on a lot of different levels. We have received grant and loan funds from them. We work with a strong network of our peers on policy issues, or sharing best practices – we learn so much from each other! I’ve personally found these relationships – with Rural LISC, the Opportunity Finance Network, the National Rural Housing Coalition, NeighborWorks, and so many more – to be the place where I learn and grow in my own practice. We leverage knowledge, money, and capacity through our networks.
What does living in Rural Maine mean to you? How does it impact your interests and values?
I never thought when my family moved to Maine nine years ago that I would become a farmer, but it seems that I have. We raise goats, chickens, ducks, and a ridiculously large vegetable garden. I’ve connected with a community of people who care about the land and the environment, about how their food is raised, and about self-sufficiency. I connect these values to my work, and to CEI’s values. I love that the deals we do touch Maine’s farmers, solar producers, fishermen, and chocolate makers. I love that our loans help create jobs that sustain communities all throughout rural Maine.