During the past 23 years, Vivian Chance has worked closely with the families served by Dalton-Whitfield Habitat for Humanity, and she says she has become close to all of them.
“I cry when they lose loved ones or suffer some other sort of hurt. I’m happy when they are able to pay off their house early. It has been a rewarding job, and it’s a place God meant for me to be,” she said.
Chance will be stepping down as Habitat’s executive director at the end of the month. Habitat is an international agency that builds simple, affordable housing for those who do not own homes.
“I had to do a lot of praying about retiring,” Chance said. “But I feel like the time is right. I’ve worked 53 years of my life, and in that 53 years I’ve only been off two months. It’s time for me to think about Vivian.”
Chance credits former Dalton Public Schools superintendent Charlie Bowen for bringing her on board at Habitat.
“He was responsible for bringing me into Dalton Public Schools and Habitat for Humanity. He hired me at Dalton Public Schools in 1972 as bookkeeper and office manager. I was the first full-time bookkeeper that the city school system had,” she said.
In 1990, Bowen, who had retired by that point, returned to the school system’s central office and the two started talking about his involvement with Habitat.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you come to our next meeting? We need a secretary,’” Chance said. “I came to the meeting and I was elected to the board where I served as secretary.”
Bowen said Chance was exactly what Habitat needed.
“She is a fine young woman, and she’d been an excellent office manager,” he said. “We needed somebody with those sort of skills, and when she gets involved in something she doesn’t do anything half way. She has worked like a Trojan.”
In February 2000, after she retired from the school system, the board hired Chance as Habitat’s executive director.
“I was the first employee Dalton-Whitfield Habitat had,” she said.
“It’s one of the best things you can get involved with. It’s not a handout. It’s a hand up. Many families, especially with young children, would not have a home if it wasn’t for Habitat,” she said. “They are screened. They go through training on how to be a homeowner. They have to put in what we call sweat equity by working on their house or another Habitat house. If you have to work for something it means more than if you have it handed to you.”
Since its founding more than 30 years ago, Dalton-Whitfield Habitat has built 47 homes and renovated two others. It is currently working on its 50th and 51st houses, and Chance has been involved with all those families.
“She really has become close to all of them. She’s the board’s liaison to the families,” said Habitat President Pam Stephens.
Chance also started Habitat’s ReStore at 1509 N. Thornton Ave. in Dalton, which sells donated appliances, furnishings and building materials to raise money to build houses.
“I brought it to the board, and they got interested in it. It serves several purposes. It helps us raise money. It keeps that material out of the landfill, and it gives people who can’t afford to shop at Lowe’s or Home Depot a place to find things at a reasonable price,” Chance said.
Everything in the ReStore is donated. Builders and remodelers donate leftover materials or used items. And local floorcovering companies often donate material that has been discontinued or returned.
Stephens said the board has already begun interviewing candidates to replace Chance. While Chance has worked part time, her successor will be a full-time employee.
“It has gotten more complicated to build a house. There’s more paperwork, more things that need to be done,” Chance said.
And Dalton-Whitfield Habitat is expanding to Murray County, too.
“We are getting larger. We’ve had land donated in Murray County, and we’re building over there,” Stephens said.
The city of Chatsworth has donated two lots.
“They are pretty close to downtown. We’ll be building two houses there. Everything has been staked off, so we should be starting pretty soon,” Chance said.
So the next executive director will have plenty to do.
“Vivian leaves some big shoes to fill. She has offered to give us any help we need for a smooth transition, and I’m sure we’ll have to take her up on that,” Stephens said.