Today marks seven years for Jim Murphy as Honolulu Habitat for Humanity’s Executive Director. On this anniversary of joining the Habitat ‘ohana, he reflects on his first day on the job and lessons learned along the way.
It’s been seven years since I first walked onto a Habitat build site in Waimanalo. I was met with fifty curious stares from volunteers, staff, community members and Habitat families.
“Some guy from Chicago, I hear.”
Not gonna lie, it was a little intimidating.
I’ve learned some things since that day.
First, trust in the community you serve. Their strengths far outweigh their needs. They were thriving long before I arrived and will do so long after I am gone. I see this every Saturday build day when strangers come from across the island and neighbors come across the street. They are helping build for their communities, their Oahu.
They do this, not because someone told them they should, but because of their commitment to each other, to creating and preserving a better place for future generations. If you pay attention to the actions of the communities, you will learn more than you can ever hope to teach.
My second lesson? I am welcome here. Growing up in a small town in Indiana, working in the neighborhoods in Chicago for 20+, I have never felt as home as I do here on Oahu. Why? Sometimes I wonder. Always I am grateful. But I know that I don’t walk anywhere and feel alone. I experienced the kindness of the aunties in Papakolea. I have gone to kupuna breakfasts at the KEY Project in Kaneohe and been invited to strangers tables. I have paddled to Mokulea Island to learn it’s history and help support it’s future. Regardless of my path to get here, I know that I am meant to do this work, in this place with these good people who have welcomed me into their ohana. And I am honored to be here.
And last, there is tremendous resilience within this Habitat organization. Nonprofit work is not for the faint hearted. Don’t let anyone kid you. Yeah, we hug a lot and cry from time to time. But this work is tough. And every day I see it in the faces of the staff working toward helping others obtain their dreams and build a better life. I see it in the volunteers on the build site learning new skills and applying them to perfection to build the best house possible for the family. And the families. Their resilience is an inspiration to us all. We are just the closing chapter of their journey towards owning a home. Journeys that often start with discussions around the dining room table after the kids go to bed.
“Can we really do this?” “We gotta try.”
They say after seven years, you get an itch to do something else. I don’t feel it. I feel an itch to more of it. Seven years ago, we all started building together and I’m not about to stop now.