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After productive years,Habitat for Humanitymust seek new leader

Executive Director Jim Farr, right, and St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity board president Dave Meier hold their 2012 Nonprofit of the Year award given by the River Falls Chamber of Commerce last February. Farr is resigning his position. Board members credit him with expanding the scope and effectiveness of the local Habitat affiliate, resulting in national exposure and new beneficial partnerships. The board's members are: David Babcock, Joan Bartz, Russ Blasius, Sarah Bruch, Kelly Cain, Rollie Johnso...

The man who spearheaded a pair of key projects sponsored by the St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity has submitted his resignation.

After more than three years as Habitat for Humanity's executive director, Jim Farr, 63, of River Falls will resign effective Aug. 30.

The resignation is said to be due to "unfortunate personal and family circumstances."

Since Farr joined St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity, it has opened ReStore in New Richmond and, more recently, began building the highly publicized Eco-Village on the west side of River Falls.

ReStore is a re-use, recycling and restorative secondhand discount store for building materials, furniture, and other household and office goods.

Customer merchandise is heavily discounted. Proceeds go to build Habitat for Humanity housing in St. Croix and Pierce counties.

For the Eco-Village, the completion of the project's Phase 1 means low-income families are moving into a half-dozen twin homes this spring and summer.

Phases 2 and 3 will include single-family homes. Construction should continue through 2014.

Eco-Village green homes are ultra-energy efficient and designed to produce most if not all of their own power.

"Beside the launch and very rapid success of the ReStore under Jim's leadership, the Eco-Village has captured national media attention in both syndicated and industry trade journals," said Kelly Cain of the St. Croix Habitat board of directors. "It is truly one of the most progressive projects in the county, proven daily by the number of public and private inquires the (Habitat) affiliate and its partners receive on what it is and how it is being accomplished."

Cain, also a UW-River Falls environmental science professor and director of the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development, said Farr helped establish the Eco-Village as "one of the premier national demonstration projects in the country for low- to moderate-income housing."

Cain called Farr a master at nurturing various local, regional and national partnerships that are a must for a project like the Eco-Village.

"That site has been transformed from a grey field into a green field, hosting our first six families," he said. "Homes seven and eight are under construction and numbers nine and 10 begin excavation any day now.

"This is on top of the extensive road, utility, and landscape infrastructure that has been put in place, as well as the ongoing planning and initial design for the community center and photovoltaic field."

Farr, who worked for many years in the healthcare field at 3M in St. Paul, said the joy of working at Habitat was its shared vision and effort, much of it done by volunteers.

"What we do is all team driven," he said. "I just orchestrated and brought resources together."

Cain stressed that Farr's leadership outreach turned the Eco-Village into a success.

"From building relationships with surrounding neighbors to local government, contractors, charitable foundations and multinational corporations, Jim has provided the inexhaustible energy to meet the overwhelming challenges that guiding a project like this demands," he said.

"Jim's passion and commitment for the mission of Habitat for Humanity, and the people and communities it serves, is unquestionable."

Cain said Habitat's staff and board is already in "advanced discussion" to set up an Eco-Village II. Cain said he can't reveal the site yet "until the other community is ready to be more public about it."

Farr said his job satisfaction came from how Habitat for Humanity fulfills a basic human need: Providing shelter, a home.

He said that, along with food, healthcare, education and a job are building blocks that result in a "complete human being who has a sense of self-worth and confidence."

Farr said the local Habitat relies on a "wide, integrated network" that includes communities, foundations, churches, civic groups, schools, the university and for-profit corporate sponsors.

"Having that all come together and seeing the cooperation between those sources is where I get my sense of accomplishment," Farr said.

He added that he's constantly inspired by working with families served by Habitat.

"They are amazing, what they have overcome under difficult circumstances to make it where they are," he said. "It's inspiring and humbling to see."

Cain said that because of Farr's work, St. Croix Valley Habitat has plenty of positives to leverage.

"Our search for Jim's replacement has a tremendous opportunity to take this momentum to even greater levels, propelling the SCVHFH and our two-county service area into even great performance on behalf of the many...families that look to us for a hand up," he said.

A human resource consultant has been hired to conduct a national search and screen to replace Farr.

"Our hope is to have a person on board by the time that Jim leaves on August 31," Cain said.

St. Croix Valley Habitat's office in downtown River Falls is at 116 E. Elm St.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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