SBJ photo by McKenzie Robinson

A Conversation With ... Jeff Nagy

Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity of Springfield, Missouri Inc.

Posted online

What was your interest in joining Habitat for Humanity and moving to Springfield?
My background is extremely nonlinear. I did some work with Habitat after professional baseball. I was their construction director in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I fell in love with the model and just have a heart for it. I just love working with folks to see the sweat equity. A lot of folks believe that we give away homes. They don’t understand that our partners, our clients, our homebuyers, they do a lot of work on their own home or on other people’s homes. Sometimes, that can take up to a year to get the hours they need to qualify for homeownership through our program.

Tell us about your most recent position leading Perceptron Consulting in San Francisco and your path to nonprofit work.
I got a fellowship to the (Department of Veterans Affairs) in Palo Alto and Stanford [University]’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences to do research with veterans that were diagnosed with major depressive disorder or bipolar. I was on a track to be an academic or clinical scientist and professor, but where my passion really lay was with data. I could compile data and “munge” data and then do the advanced statistical analysis and really discover some latent or hidden insights. That got me excited. I ended up pivoting and started my own consulting company. I was able to do some really fun work projects within the health care and gaming industries. I ended up working with California’s first surgeon general, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who had a heart and passion for children. I did some work examining childhood trauma, particularly in Black and brown communities and looking at things like systemic racism, biases, oppression. It just kind of bubbled that nonprofit passion for me.

How will your expertise with data connect with Habitat? Will you incorporate that into your donor database or operations?
We’re getting into place data collection models on how we can track and determine who’s more likely to donate to our mission, affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization. I’m working with [Development Director] Abby [Glenn] and ways to improve our Tool Belts & Bow Ties with data. How do we better promote that? How do we expand our reach using social media data and saturate our brand within the market using different data science principles? And in ReStore. Every dollar that is spent in our ReStore goes right back into the community. People are coming in, they’re buying gently used home improvement goods, products and home furnishings. We’re looking at the data of how we can improve and actually grow that particular market, possibly looking at the south, into Republic, Nixa, Ozark and having a footprint down there. And then, once we establish that footprint, we’d love to start to build some homes and revitalize communities. I’d love to do something with Amazon. I’m coming from Silicon Valley; I’m (Amazon Web Services) certified – something high-tech, like Alexa homes.

Part of Habitat’s mission is keeping people in their homes. Talk about your neighborhood revitalization program.
Kelsey Millholland runs our department on neighborhood revitalization. What I’ve learned from Kelsey is we’re really active with Woodland Heights, a legacy neighborhood. Once we get in a neighborhood, we want to look at not just affordable housing but critical home repairs, because some folks, they’re in such dire need to have a roof. It’s been leaking for 10 years but they can’t afford it. We provide that safety net. But at the same time, we’re also looking at food security. … We’re looking at health care, particularly mental health. It’s looking at the whole neighborhood.

What are your main areas of focus in the coming year?
I’m working with Mark Murphy, our construction director, (to) leverage tech. We’re looking at doing, as part of our volunteer recruitment and retention, do-it-yourself courses here at our ReStore. Then having maybe a do-it-yourself club that would pay a monthly fee and they get access to over 100 years of experience in construction and residential and commercial construction with YouTube videos. We are going to be rebranding. Right now, we’re HabitatSpringfieldMO.org and we’re going to be HabitatSGF.org. We’re not moving away from our legacy messaging. We’re really good at building homes, but we’re going to add to those different communication channels.

Jeff Nagy can be reached at jnagy@habitatspringfieldmo.org.