published Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Cooper: Pete Palmer retires as executive director of Habitat for Humanity

Serving as volunteer, board member and board president of Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Chattanooga Area wasn't enough for Pete Palmer. Following his retirement from Regions Bank, he stepped in as executive director for the nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization.

Today is his last day there.

"It's hard to imagine the Habitat program here in Chattanooga without Pete's involvement," board president Linda Mines said in a news release. "He has never faltered in his belief that Habitat was designed to serve families and that our Habitat families are vitally important to the Chattanooga each of us envisions as a model city."

Palmer, 65, has been involved with the organization since 1997.

His initial connection, he said, came when Habitat was a client and he began to deal with economic development affairs at the bank

"I began helping them raise funds through some vehicles we had available," he said. "Eventually, they invited me to join the board."

As board member, board president and executive director, Palmer helped direct the nonprofit through myriad changes, but he said what enticed him to stay around were the families involved.

"The main draw for me is the focus on our families," he said. "We don't do anything out here without initiating a relationship with the families. Everything we do is family-centric."

Palmer said the admiration began from afar and grew exponentially when he began to volunteer.

"If you stay here any length of time at all and participate in family outcomes," he said, "it's just very meaningful to see families enter the program, complete their sweat equity and become a home- owner."

Lately, Palmer said, the 25-year-old local affiliate has been seeing homeowners satisfy their mortgages.

"When they come in to make their final payments and tell how appreciative they are," he said, "how much of a difference it made [toward their] long-term stability, that's where the reward really is."

During Palmer's leadership on the board or as executive director, the Habitat for Humanity International affiliate relocated its headquarters and modernized the building to which it moved, redesigned the way homes are built and how energy efficient they are, added a construction component to the warehouse so some home pieces could be made ahead, improved site and campus safety, revised accounting procedures, improved technology and created a new strategic plan.

But the change he is most proud of is the construction, completion and reopening of the affiliate's ReStore, a retail store that accepts donations of new and gently used home and building items and, in tern, helps fund the construction of new Habitat homes.

"It was a milestone," said Palmer of the process, which went from planning in late 2008 to finish in the summer of 2011. "It affects us in so many ways. It takes us to another level."

Retirement, he said, will allow him to spend more time with his wife and two grown daughters and to continue as a member of the board of directors of Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

On the executive director's last day, though, he maintains he is no different than any longtime volunteer.

"Anybody who volunteers here long enough," Palmer said, "will simply tell you, you get more out of it than you ever put into it."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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