Interview With President and CEO of Macomb Habitat for Humanity, Helen Hicks

A graduate of Marygrove College, Helen Hicks is the President and CEO of Macomb Habitat for Humanity overseeing all facets of this very complex organization.

She is an award-winning administrator having secured prestigious recognition such as Macomb County Hall of Fame Awardee, 2019, Macomb County Chamber Foundation; Michiganian of the Year, The Detroit News, 2001; Best-Managed Non-Profit Award, Crain’s Detroit Business, 2001 and many others. Additionally, in 2015, Mrs. Hicks received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Marygrove College where she earned both her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees.

Helen has held top-tiered positions at non-profit organizations such as The Food Bank of Oakland County, (which is now part of Gleaners Food Bank) and the Michigan AIDS Coalition.

Ms. Hicks has served on the boards of the Food Bank Council of Michigan, the American House Foundation, the Sojourner Foundation, and the Down Syndrome Guild of Southeastern Michigan.

Helen and her husband, Darryl, live in historic Port Huron in a former Bed and Breakfast. Collectively they have ten children and eight grandchildren.

We Empower Magazine secured an exclusive interview with Helen Hicks.

If someone were to ask you who is Helen Hicks, what would your reply be?

Helen: An enigma. I am fairly different from most other people in the way I see the world. My parents took great pains to teach us to care for the less fortunate so that has become a bright light for me. All of my positions have been in the non-profit sector. Furthermore, I passionately believe that all of us can lift each other up because in doing so, great karma comes back to us — the giver. As a result, my husband and I have adopted four children and work very hard to ensure that those children, and all of our kids, know about the importance of treating all people with dignity and respect. I like to live in diverse urban settings; network with people from every culture; create sustainable programs, and thank people every day for what they do to make his world better. Building relationships is what it’s all about for me!

What do you enjoy most about the work that you do?

Helen:  I enjoy many things about my job as President and CEO of Macomb County Habitat for Humanity, but my favorite is meeting the mission of providing community, homes, and hope to low-income families and individuals. Many people come to Habitat hoping to qualify for a mortgage so they can purchase one of our homes, but they discover their credit is too low or they do not earn enough to qualify. It is rewarding to provide them with education on budgeting and credit repair so they can become eligible within months. Homeownership builds wealth — financial wealth, emotional wealth, and even spiritual wealth. Nothing moves my heart as much as handing a family the keys to their new home!

What have been some challenges along the way that you have overcome?

Helen:   1. When I first arrived at Macomb Habitat, the only way you could qualify for a home was to have a significant tie to the county. That rule, of course, was illegal and had to be terminated immediately.

2. The families that were selected were often traditional families (mom, dad, kids, dog). I encouraged every version of family to be considered — single people and non-traditional families.

3. I came to Habitat in August of 2012, a decade after 911. The feelings of hate toward anyone who looked like a Muslim were real. My board was notified, a ton of diversity and tolerance training was provided, and these overt feelings were not tolerated in our workplace! Today, we have a very open mind toward whom we work as partner families.

As a result of our diligent efforts to be inclusive, the county awarded us the 2021 Diversity and Inclusion Award.

How has your experience been so far being a part of the THAT Girl community and what impact do you want to make? 

Helen: Natasha Lee inspires me because she goes after life. She is determined not to let the world pass her by and she wants to create joy and happiness in her work, fashion, and other endeavors. I like that. She inspires me. Plus, she is really different and that reminds me of me!

What are you currently working on and what do you have coming up? 

Helen: Here goes: 1. I’m working on lifting up my board by nominating them for awards and thanking them in small ways that matter.

2. I’m learning about how to solve the affordable housing issue. This is a huge hairy issue, and I am looking at it as an adaptive learning process. Small strides. Bite-size manageable efforts!

3. I’m trying to change the way people view humans with physical and mental challenges. Our son has Down syndrome and yet, he is the most perfect human I know.

4. I’m re-embracing my faith. As a Catholic, I have not always believed in all the rules. Still don’t. But I do believe in the values the church embraces of serving the poor and loving one another. I am focusing on those values and asking God for forgiveness anytime I slip and fall.

5. I’m trying to figure out how to retire in seven years. 6. I’m goin to write a book that outlines how to be successful as a leader for non-profit organizations.

What else would you like for us to know about you? 

Helen: I recently lost a great deal of weight; I like red licorice and good coffee; My nails always look great, and I have a soft spot for asylees and refugees. And of course…on November 11, Macomb Habitat is hosting its yearly Gala and the Detroit Youth Choir will be rocking the house. Email Catherine at clebar@macombhabitat.org for more information.

How can our readers keep up to date with all you have going on? 

Helen:  They can ask our Manager, Dave, to add them to our monthly newsletter. dtirsell@macombhabitat.org or…they can meet me for coffee so I can get to know them better. hhicks@macombhabitat.org.

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