Add a banking background to 23 years of construction experience and a dedication to philanthropy and what do you get?
You get Cheri Witt-Brown, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Greeley and Weld County.
Witt-Brown is this year’s Women of Distinction awardee in the real estate, construction and development category. She will receive the recognition at the BizWest Women of Distinction breakfast on April 2, 7:30 a.m., at the Embassy Suites by Hilton, Loveland.
Witt-Brown has been leading the local habitat chapter since 2015, and the organization, whose reserves were depleted and was struggling to find buildable land, has seen remarkable growth. Since she came on board, it has developed four acres into 14 lots, rebuilt and increased reserves and purchased an additional 12 lots for half the appraised value.
One of the accomplishments of which she’s most proud is the partnership she developed with Jefferson High School, creating the Construction Pathway Program. It teaches nontraditional and at-risk students construction and life skills while they focus on the core curriculum requirements. The program prepares them for life after graduation with a portfolio of marketable and highly desirable skills. CPP has been so successful that Habitat International asked the Greeley-Weld organization to make a presentation about it at its March conference.
Living on the Western Slope for much of her career, Witt-Brown saw massive economic diversity.
“I always had a heart for those who were struggling,” she said. “We lived in Battlement Mesa, and I knew many families that worked two and three jobs up-valley in the Aspen resorts and it was hard to make ends meet. Being a school board member, I got an intense look into poverty and how it affects young children. I saw the differences between children who have a support system at home and those whose parents just couldn’t provide that support because of their work schedules.”
That insight would become the driver of much of her community service.
Fast forward from the 1980s to 2012, when Witt-Brown returned to Greeley, where she had been born. She immersed herself into the community as volunteer and event manager before moving into the position of community engagement manager. Then came the opportunity to lead Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity, putting her banking and construction background into action. She said the job satisfies her hard-wired desire to give back to the community.
“It’s no surprise that we have a great need for affordable housing. We’ve reached a crisis point in Colorado,” Witt-Brown said. “The better the region does economically, unfortunately what happens to the middle and working classes is that they cannot buy homes.
“I think I’ve seen that there has been an 85 percent escalation in real estate values over the past decade. That puts home ownership out of reach for many, many families. The average family in Weld County making $75,000 a year simply cannot buy a home.”
Witt-Brown aims to change those odds and make homeownership a viable option for more families in the Greeley area.