Jimmy Rutland Effecting Generational Change Through Home Ownership
Jimmy Rutland | Effecting Generational Change Through Home Ownership
Story by Claire Sandow
Photography by Erich Perez
For nearly 20 years, Jimmy Rutland has shaped the futures of multiple families in Effingham County, first as a volunteer and currently as President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County.
Jimmy started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in 2004, encouraged by his peers in his men’s prayer group that still meets to this day. He has been involved in every build since then, spending many Saturdays on home construction sites. He was invited to join the board of directors in 2008 and assumed the role of executive director in 2010.
“I was looking for a career move. I had been working with a commercial construction company and [this role] fit in with what I did,” Jimmy says. “It’s interesting being in a job where you come to work every day and your motivation isn’t making a profit.”
When he worked in construction, Jimmy tracked projects from start to finish and became familiar with the logistics and costs required to ensure that a project stays on schedule.
Jimmy also worked in IT for many years, giving him experience that has helped him adapt to a changing technological landscape. From building personnel databases at AT&T to tracking donors at Habitat, his roles have evolved but some things stay the same. Social media and online donation platforms allow Habitat for Humanity to reach a wider audience, but the personal relationships he has built are still essential for the mission.
“There are a lot of nonprofits in our community, and they are all trying to solicit money in the community for their missions,” Jimmy says. “We aren’t able to serve large numbers of people like a food pantry that gives out thousands of pounds of food, but the changes we make are generational.”
Since the Effingham County affiliate’s establishment in 1995, they have strived to provide pathways to home ownership for families who struggle with substandard living conditions and saving for a large down payment while facing housing costs that eat up most of their income.
“Many of the families we serve, there’s upheaval. They move from place to place because of a rent increase or poor living conditions. This gives them stability,” Jimmy says.
Because Habitat for Humanity strives to create stability for the people they serve, Jimmy has kept up with many of the partner families over the years.
“Some of them come by the office and I see some others regularly like when I’m out shopping. Some of them call when they have issues or questions, which we encourage fully.”
April Wise, the newest homeowner through Habitat for Humanity, benefited from Jimmy’s guidance to qualify for her home. She had applied previously but did not meet all the requirements, so she went back to the drawing board and was able to qualify on her second try.
“Jimmy worked with me and told me exactly what I needed to do,” April says. “After I applied for the house the second time, he looked me dead in the eye and said ‘April, I’m very proud of you. You’ve come a very long way since the first time I met you.’ He’s a great man.”
Building a Team
As President and CEO, Jimmy is supported by a board of directors with 11 members who boast a variety of complementary skills and community relationships, but one thing is most important: a passion for Habitat for Humanity’s mission.
“We operate differently than a lot of boards,” Jimmy says. “We spend our meeting time discussing the future, not the past. We focus on what we’re doing next.”
Jim Presnell, chairman of the board of directors, describes Jimmy as someone with a special connection to Effingham County. “He seems to know everyone and has a recollection or short story about all of them.”
Jimmy’s staff also thinks highly of him both professionally and personally.
“He always backs me up. You don’t often get that in a retail environment,” says ReStore manager Kait Rapp. “He has also supported me outside of work. He came to zoning committee meetings to speak on my behalf when I was working to build a tiny home. He did research, found building codes for me…he’s an all-around awesome guy.”
Jimmy is native to Savannah but moved to Effingham County in 1991. He and his wife of 51 years raised four children, one of whom still lives in the area. They also have eight grandchildren and five of them live in Effingham County.
Outside of work, Jimmy stays busy with home renovations. He owns a 120-year-old farmhouse in Springfield, and there’s always a project to do to keep it in good condition.
Jimmy’s relationships have helped to build Habitat as a pillar of the community. He is a member of the Effingham County Exchange Club, a service organization that supports many local nonprofits and community groups.
“We want to participate in some of the growth of the county,” Jimmy says. “We hope to grow our financial support and our volunteer participation as more people come in.”
Volunteers like Connie Bazemore give of their time and talents because they believe in the mission of Habitat for Humanity in the same way that Jimmy does. Her church, Bible Lutheran Church in Rincon, was a major sponsor of the most recent home and several others before that. Connie originally met Jimmy through mutual friends and commiserates with him on the joys and challenges of the nonprofit realm.
“I worked for a nonprofit for 20 years, so I know they never have enough help and they never have enough money,” Connie says. “That’s why I chose [Habitat] to start volunteering.”
Dedicated to the Mission
Under Jimmy’s leadership Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County recently dedicated its 23rd home. The home—the third of four homes planned for 4th Street Extension in Guyton—took just over a year to build with the help of volunteers from all walks of life, including the new homeowner and her two children.
Every home dedication is special to Jimmy, but one from several years ago stands out specifically because it shows the positive impact that a stable home can provide. At this dedication, the homeowner’s child asked “Mommy, is this really our home now? I can have my own room for good?” to which her mother was able to respond, “We’re never going to have to move again.”
“Doing this job is extremely gratifying, putting families in homes and seeing their reactions,” Jimmy says. “It’s the perfect example of why we do what we do.”
Now that this home is complete, Jimmy is looking forward to the next ones. Land has been set aside for two more homes in the county: one in Guyton and another in Rincon. They are looking for partner families who are prepared to take on the opportunity of attainable home ownership.
How to Help
Fundraising is also an ongoing project. “Revenue from the ReStore covers most of our overhead expenses, so our donation dollars can go straight into our construction projects,” Jimmy says. Donors can choose to contribute to a specific build or donate to the general fund, either as a one-time donation or as a recurring pledge.
Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County also conducts ongoing collections of aluminum to recycle. The scrap aluminum is sold by the pound and the proceeds benefit Habitat’s ongoing construction costs. For participating, they also receive a grant from Habitat for Humanity International and Novelis. Aluminum cans can be dropped off at the bin in front of the ReStore.
Donations of gently used household appliances, furniture, tools and surplus building supplies are appreciated at the ReStore, which provides an affordable alternative to buying new. Volunteers are appreciated at the ReStore to help with loading and unloading, organizing and other tasks as needed.
Jimmy hopes that construction will begin on the next homes later this year. Volunteers will be welcomed on the build sites after the foundation is poured. Visit habitatec.org for volunteer sign-ups, making donations and keeping up with construction updates.