Name: Joseph Leo Gassman
Title / Company: President & CEO, Habitat for Humanity of Brevard County, Inc.
Service: 22-year veteran of the United States Naval Construction Force
Married: 32 years to Judith Ann
Children: Jennifer, 30, and Leo, 28
Years in Brevard: 16 years
How did you become involved with Habitat for Humanity?
I started with Habitat during a service-learning opportunity while attending classes at Brevard Community College and still on active duty serving at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) at Patrick Air Force Base. Shortly after my retirement, I was offered a construction site supervisor job with Habitat, then was asked to fill the vacating director of operations position, and eventually was asked to fill the president’s position in 2003, when Kim Gabriel stepped down for health reasons.
You also serve at a permanent deacon at Holy Name of Jesus in Indialantic. How do you balance your two roles?
I gave up sleep for Lent. Actually, the roles are not that far apart and it was my position at Habitat the affirmed my decision to pursue ordination. Habitat “is a Christian housing ministry…” What better environment to live my tri-fold commitment to the gospel, liturgy and charity? Technology makes balancing the two roles easier also.
On a typical day, what types of tasks and responsibilities do you tackle?
My responsibilities (at Habitat) include providing vision and leadership to the (local) affiliate, the board, the staff, the volunteers, and most importantly, the families of Brevard County in need of a simple, decent, affordable home. On a daily basis, I am working to develop or maintain relationships with government agencies, churches, businesses, other nonprofit partners, current and potential donors and our clients. I also monitor performance tools to explore opportunities to improve our processes and ability to grow the affiliate to serve more families.
What is the most challenging aspect of your position with Habitat for Humanity?
Responding to the many unique situations that arise from individual client, partner and building challenges. For a Habitat building project to come out of the ground, we need to recruit, qualify and assist a low-income family through the rigors of the program, identify an acceptable lot for the family and identify a local donor to fund and build the project with the family. Much of our work is neighborhood revitalization work, so we accept the additional responsibility to engage the challenges of the entire neighborhood, such as crime prevention, neighborhood organization and community empowerment.
How does a local family qualify for a build?
Families must meet three basic criteria to be eligible to purchase a Habitat house. (1) Ability to pay. The family must have a sustained source of income to pay the 20-30-year, zero interest, no profit mortgage. (2) Need. Applicants must be currently living in substandard or inadequate housing. (3) Willingness to partner. Each family must commit to investing a minimum of 200 “sweat equity” hours (which includes various community service and building hours).
What’s needed to make a project successful?
A willing heart and spirit of cooperation. (It also takes) creativity because the many variables and diversity of participants in a Habitat project creates opportunities to see the seemingly same routines and processes with new eyes during each project.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given?
The professional advice I work to practice comes from scripture and a prayer which I keep on my desk and in my pocket. The first: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31 New American Bible). And the second: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” (The Serenity Prayer).
What are you currently reading?
The Bible, always; Catholic and Confident, Simple Steps to Share Your Faith, by Deacon Henry Libersat; Awakening Vocation, A Theology of Christian Call, by Edward P. Hahnenberg; and The Presence Process, A Journey Into Present Moment Awareness, by Michael Brown.
What is one thing you’ve wanted to do in your life, but haven’t yet?
Learn to speak conversational Spanish and play the piano. Not necessarily at the same time.
Who inspires you and why?
Children. Their innocence, trust, ability to heal (physically and emotionally), thirst to learn and explore possibilities, willingness to share and ability to love.