Habitat’s Community Engagement Manager Finds the Joy in All of It
Home matters to Dava Warner. So does church. Add inclusivity to that and this fundamental belief: Housing is a human right. Everybody should have the right to safe and affordable housing.
That principle – at the core of her thinking since she witnessed the living conditions in underdeveloped nations – stays with her as the Community Engagement Manager at Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg.
“Regardless of what your life story is or what you’re going through, as long as you have the safety and stability of housing, everything else can fall into place,” she says. “Once you have something of your own, it opens up the door to realize dreams you didn’t even know you had.”
The native Ohioan, the first in her blended family of five to go to college, earned a full tuition scholarship to liberal arts school Defiance College in the northwest part of the state. Switching majors five times in three weeks early on, she arrived at international peace and conflict resolution and pursued service learning experiences through the McMaster School for Advancing Humanity. One of those experiences, time in the Tanzanian village of Katangulu, particularly resonated with her. Many of the poorest homes there are constructed from mud and poles. Most are without running water and toilets.
“In the traditional sense, they have much less than us,” Dava says. “But they were joyful for what they did have. They had pride of having something of their own, no matter how big or how small. And they worked every day to keep it up. There was a sense of community among them where, regardless of what position any of them were in, they would do whatever it takes to help their neighbor.”
Dava worked multiple jobs in college and gravitated toward the nonprofit sector. She volunteered for the local Habitat chapter before becoming a paid intern at the affiliate in Fort Wayne, Indiana. There she assisted with the development of the Faith Engagement Department while also working with volunteers.
Shortly after graduation, Dava reunited with a high school friend, Raymon Warner. In a few short months, they married, and his Navy career brought them to Newport News, Virginia. For two years, Dava worked at the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board before she finally saw an opening at Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg. She’s worked with the affiliate of the international nonprofit for the last four years. Ask her what she likes about her day-to-day and the answer is short.
“All of it,” she says.
Dava oversees volunteers, youth engagement, outreach, advocacy and the repair program. The mix of strategic planning and being hands-on inspires her. “You can make plans for what your day is going to be, but you never actually know what your day is going to be,” she says. “There are a lot of moving parts.”
The organization’s mission statement is, “seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build, homes, communities and hope.”
“I grew up in the church,” Dava says. “The fact that there’s an opportunity to work for a place that has the same foundation and roots I believe in is important to me. That it doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe in, you still have an opportunity for something as special as home stability. I know that my work matters in the grand scheme of things.”
Dava doesn’t have to look hard to find the rewards. Attending Habitat home dedication ceremonies, she sees the joy on the faces of families who become first-time homebuyers. By organizing Habitat repair blitzes targeted toward certain neighborhoods, she sees the gratitude from elderly or disabled homeowners happy to be able to remain in their homes safely.
“I’m really glad I get to do this work that helps to provide home ownership opportunities for people who might not be able to have access to them in the traditional market,” she says. “Also, with our repair programs, I like helping keep people in their homes longer. The last thing you want to see is your elderly family members on fixed incomes getting kicked out of their home or losing their insurance.”
Dava enjoys seeing volunteers work together on behalf of families, demonstrating the spirit of true community and what it means to give back.
Her own family now includes her 5-year-old daughter, Renleigh, and a rescue Labrador/Boxer mix, George. Dava and Raymon enjoy game nights with Renleigh that include Super Mario Party and traditional board games. In her free time, Dava is active in her church and loves to embroider messages of inclusivity. If her day gets hectic, she turns to the two embroidered pieces on her office wall that remind her to “Be Still” and “Make Heaven Crowded.”
Signs of a life well-lived.