The Mission Matters Most to Habitat Newport News ReStore Manager
As much as Gina Gay appreciated a regular paycheck, she was haunted at night by a nagging thought. What I’m doing professionally doesn’t really matter.
She can’t say that anymore, which makes for more than a better night’s sleep. Gina wakes up eager to make a difference as the Manager of the Habitat Newport News ReStore. All proceeds from sales go directly to supporting Habitat’s mission of building homes, communities and hope.
“I feel really strongly about the vision and the mission of Habitat,” she says. “The whole reason the ReStore even exists, the whole reason why we are occupying this building is to sell things to raise money to build homes. I see my role as being an ambassador for Habitat.”
Like many, Georgia-born Gina had heard about Habitat for Humanity but didn’t really understand that the global nonprofit was not started by Jimmy Carter nor is its mission to “give away homes to poor people.” Families partner with Habitat affiliates and purchase homes by paying back the zero-interest equivalent mortgage, so more homes can be built in the community. Former President Carter has been a tireless volunteer for Habitat though he never had an official role.
Having a place to call home was in question for Gina most of her young life. Her family moved constantly, evicted regularly after being unable to make rent.
“I didn’t have a lot of stability,” she says. “I went to 10 different schools. College was something I never thought was in the realm of possibility for me.”
An interest in plants led her to work in nurseries and garden centers and eventually she earned a degree in horticulture. That led to an account manager position with the largest landscape company in the nation, but she still longed to find something more meaningful.
“I was 40 years old and decided I needed to do something for me,” Gina says.
She got hired at the Habitat ReStore Newport News as volunteer coordinator, not realizing what she was in for.
“I didn’t know I would love it so much,” says Gina, who went on to become assistant manager before her most recent promotion to manager.
Habitat homebuyers must log 300 sweat equity hours as part of the First-Time Homebuyer Program requirements. Gina met many of them while coordinating volunteers at the ReStore.
“I love that I got to work alongside people who are buying houses,” she says. “We are in some small part helping them achieve their goals. It’s a really beautiful mission.”
Making sure customers and staff are aware of that mission is something she keeps front and center as store manager. Gina is behind the mission wall at the Newport News ReStore, which is a visual representation of why Habitat exists. The wall is an actual façade of a house at the front of the store. It has actual plywood, wrap and siding to represent home construction in process. It even includes a door with glass panels, which showcases two booklets from previous home dedication ceremonies as well as facts and figures about the impact made by Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg.
“I love it,” Gina says. “When I envisioned the idea, I got chills.”
Gina has found stability by marrying her high school sweetheart, Brad, who is now retired from the Navy. They have one adult daughter and teen son along with a rescue dog, Sookie, with whom “the sun rises and sets,” she says. She’s also happy to have lived in the same home since 2008 and has committed to pass along that kind of safety and security to other families. “I don’t want to be anywhere else,” Gina says. “I don’t think there’s another place where I would feel quite as passionate as I do. We’re all here together working toward the same goal. I could not be more thrilled with my staff, the store and the affiliate. If you’re letting the mission drive you, that’s all that matters.”