Heather Chandler and her husband started their lives together in humble circumstances, living in a tiny home in a neighborhood just off Phoenix Street.
When they had their first child, they needed government assistance to purchase baby formula.
“That is a humility-giving experience,” Chandler said.
Today, they live on a farm in the Epworth community, but Chandler hasn’t forgotten where she came from — and those memories serve her well as executive director of the Greenwood Area Habitat for Humanity.
“I feel like I can relate to these families,” Chandler said. “I can relate to the struggle of not being able to provide the life that you dream of for your family. No matter what walk of life you come from, I think the dream of every family is the same: We all want good things for our kids. We want them to have great opportunities.”
Chandler and her husband, Tommy, got married in 2003. Tommy was finishing college at Wofford while commuting from Greenwood. He worked three days a week for his father, who owned Professional Automotive. His pay was $11 an hour. Heather said the $60,000 starter house off Phoenix Street was all they could afford.
“We lived very modestly, saved our money and worked really hard,” she said.
Heather was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. She earned a degree in elementary education from Lander University in 2008. It was the same year the couple made an agreement with Tommy’s father to buy Professional Automotive. The couple also own Lakelands Tire and Lakelands Towing.
Heather didn’t pursue a career in teaching after graduating. She said there was a hiring freeze in Greenwood County School District 50. She also had some reservations about teaching.
“I never fell in love with the profession,” she said. “I love children, obviously. But there is a lot of bureaucracy that comes with the teaching profession that I wasn’t completely sold out to.”
She took at position as director of the children’s ministry at NewSpring Church in 2013 and then took at break after the couple had their fourth child. She later worked in the children’s ministry at New Covenant Church until March of 2017.
She joined Habitat’s staff in November 2017 as an executive assistant to then-Executive Director Chad Charles. When Charles became the director of the South Carolina Association of Habitat Affiliates, Heather filled in for him until the local Habitat board made the decision to hire her as the full-time director.
“The Lord just opened doors for me to do ministry here,” she said.
Faith is an important part of Heather’s life. The family attends NewSpring Church, but Heather doesn’t confine her ministry to inside the church’s walls.
“Any opportunity that I can jump on to make the name of God great, that’s what I want to give my life to,” she said.
Heather said she and her staff pray at work and at construction sites.
“I tell our staff all the time that we are a ministry,” she said. “We are ministering to families in need. Habitat is one of the only local nonprofits that has God in their mission statement.
“Our vision is to do the work of God by bringing people together to create homes, communities and hope, and that’s something we can get excited about. The need for adequate housing here in Greenwood is so great.”
Jodi Shenal is part of a Habitat partner family that is having a home built.
“It has been wonderful,” Shenal said of working with Heather. “Heather is very approachable and is the embodiment of what the mission of Habitat is. She has a great big heart.”
Shenal said Heather has been with her since the planning stages and has been a big advocate.
“She genuinely cares for people and wants to see people in decent, affordable housing they deserve,” Shenal said.
Matt Alley, the Greenwood pastor at NewSpring Church, where the Chandlers attend, said he’s excited about Heather being at Habitat for Humanity.
“It is a good avenue for us and other churches,” he said. “She will work really well with local churches and get lots of churches involved with Habitat and unify churches. When you unify churches and they are working together, it makes the churches and the community better. Heather is going to do a great job of making sure that Habitat is about Jesus and the kingdom of God.”
Alley said Heather will be able to minister to people’s physical and spiritual needs.
Heather oversees just about every aspect of the Habitat process, including working with the volunteers, applying for grants and helping with operation of the ReStore on Maxwell Avenue.
“Leadership is something I study,” she said. “I read every leadership book I can get my hands on. I’ve taken those concepts, little by little, month by month, and tried to implement them into our volunteer and staff culture.”
Heather said she doesn’t micromanage, especially since she has no background in home construction. She depends on her team.
“When you have a vision for an organization and for a community, that becomes contagious,” Heather said.
Working with partner families is a blessing for Heather, who uses the memories of her humble beginnings to remind her how important her job is.
“For me, personally, it gives me an extra amount of grace,” she said. “It breeds a certain amount of compassion. I think I’m able to share with them that Jesus sees you right where you are and he has a plan that for you that is bigger and better than you can ever imagine.”
The local Habitat is currently working with the Westside Community along Edgefield Street to redevelop blighted neighborhoods.
“I’ve got really big hopes and really big dreams for that community,” Heather said, “because I can identify with living in area of town that is just like this.”
One of the things Heather would like to see is the development of a “literacy park” in the Westside Community.
“These residents want better. They are hungry for it,” Heather said. “They want restoration, and we have the capacity to give that to them. That’s a big task, but that’s absolutely what we are called to do.”