Klein passing Habitat leadership torch to Michaels

Dawn Michaels and Dan Klein are pictured. Klein is leaving Habitat for Humanity and Michaels will take over as executive director. 

When Dan Klein took over as executive director of Habitat for Humanity Northwest Indiana, the nonprofit had no staff, little organization and was in need of direction.

Klein will retire at the end of the year, leaving an organization that builds six or seven houses each year and runs two successful retail shops.

“I just want to spend more time traveling and I don’t want to work full time, anymore,” Klein said. “I’m still going to be here to support however I can in a volunteer, supporting role.”

Current Development Director Dawn Michaels will take over the top job. A succession plan was put in place months ago. Michaels has been development director with Habitat for two years.

“Dan has truly been a visionary,” Michaels said. “Dan took the ship and steered it out of troubled waters. Now, it’s definitely in the ocean versus in a little canal.”

Klein retired as a service executive for AT&T in 2000 after 22 years with the company. He served a term as mayor of Crown Point from 2004 to 2007.

That’s when, he said, then president of the Habitat board Joe Beckman approached him about heading the organization.

“(Beckman) felt that they needed to expand to build more capacity,” Klein said. “They were looking to move to the next level and I believe I was able to do that.”

The improvements made to the ReStores — retail stores and donation centers that sell new and used furniture, appliances, home accessories and building materials — are part of what Klein considers his biggest accomplishments.

The ReStore on Ridge Road in Griffith was “in need of help,” as Klein puts it. That location was turned around and now makes a profit. That success led to Habitat opening a second ReStore in Merrillville.

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“That money helps fund houses,” he said. “I hope I’m seen as someone who was always looking to make this a better organization.”

Habitat for Humanity builds, remodels and improves homes for families in need. The houses are sold to the families for no profit and financed by Habitat.

“I truly believe in the vision, the mission,” Michaels said. “I love the fact that Habitat takes a struggling, working family living paycheck to paycheck, and we remove that person from that high rental situation and sell them a house with their mortgage, insurance and taxes all being around $500 a month.

“We don’t maintain somebody’s lifestyle. We improve their lifestyle.”

Klein said his aim with Habitat was to streamline procedures and policies, making it easier for the organization to do what it’s meant to do. When he took over, he had no full time staff and wasn’t building any homes.

“I feel comfortable leaving because we’re in a good spot, in regards to moving to our next level and growing even further,” Klein said. “(Michaels) absolutely has the has the skill set to do that.”

She’ll attend executive director sessions at this week’s Habitat Indiana conference.

“Klein has been a wonderful boss and a mentor,” Michaels said. “I think we’re ready to take things to another level where we’re building between 10 and 15 homes per year. We’re going to grow our construction team.”

A search for Michaels' replacement will begin soon, she said.

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