Catherine Steck McManus | Spirit of Engagement

The wind and sunshine waltzed around Catherine Steck McManus as she drove home with the car windows rolled down, sunroof open and music blaring. As she left her final interview with the board of Habitat for Humanity Greater Orlando & Osceola County, she could not help but sing along with the song “All My Life” by the Foo Fighters.

With deep roots in nonprofit work and leadership development, previously working with WMFE, PBS and NPR as the senior vice president and chief philanthropy officer and at Camp Boggy Creek as the chief development officer, McManus was never one to shy away from a new challenge. In fact, she often sought out problems to solve and goals to conquer. When she learned about the open CEO position at Habitat for Humanity, she decided to apply.

As she sat at her desk and wrote a stack of “Thank You” notes after the interview with the board search committee, she received a call from the headhunter. “He told me the board was so impressed with my interview and were offering me the position,” said McManus, still clearly moved by the sentiment. “I got goosebumps and I laughed this strange laugh that I had never heard before. I was elated.”

McManus recently celebrated her fourth year as president and CEO. “I think I fell in love with the board and the mission during the interview process, and I’ve stayed in love over the past four years.”

Today, that passion resonates throughout Central Florida. Under McManus’ leadership, the organization’s board, employees, donors and volunteers have built and repaired hundreds of homes and communities, touching thousands of lives.

McManus has expanded the geographic service area to include Osceola County. She has also continued the Builders Blitz, which unites communities by assembling professional homebuilders, project managers, volunteers and members of the Habitat program to build safe and affordable housing for those in need.

“It takes a village to do pretty much anything,” she said. “It takes a village to make Habitat successful and allow us to make an impact in the affordable housing spectrum.”

The organization is part of a global nonprofit that works throughout the U.S. and in more than 70 other countries to build or renovate affordable homes for adults and families in need. Engagement and community contribution are built into the DNA of Habitat for Humanity. “Each benefactor of the program has 200 to 400 hours of sweat equity that they have to do before we will start building their homes, which means they’re empowered and involved in the process,” McManus said. “Engagement with our homeowners helps us and helps them become better community citizens.”

With an average of 5,000 volunteers and donors who contribute their efforts to the local Habitat group’s mission every year, McManus notes the need for continued interaction and community support. “Financial support is key, but it’s also with creative connections, it’s with time and talent. That’s why engagement is so important. There’s no hierarchy. There’s no one we as an organization want to exclude. We need everyone. It’s about adding more people to our village.”

McManus recalls being a young girl and wanting to be a leader. She would often play with her father’s office supplies and pretend she was the CEO of an organization. “I still have that heavy metal stapler I used to play with sitting on my desk at home,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to be a leader, purely because I wanted to make a positive impact in people’s lives.”

She learned lessons in leadership through watching her father lead and manage his employees. She learned leadership from her mother who actively raised her and her brother while teaching them to persevere.

“I’ve seen aspects of leadership in everyone, because everyone is a leader in one way or another,” McManus said. “It’s not about position or authority or responsibility. It’s about whether or not you are doing the best you can to make the world better in your own way. It’s not just handling projects or managing people; it’s being a person who can make an impact.

“Winning this award, to me, means that the hard work of our homeowners and my amazing colleagues are making a significant impact in our community. I’m not winning the Spirit of Engagement award alone. I just happen to be the face of an amazing organization.”

About the author

Cherise Czaban

Cherise Czaban

Cherise Czaban is the publisher of i4 Business magazine and the CEO of i4 Business LLC. She formerly served as vice president of business development for SCB Marketing, the previous publishers of i4 Business.

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