Abby Lemay ’15MNM awakens each day at 7 a.m. in order to arrive to the Rebuilding Together Central Florida office by 8:45 a.m.

From there, the nonprofit’s executive director will attend impromptu meetings with her staff about upcoming events and programs, participate in phone meetings with current and future partners, work on grant applications and the organization’s budget, eat lunch while attending a webinar focused on a client and donor management software the organization is implementing, maybe attend a meeting for the Orlando chapter of National Association of Women in Construction, and eventually end up back home by 9:30 p.m., where she’ll address a few emails before the next day begins.

“You know that phrase where people say they wear a lot of hats? Well, I feel like I wear the entire hat store,” laughs Lemay.

Founded in 1988, the Rebuilding Together organization has affiliates in 39 states with a total of six in the state of Florida. The Central Florida location began in 2002 and services Orange and Seminole counties.

“Our mission is to repair homes, revitalize communities, and rebuild lives.” — Abby Lemay ’15, UCF grad

“Our mission is to repair homes, revitalize communities, and rebuild lives,” says Lemay. “We do that here locally by providing free, critical home repair to our central Florida neighbors in need.”

About 70 homeowners were helped last year; 50 of those requested roof repairs from damage sustained during Hurricane Irma in 2017. In addition to roof repair, the organization provides weatherization (such as window replacement or re-sealing a home) and accessibility modifications (replacing old, torn carpeting with vinyl to provide a smooth walking surface or installing grab bars in showers and bathrooms).

“We aim to preserve the existing affordable housing so that homeowners can stay in their homes longer, which helps us prevent displacement and reduces strain on the rental market,” Lemay says.

Making the Community a Better Place

Lemay has been in the affordable housing world since 2011, when she graduated from Stetson University  with her bachelor’s degree in sociology and American studies and began working to empower families as they transitioned out of homelessness and into housing stability. She also worked at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando and Osceola County for many years, focusing on neighborhood revitalization and helped launch the home repair arm of the nonprofit.

“I knew that I wanted a career in making my community a better place, but I didn’t really know what that meant when I first got started,” says Lemay.

These roles and her network of contacts over the years as well as her knowledge of the neighborhoods and the laws that affect affordable housing have all helped ease the transition into her new job. However, it was her graduate degree in nonprofit management from UCF’s School of Public Administration that provided the technical skills to elevate her experiences and knowledge into further action.

“I thought that if I was able to continue my education, I would be in a lot better position to be able to make impact.”

“I knew that I wanted to do more than the individual level of help, and I thought that if I was able to continue my education, I would be in a lot better position to be able to make impact,” says Lemay. “I ultimately decided that the Master of Nonprofit Management was going to be what would help best position me to make a bigger impact in my community, and it did.”

Applying Classroom Lessons

Lemay completed the majority of her degree online while working full-time, but she credits the program’s service-learning projects for helping bridge the gap between educational content and practical application.

“Being able to take the educational information and apply it somewhere, I think, really helped reinforce what I was learning in the classroom,” she says.

From grant writing and how to create a more efficient volunteer management program to accounting, Lemay says that the program prepared her for those skills you don’t realize you need until it’s your job to do them. It also provided a foundation for the hopes and goals that Lemay has for the organization.

“We want to empower communities. We want to empower neighbors to help each other so that they don’t have to necessarily wait for assistance with some of the more common or minor things,” she explains.

Lemay is in the process of developing an education program for homeowners, expanding the organization’s services beyond housing repair. The program will offer a large curriculum on common homeowner issues and topics: how to identify a licensed and insured contractor or how to “do it yourself” with more minor repairs, for example.

“I don’t think there’s been a year that’s gone by since I finished that I haven’t gone back and looked at something that I did during my time as a grad student that was useful for me and my career today,” she says.