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Director of Orange County Habitat for Humanity wins MLK citizenship award

Susan Levy was named Citizen of the Year. Photo courtesy of Savanna Melton. 

Susan Levy was named Citizen of the Year. Photo courtesy of Savanna Melton. 

She was presented with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Citizenship Award Sunday evening at this year’s 32nd Annual MLK Memorial Banquet and Awards Presentation. The banquet was hosted by the MLK University/Community Planning Corporation and UNC Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.

The MLK Corporation is a non-profit organization that raises scholarship money for high school and UNC students who work in Orange County. They present the Citizenship Award to someone dedicated to local service.

Levy grew up in Massachusetts, but moved to Durham in 1978 to work as a community organizer. She dealt with landlord-tenant and housing issues.

“It’s just been an area that I’ve been interested and involved with my whole career,” she said. “I’ve seen over the years what a difference it makes for folks to be able to have a place they could afford in a decent neighborhood.”

In December 1992, Levy started working with Orange County Habitat for Humanity. As executive director, she is responsible for working with the board of directors and ensuring that the organization accomplishes their goals.

“I was looking to continue the work I had been doing in affordable housing, and Habitat has a wonderful reputation,” Levy said. “I really liked the home-ownership model and the model of engaging the persons who will be owning the home in the construction.”

Levy said Habitat provides good, budget-friendly houses for Orange County residents while creating unlikely friendships among people who volunteer to construct the houses.

“People who get involved in Habitat really bring the full range of political and economic and social beliefs,” she said. “They’re able to come together around a common goal and get to know each other as people. I love that aspect.”

Robert Dowling serves as the executive director of Community Home Trust and has worked alongside Susan Levy on the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition.

Dowling said the coalition pushed the Orange County commissioners to include the $5 million affordable housing bond, which passed in November. Levy played an important role in that push, said Dowling.

“She’s an effective leader for Habitat for Humanity, she’s an effective leader for the affordable housing coalition and an effective advocate for affordable housing issues,” he said.

Dowling said Levy’s award was well deserved.

“Her intelligence, empathy, her compassion and her determination to want to get things done — you don’t do this work for 25 years without great determination, perseverance and patience,” he said.

Jennifer Player, the director of development and administration for the Orange County Habitat for Humanity, has worked with Levy for two and a half years.

“I get the privilege of working very closely with Susan, so I get to see day in and day out her commitment to Habitat and her commitment to the staff here,” she said.

Player praised Levy’s ability to be an efficient leader while making sure that everyone at Habitat feels supported.

“I can’t think of anyone in this community who deserves this award more,” Player said. “Titles and awards are not why she does this work and I’m so glad others have recognized her commitment to this community.”

Levy said she is honored to be receiving the Citizenship Award in King’s name.

“I certainly hold him in the highest regard — I think he’s one of our greatest leaders and (we) continue to be inspired by his words and deeds as a model for how we should be engaged in life now.”

@roseloughran

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