October 22, 2008

Cindy Fox Kuhn ’78 Helps Turn Castoff Material into Homes

She aids environment and the less fortunate as founder and director of a Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Iowa

As director and co-founder of Habitat for Humanity’s local ReStore in Daveport, Iowa, Cindy Fox Kuhn ’78 oversees a nonprofit that helps the environment and enables the dream of home ownership for the less fortunate. Since 2002, the store has sold more than three million pounds of production overruns and salvaged building products otherwise destined for landfills, converting what would have been waste into almost a quarter million dollars of revenue for Habitat for Humanity.

After first working at Alcoa, followed by part-time consulting work and managing the business end of her husband’s home inspection company, the mechanical engineering graduate changed paths because of a mission trip in 2001.

“I went to Guatemala with my church to rebuild a house destroyed by Hurricane Mitch,” she says. “Upon returning home, I struggled to reconcile the wasted resources in this country with the scarcity of those same resources in places like Guatemala.” She and a close friend decided the Quad Cities needed a Habitat ReStore.

Today Kuhn oversees six paid staff and upwards of 150 volunteers. “Every day is like Christmas,” she says of the building material donations that roll in. The ReStore also recovers materials from buildings destined to meet the wrecking ball.

Kuhn’s role embodies less mechanical and more people engineering. “As the director, my most important job is setting the culture for the organization,” she says. She credits Lafayette’s blend of liberal arts and engineering with easing that transition: “One of the stereotypes of engineers is that they don’t communicate well. But writing is a skill I’ve utilized over the years, so I’m happy that my college education didn’t just focus on the technical aspects of what I might do.”

Kuhn hopes one day to kick back in an idyllic farm setting and write for a living, having created a useful business that will endure. “I think each of us has a responsibility to do what we can to make a positive difference in the world,” she says.

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