Ridgefield resident aims to bring ‘new perspective’ to Housatonic Habitat for Humanity

RIDGEFIELD — A resident with “deep roots” in the community is bringing her altruistic expertise to Housatonic Habitat for Humanity as its new executive director. The organization builds affordable homes for working families in more than 15 towns across western Connecticut.

Diana Arfine, 56, was named to the top spot on July 1 after strengthening Housatonic’s ReStore operations during the pandemic. She began volunteering at the Danbury-based facility in July 2020 and by October was asked to become its manager.

Arfine succeeds former executive director Francine Normann, who led the chapter for more than a decade. “Since joining our ReStore operations, Diana has called upon her strong social media, marketing and team-building skills to grow the thrift store’s brand,” Normann said in a release.

The ReStore is a thrift warehouse that accepts furniture, home goods, building materials and other supplies from corporate and community donors to sell to customers at a discounted rate. Sales from the store are then used to build Habitat’s homes.

As a previous volunteer at the Ridgefield Thrift Shop, Arfine is accustomed to organizing high volumes of merchandise with style in mind. This quality is indicative in ReStore’s current setup.

As she sauntered through the brightly-lit space, Arfine highlighted shelves full of fabric from Arhaus, mannequins that formerly belonged to a Banana Republic storefront and a number of pieces donated by high-end furniture brands.

“It looks more like a furniture showroom and less like a warehouse, and we are getting a lot more traffic,” she said. “Every penny we make in the ReStore goes to help fund the building of the homes and the operations surrounding it.”

Arfine hopes the success the ReStore has experienced over the past year continues for the organization as a whole. As executive director, her goals are to grow the volunteer pool, expand the Brush with Kindness initiative — which provides home repairs and painting services to seniors aging in place — and build a Habitat home in Ridgefield.

Background

Diana Arfine moved to Ridgefield in 2000. She has a diverse professional background that includes corporate experience, nonprofit work, community organizations and entrepreneurial endeavors. She owns her own retail operations in town and in Minnesota, and was an associate editor at Reader's Digest for many years. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Ridgefield Guild of Artists and has also worked with the National Charity League and Girl Scouts of America. She and her husband Dave live in Ridgefield and have two children, Hannah and Drew.

“We came with fresh ideas, fresh energy, a new perspective, and our perspective was ‘let's make as much money as we can so we can build more homes,’” she said. “We have a terrific team in place now — a lot of them are from Ridgefield.”

Housatonic Habitat for Humanity was founded 30 years ago by Ridgefielders Joanne and John Patrick and the late Lou Price, longtime owner of Ridgefield Supply Company. As a 21-year resident herself, Arfine is interested in bringing the organization back to its roots.

“We have started a Ridgefield house hunt, been in talks with (First Selectman) Rudy Marconi and (are) looking for people selling their home or have land that we could develop,” she said.

With local real estate prices skyrocketing as a result of the pandemic, Arfine said it is more crucial than ever to assist families who need affordable housing. She explained that Habitat’s homebuyers are required to fulfill 250 hours of “sweat equity” work when receiving a home and are advised by volunteers on topics such as financial literacy and homeowner skills.

“It's not a handout, it's a hand up … and if we were able to make that happen in Ridgefield, that would be so fulfilling,” she said.

Arfine said interested individuals can visit Housatonic’s website if they, too, want to lend a hand. They can also email volunteer@housatonichabitat.org.

“It’s such a great time to join the organization — they're really poised for growth, they built a wonderful team of volunteers (and) they have strong leadership,” she added. “I have a lot to learn, (but) I'm looking forward to the challenge.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com