Sheila Rice retiring from NeighborWorks Great Falls, new director search is on

Sheila Rice is retiring after almost 15 years with NeighborWorks Great Falls.

“There comes a time,” Rice said of retiring, but she has mixed feelings of leaving the work behind.

There’s nothing more rewarding, she said, than handing keys to someone for a home they just bought.

When she took the job, Rice promised to stay for 15 years and she’ll hit that mark in February. The non-profit has already started a national search for her replacement and Rice said her departure will depend on hiring her successor.

“My experience at NeighborWorks has been wonderful for every single one of those 15 years,” Rice said in a NeighborWorks newsletter farewell. “To see our homeowners succeed and build wealth for future generations, to watch the joy of a family moving into a quality apartment, to help community residents grow into leaders, to experience the changes in our neighborhoods – these are the rewards of leading NeighborWorks.”

On Sept. 26, NWGF will be celebrating the next batch of 10 mutual self-help built homes in the Thaniel neighborhood on the northern edge of the city. That will make 117 total owner built homes in the city, Rice said.

Those in the mutual self-help program, on average, start with $10,000 in equity in their homes the moment they move in, Rice said.

One of the keys to breaking the cycle of poverty, Rice said, is helping families build wealth and home ownership is a major way to do that. Stability also has a significant influence on health, school and work performance and more, according to data.

Though she’s stepping down from her role as executive director at NWGF, Rice said she’s hoping the agency continues its work in developing rental properties since rents continue to rise.

124-apartment complex makes another step toward construction

Once a replacement is hired and Rice officially retires she said she’s planning to take a break and hopes to travel more.

She moved to Great Falls around the age of 3 and has lived in Great Falls most of her life.

“I think Great Falls is just the best place to live,” she said. “There’s so much positive about Great Falls, I can’t imagine leaving. This is where my heart is.”

Rice graduated from Great Falls Central High School, earned a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Great Falls, and has a master’s of business administration and a master’s of administrative science from the University of Montana. Before coming to NWGF, she was president of ENERGY WEST Resources and vice-president of marketing at ENERGY WEST. Rice was the NWGF marketing committee chairwoman for 17 years, the NWGF fund drive chairwoman for three years and United Way of Cascade County president in 1990. She also served in the legislature representing House district 36 from 1991-94 and served as commissioner of the Montana State Redistricting Commission from 1999-2003.

Earlier this year, she was selected for the Paris Gibson Award, which honors a citizen who embodies the vision and excellence exemplified by city’s founder.

Beargrass Village gets initial design approval for Great Falls’ first pocket neighborhood

Of her time at NWGF, she said their work to improve neighborhoods has been impactful. Based on their data, NWGF has impacted 1 in 10 families in Great Falls.

“We know we’ve made a difference in a lot of families lives,” she said.

In the early days, before Rice’s time, NWGF replaced 14 boarded up homes in a three block area of 5th Avenue South. The project was a testament to community partnerships that had a lasting impact in the neighborhood.

“That’s a huge difference in our community,” Rice said.

A number of groups and individuals have been involved in these transformations, Rice said, but “NeighborWorks was always there helping things along.”

Many of the houses have been high school houses through a program that celebrated 20 years and 39 completed homes this year. Others have been homes that were formerly used by the Anaconda Company at the smelter site. Those homes were moved to downtown and helped transform neighborhoods.

The work has been made possible, she said, through “tremendous support from the community.”

Rice said that her wishes for NWGF’s near future include the completion of Beargrass Village, the mutual self-help program and she’d love to see some downtown residential development.

There’s a number of great upstairs spaces in downtown buildings and “I think the world has changed and people want to live downtown,” Rice said.

A handful of developers have renovated downtown buildings into apartments and condos above first floor commercial spaces in recent years, but quite a few buildings remain vacant.

As she prepares to retire and assist in the search for a replacement, Rice offered her personal thanks to the community.

“To everyone who has helped build this incredibly impactful organization over the past 37 years,” Rice wrote in her farewell, “pat yourself on the back and know that you are a tremendous part of building a better Great Falls.