It’s Sheila Rice’s last day at NeighborWorks; Sherrie Arey has taken the reins

Sheila Rice is wrapping up her career as director at NeighborWorks Great Falls today.

It’s her last official day as an employee after 15 years, but she’ll still be involved as a supporter, volunteer and endowment committee member.

Last week, the City Commission read a proclamation declaring Feb. 7, 2018 as “Sheila Rice Day of Community Service in the City of Great Falls, and encourages citizens to extend to Sheila appreciation for her able and dedicated service that contributed to the betterment of our community.”

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According to the proclamation, Rice was selected for the 2015 NeighborWorks America Achieving Excellence Program at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; named the national NeighborWorks’ Emerging Leader of the Year in 2007; named the statewide 2009 HUD recipient of the Lightning Rod Mover and Shaker Award; appointed to the Montana Board of Housing Commission in 2010; and in 2016, Gov. Steve Bullock presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Montana Statewide Housing Partnerships Conference.

For the last month, she’s been working with the new director Sherrie Arey under their transition plan.

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It’s been a busy time, Arey said, and she’s been learning about the organization and the community. She said it’s been enlightening to see the behind the scenes work and many moving parts that go into things she thought she knew.

Originally from Texas, Arey has a background in higher education and came to Great Falls to work at what is now the University of Providence.

In that capacity, Arey said she’d worked on apartment and building renovations on college campuses, so the work is entirely new to her.

She also handled fundraising on a college level, which she said is similar to fundraising on a community level like what NWGF does.

The work NWGF does gives Arey an opportunity to explore some of her passions.

“Education and a home, those are the two biggest investments you can make in your life,” Arey said.

She said she feels like her career has come full circle in that she started helping college students get their education and now she’s helping people find homes.

NWGF has long been involved in helping first time homebuyers and offered education programs to help locals successfully get into homes.

Now they’re adding more programs for rentals. Some of that includes constructing apartment buildings and some is educational programs.

The first Ready to Rent classes start this month and are designed to help the 35 percent of the local population that is renting, Rice said.

They’re also developing a loan program to help with safety deposits and the first months rent. There are no eligibility requirements for the loans, Rice and Arey said.

“I think people still think of us as serving only low or moderate income populations, but some of our programs have no income limits,” Arey said.

Arey said she’s hoping to continue the programs NWGF has built and expand and improve those efforts.

“My hope is to carry the torch,” Arey said.

Rice said Arey has been a good fit at NWGF.

“We have a lot of balls in the air here,” Rice said. “She’s catching them.”

Arey said the transition plan at NWGF was one of the best she’s ever seen and having Rice around to help get her up to speed has ensured a smooth transition.

To Arey, housing is important to economic mobility, workforce development and expanding the tax base.

Rice and Arey have toured areas where NWGF built, rebuilt or was otherwise involved.

There’s been improvements to those neighborhoods, Arey said.

“It’s a ripple effect,” she said.

Arey has been in Great Falls for several years and has a different perspective on opportunities. She said she can step in and ask “where are the connections that can be made that may have been overlooked,” Arey said.