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Hometown Heroes

Greg Hancock and Tonja Funch

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06/01/2009 - Because they have a passion for helping people live in safe, affordable homes, Greg Hancock and Tonja Funch work for the non-profit organization Wyoming Housing Network, Inc. The organization's mission is to work with communities throughout Wyoming to address the critical need for workforce and affordable housing.

I visit with Greg, President and CEO, and Tonja, Program Development Director, in WHN's offices. They are both very committed to the organization's mission. They are also very funny. I laugh until my cheeks hurt. When I ask how the organization works, Tonja tells me, "I'm the brains. He's the brawn."

Eventually I learn what drew each of them to this kind of work.

Tonja says, "I worked in financial institutions for 25 years. Some of that time was spent with foreclosures. I also participated in Habitat for Humanity. Housing is so different than any other need. Safe, decent housing…not having it…really impacts the stability of families."

Greg agrees and adds, "If people don't have an affordable home where they feel safe, a place for respite and nurturing… it's hard for them to do well at work. It affects everything."

Born and raised in Casper, Tonja was integral in developing programs that fulfilled WHN's mission since its incorporation in 2004. Last October, Greg, who already loved Wyoming and hoped to live here some day, moved from Grand Junction to join WHN. His background and experience helped WHN to grow even more.

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One of WHN's major accomplishments was developing, along with government agencies and private partners, programs that help renters and home-owners fill the gap between what their incomes can support and the actual cost of housing in Wyoming.

Here are a few more WHN accomplishments:

 Acquired and "rehabbed" the Spring Hill apartments in Casper

 Partnered with Wyoming Honor Farm and other entities to train 15 to 20 inmates to build seven manufactured homes in Riverton

 "Re-habbed" an owner-occupied home on Coffman in Casper

 Became a chartered member of NeighborWorks, a federal program

 Planning to build an 8-unit rental project in Thermopolis

 Planning to offer a high-quality homeownership-education program on-line and in the classroom

Tonja has also resurrected Casper's "Paint Your Heart Out" program. It's an all-volunteer, one-day painting party of selected homes-in-need. Paint is donated by local paint stores and labor is donated partly by local professional painters and partly, we hope, by a whole bunch of good-hearted volunteers (Psst…There'll be free food!).

This year's painting day is on Saturday, June 13. For details or to volunteer, call WHN at 472-5843. And if you happen to work alongside Tonja or Greg, be prepared to laugh until your cheeks hurt. And to build wonderful memories.

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