Lisa Wise remembered for her work to address homelessness, affordable housingFrom left to right: Jolie Elder, SEFAA, Valerie Coe Lowder, SEFAA Linda DeMars, SEFAA, Initiative for Affordable Housing Executive Director Lisa Wise, and Suzi Gough, SEFAA
Scottdale, GA — Lisa Wise was known to always be smiling and making a positive impact on people on a daily basis. She was also known to be mission driven.
Wise had served as the executive director of the Initiative for Affordable Housing since 1992, and she had a particular interest in the initiative’s re:loom program. She launched re:loom in 2010.
Wise, 68, of Decatur, died on June 17 at her home, according to her obituary. She was passionate about addressing challenges related to affordable housing and homelessness.
“Her work helped to provide hope and stability to countless people struggling with housing issues,” the obituary states. “Lisa also recognized the need to provide job training opportunities and used her ingenuity to create re:loom, a program that teaches weaving and leadership skills to individuals who use recycled materials to design and produce handmade products that are sold on-line and in retail stores in the Atlanta area.”
Dan Douglass is the president of the Initiative for Affordable Housing’s board of directors. He has known Lisa Wise for about 20 years.
“She was the kind of person who was always smiling, always happy to see you, always interested in hearing about you rather than talking about herself, [and had] lots of energy,” Douglass said.
The Initiative for Affordable Housing was established in 1990 to work with unhoused or low-income individuals who need housing. Wise served as the executive director for over 30 years.
“What it grew into over the years is a fairly large nonprofit and there are several different programs,” Douglass said. “There’s a core program that provides social services to homeless women with children, typically trying to help them make a permanent change in their lives.”
That core program is a two-year program that helps women get into stable housing and support their families. The initiative additionally manages four multifamily, affordable housing properties with a total of 355 units for low-income families and fixed-income seniors.
The Initiative for Affordable Housing also has the re:Loom social enterprise, “which is really Lisa’s baby all the way,” Douglass said.
“She started it around 2010 as a job creation program to help low-income clients, primarily women at that point, to establish a job history, learn some important work behavior and skills, and also be able to earn an income and have health insurance to support their families, build their own self-esteem and integrate into the community,” Douglass said.
While working at re:loom, the staff weave on large floor looms. The materials they weave are typically donated. For example, re:loom has received old uniforms and other materials from UPS. The fabric re:loom receives from various sources was material bound for the landfill, but Wise found a way to up-cycle those resources into products like rugs, bags and accessories.
“It’s a job creation and job skill training, but at the same time sustainability, recycling and up-cycling,” Douglass said.
Wise came from a social work background, but over the years she learned other skills like property management, fundraising and business management.
“I think she wanted to provide some job training opportunities, primarily for women with children, that would get them the job skills they wanted,” Douglass said. “She also wanted to have a doing good for the environment side to it. That’s kind of what prompted the whole thing.”
He added that when Wise started re:loom, some at the initiative were skeptical, but the enterprise has been successful and “she proved us all wrong.”
A gathering for Wise’s friends will be held on Saturday, July 1, from 10 a.m. to noon in the fellowship hall of North Decatur Presbyterian Church, 611 Medlock Road. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Initiative for Affordable Housing.
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