How did you end up here in Visalia? I moved to Tulare County with my husband and two boys in 2000 because of a job opportunity he had at the time. I am now single and living in the City of Visalia.

How did you get your start in this line of work? I started volunteering for local non-profits. I used my artistic talents to help create sets and special decorations for fundraisers. I met so many wonderful people and got to know many who were involved with more than one organization. One person I met was a Habitat board member and they mentioned Habitat for Humanity was looking for a volunteer coordinator and would soon need a resource development director to help run their marketing, events and community outreach. I met with Betsy Murphy, Habitat’s executive director at the time, for lunch at Café 225 and started working for the non-profit on April 16, 2007.

Deanna Saldana — Resource Development Director, Habitat for Humanity of Tulare/Kings Counties

Why are you passionate about your work? Habitat for Humanity is an amazing organization that refused to let substandard housing grow unchecked. Their idea that everyone in the world, at a minimum, deserves a decent and affordable place to live seems simple, but it’s not. The struggle to provide shelter for people continues.

Habitat’s answer to the problem is unique and the process builds houses and community. Getting volunteers to help build or repair the homes is as important as the wood we use to build the walls. Donated materials helps to keep costs low and the homeowners work side-by-side with staff and community members to build their home. It’s not a give-away; every homeowner makes monthly mortgage payments on a Habitat loan that we provide at no interest. This helps to keep things affordable so the family can thrive and become productive members of the community where they live. Our homeowners are great and we see them every month when they come in and make those payments.

What is the most challenging thing about your job? We rely on donations directly from the community and it’s challenging to raise the funds needed to build or remodel a home in the Central Valley. Housing is expensive; the costs go up and the ability for families to find anything they can afford goes down. I can imagine while facing these challenges, many people feel there is little they can do…but every dollar counts.

Tell us about a single moment when you realized this was the right occupation for you: This is an odd moment. One of those “God” signs, I guess. I attended the very first “Birdhouse Auction” fundraiser with Jan Beatty. Jan was the one who ultimately introduced me to Habitat and Executive Director Betsy Murphy. During the fundraiser, someone was taking pictures; after I was hired on at Habitat, I noticed the 2006 Annual Report had a picture of Jan and me on the front page. Things that make you go, Hmmmm!

If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Initially, I was planning on making it in the entertainment industry as a singer. That ultimately did not work out but I have found opportunities to sing off-and-on over the past 10 years. I’m also an artist and have my artwork displayed in various shops and offices in Tulare County. It seems I’m the starving artist type…good thing I found a day job.

Tell us a little about life outside of work (hobbies, family, travel): I have two grown boys (men), and spend much of my time creating artwork. I’m part of the Main Gallery Group and we have art on display in various venues, shops and offices. I’ve worked with the FOX Theatre to help restore some of the amazing artwork there. I also enjoy repurposing items creating something completely different from something that may have been thrown away. I’ve spent the last five years remodeling my house in North Visalia (still not finished!).

What is something most people don’t know about you? Over the years many people have learned I was born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada. However, many may not know I’m adopted. I was very fortunate to have a loving family to raise me and never felt like there was anything missing. I also ice skated all through school and won a silver medal at a regional competition in Regina, Saskatchewan.

What about Visalia makes this a great community to live and work in? I grew up in a very small town, and Visalia is such a close-knit community it feels like a small town. The non-profit world is also very close here. We have established many partnerships with groups like Family Services, Visalia Rescue Mission, C-Set and Proteus, just to name a few. We don’t want to duplicate services and if we have a program that can help a customer from a different non-profit, then we will do our best to make that work. This community manages to support us all. Props!