This story first appeared in the March 7 print edition of GSA Business Report.
One of Chris Manley’s CEO hats is hard.
The founder and CEO of Engenius, a Greenville web design and digital marketing company, is also founder and CEO of Rebuild Upstate, an organization focused on repairing and preserving affordable homes for families and their communities.
The time has come to turn the hardhat over to someone else, Manley says. The organization is searching for a full-time CEO for the first time.
With a record 556 home repairs in 2021, Manley said the organization has grown to the point where a full-time CEO is needed in order to meet the increasing demands for repairs in Greenville, Anderson, Pickens and Oconee counties. He plans to step down this summer but will stay active with Rebuild Upstate as a strategic adviser to the CEO and board.
What started as a quickly assembled group of Clemson students rushing to the Gulf Coast after Katrina has evolved into an organization with 14 employees, an impressive list of community awards, thousands of lives touched (those giving and receiving) and hundreds of homes saved to bring generational change for families.
“It is really amazing to see how things come full circle sometimes,” Manley said. “My personal experience in home repair actually started overseas, then shifted to the New Orleans area post-Katrina, then made its way back home. Sometimes it takes experiencing things elsewhere to open our eyes to something at home. This was certainly one of those times — and I can’t be more thankful for that.”
According to the organization, for the same investment as one volunteer-built new affordable housing unit, Rebuild Upstate can repair and rehabilitate 20 existing homes. “By doing our part, we can help keep our neighbors in their homes and help them regain safety, dignity, and comfort,” says a statement on the website.
“First and foremost, it keeps people in their homes, their neighborhoods and their community,” Manley said. “The holistic cost of having to move is a big deal for families and something we often don’t consider. It keeps people closer to the neighbors they know, to the access to transportation they know, and to the ways they connect to our overall community. Displacement is a big cost.”
Rebuild Upstate says there are more than 1,000 families in the four counties living in unsafe and subpar housing.
“Staying in that home and preserving the home reduces the affordable housing demand on our whole community,” he said. “For every home we can’t repair, that’s an additional new home that must be built to keep up with the need — and we’re still many thousands of affordable homes short. We can’t afford for that need to keep growing uncontrollably.
“Keeping homes safe and healthy increases educational readiness, workforce readiness, family stability and dramatically increases the health outcomes for the peo- ple living inside. We all benefit from this.”
The organization plans to begin the search process immediately with the goal of hiring a new CEO this summer, Megan Finnern, the board chair, said in a news release.
“Our growth has been an incredible feat to witness,” Finnern said in the release. “We’re excited to see how we can continue to improve the lives of our neighbors and the community with a full time CEO.”
Home repairs can range from small plumbing fixes to roof and floor replacements. Accessibility improvements range from installing grab bars and railings for vulnerable populations to building wheel-chair ramps for those with disabilities.
In 2021 alone, Rebuild Upstate repaired 145 homes and completed 556 projects. That includes 825 volunteers, who logged a total of 7906 hours, and the organization has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
As part of Manley’s leadership of Rebuild Upstate, he has also led in the community by co-founding the Greenville Affordable Housing Coalition in 2018, chairing the Nonprofit Alliance 2013-2018, and co-founding the national Coalition for Home Repair in 2013. Manley has also been honored during his 15-year tenure as a 20 Under Forty winner, Anderson Chamber of Commerce in 2021; the Fred Sheheen Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership, Francis Marion University & Together SC, 2018; the Young Professional of the Year, Greenville Chamber of Commerce in 2015; and one the Best & Brightest Under 35, Greenville Business Magazine, 2012.
The agency has been honored numer- ous times in the home repair industry and in the local community. The hon- ors include the Guidestar Platinum Seal of Transparency, GuideStar.org, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022; Best Practice in Stewardship of Volunteers Award, Coalition for Home Repair, 2018 and 2020; the Dan Rawls Community Service Award, Home Builders Association of Greenville in 2019; and the Max Heller Neighborhood Improvement Award, Greenville Chamber of Commerce, 2019.
Manley worked with hammers and saws more in the early days of the organization than he has of late, but he said he looks forward to gripping tools more in the future.
“When the organization was young, I was far more involved in the construction projects, but as we grew my talents were more on the organizing side, so I stuck to what I was good at and let far more talented people oversee the construction side,” he said. “I absolutely look forward to continuing to volunteer on projects. My oldest two kids have been able to help out on project sites from time to time, but they’re still fairly young. As all three kids get older, I really look forward to us serving as a family together on build days. My wife was actually involved in volunteer home repair since she was a youth and could teach all four of us a thing or two.”