Eric Bjella new director of NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor
A few weeks ago, we introduced Eric Bjella as the new executive director of NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor. Today we’d like to tell you more about him!
While out longtime construction specialist, IT expert and co-writer of this column, Pat Beaty, is staying on at NeighborWorks, I (Dave Murnen) will retire at the end of May.
I have worked at NeighborWorks for 32 years. So, both Eric and I have been grateful for this month-long overlap of leadership. Turns out there’s a lot of institutional knowledge to pass along about this great organization to the new guy!
Getting to know Eric
Eric Bjella comes to us from the Bank of the Pacific, where he had worked since 2010 as the VP/Marketing Director.
In addition, he had been a valued member of the NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor's Board of Directors since 2018. But, even before that, Eric was asked to join our short-term strategic planning meeting, where we were able to benefit from his high level of analytical skills and a willingness to brainstorm with the other members to come up with solutions to the problem at hand.
His organizational skills were especially evident as he served on both the loan committee and the personnel committee during his time on the board.
A longtime Grays Harbor resident, the rain isn’t going to scare Eric away! His connections through business, civic activities and volunteering over the years here have given him numerous people connections that can only help when it comes to accomplishing the organization’s goals for the betterment of the Harbor.
Financial, construction smarts
In addition to Eric’s deep financial and marketing background, he also has some construction management experience.
That is an ideal combination of skills to understand, manage and enhance our lines of business. Eric’s skills will help identify appropriate opportunities to bring into the community and also for NeighborWorks to manage sustainably. This is essential!
Also essential is that Eric is a “people person” and has the experience and empathy this position requires to be a director and great community partner.
As I look back on my years at NeighborWorks, I’d say the greatest impact we’ve had as an organization is likely our no-cost, HUD-certified housing counseling service, as well as providing access to the online e-Home America homebuyer education platform.
Understanding our customer’s needs and finances begins with our free, confidential housing counseling. That’s because determining income eligibility opens the doors to the available opportunities that best fit the customer’s situation.
First-time homebuyers are guided to a path where budgeting, credit counseling and homebuyer education can lead to a sustainable mortgage.
When a customer’s situation is heading into home foreclosure, the counselor becomes the homeowner’s advocate, negotiating the best sustainable outcome with their lender.
When the customer is a renter, counseling clarifies the roles and responsibilities as declared in the Landlord-Tenant Act and refers people to suitable legal help when needed.
Counseling also helps prepare people to quality for a sustainable loan through a lender with credit counseling, money management and building a budget. This service is invaluable to both our customers and the community on whole.
As NeighborWorks moves forward
I know moving forward that this organization that began here in 1981 still has plenty to do to help our community.
Our Board of Directors will continue to give valuable insight and direction to Eric with the assistance and support of a particularly hardworking and knowledgeable staff. Our volunteer board is comprised of Bill Sidor, president; Alan Gozart, first vice president; Ty Palmer, second vice president; Donna McCallum, secretary; as well as board members, Bonnie Gilovich, Darrin Raines, M. Diane Peters and Mike Sand.
Eric’s move to executive director, and the recent passing of longtime member Norm Sprague, creates open seats for at least two new members.
The board welcomes their former board member Eric Bjella, as the new executive director. Both the board and the staff are so grateful that Eric has joined the NeighborWorks family. And I’m eager to hand over the reins to such a capable person.
As the new executive director, Eric brings a big heart and toolbox full of skills that will help NeighborWorks provide housing opportunities into the future.
Goodbye from Dave Murnen
There are so many wonderful memories I have working for NeighborWorks all these years. Working with dedicated, hard-working co-workers and board members, has been such a pleasure. And, it has also been satisfying to look around the Harbor and see what a difference this organization has made for Grays Harbor.
Being able to help people finance a home, repair their house, get out of debt or have consistent, clean heat with a new heat pump, as well as managing several volunteer projects, are just a few of things I’ve been able to have a front row seat to. It's made a real difference in their lives and mine.
Next week I’ll be handing over my part of this column to Eric, so it’s goodbye from me officially now. However, my wife Connie and I are deep-rooted Grays Harborites and aren’t going far – except from time to time on some much-desired road trips! So, we will see you around and join you in warmly welcoming Eric aboard!