Speakman at home as new head of NCALL

Karen Speakman is the new executive director at the National Council on Agricultural Life and Labor Research Fund Inc. (NCALL). She is taking over for Joe L. Myer who was executive director for the last 37 years. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — There is something about getting the chance to make a difference in people’s lives that makes Karen B. Speakman relish her job with the National Council on Agricultural Life and Labor Research Fund Inc.

Ms. Speakman began working for NCALL in Dover back in 1979 when it had just three employees, thinking it would be a temporary stop in her career.

Now, almost 40 years later, Ms. Speakman will take over as NCALL’s executive director on July 16. She will succeed Joe L. Myer, who has been with NCALL for 42 years, 37 of those years as its executive director.

“I’m excited about it,” Ms. Speakman said, about her new role with the company that primarily deals with affordable housing. “We have great staff that is very productive, we have good financial strength, and a great supportive board.

“That’s what’s so wonderful about it, they are all there for me to help me do my job. There might be (some surprises). I haven’t walked in Joe’s shoes yet, but I’m looking forward to the challenges as well as the opportunity.”

NCALL’s board of directors didn’t have to look very far to find a replacement for Mr. Myer, knowing Ms. Speakman’s commitment to her job.

“NCALL’s board conducted an extensive search, which resulted in a number of qualified candidates,” said Randy Kunkle, president of NCALL’s board of directors. “We ultimately felt that Karen’s depth of experience, commitment to mission, and vision for NCALL will be valuable assets as the organization writes its next chapter.”

Ms. Speakman, who has served as NCALL’s deputy director since 1981, will now oversee a 36-person staff and an operating budget of $4.3 million.

Founded in 1955, NCALL works to promote affordable housing, improved communities and sustainable development on the Delmarva Peninsula by educating and empowering people to achieve their housing goals and improve their finances.

The company also develops affordable housing and strengthens the capacity of other nonprofit housing organizations; provides lending products and services targeted to affordable housing and community development; revitalizes neighborhoods and increases public awareness about housing needs and resources and advocating for improved public policy.

The people Ms. Speakman works for are what makes her job so special, she said.

Karen Speakman has been NCALL’s deputy executive director since 1981. She started as a housing specialist in 1979. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“I guess all the different challenges and seeing that we do help people and make a difference in people’s lives. We have meaningful impacts,” Ms. Speakman said. “The story that resonates with me was when we did one of our housing complexes down in Berlin, Maryland, a couple moved into this house and they were just thrilled and they shared that pride.

“They never wanted people coming to their house before and she told a story that she always had to put cotton balls in her children’s ears so that they wouldn’t get roaches in them at night. She didn’t have to worry about that anymore.”

She added, “That’s the kind of stuff, from that, to people getting their first-time homes, it makes such a huge difference in their lives. There’s never been a dull moment.”

Ms. Speakman, who began her career at NCALL as a housing specialist in 1979, was appointed deputy director in 1981.

As deputy director, she has been integrally involved in all aspects of the organization and oversees the Real Estate Development line of business, Restoring Central Dover initiative, Homeownership Counseling, Foreclosure Prevention Counseling, and $tand by Me financial coaching.

Besides Ms. Speakman’s work at NCALL, she is an executive committee member and past president of the National Rural Housing Coalition, a board member of Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity and is a member of the Delaware Chapter of the National Association of Housing & Redevelopment Officials and Housing Alliance Delaware.

“I enjoy my job because there’s lots of activities and I love the Restoring Central Dover stuff that’s going on,” she said. “There’s such an interest by residents and the city that we need to do something to make a difference downtown and they’re really caring about that and making those differences with ‘Lights on, Dover strong,’ and all of that.”

Ms. Speakman, who grew up in north Wilmington, has lived in Dover since 1979.

Her career has seemed to grow on a parallel course with NCALL itself.

“It’s grown a lot,” said Ms. Speakman, who received her Bachelor of Arts in Urban Affairs from the University of Virginia. “By 1981 we were really focusing on multi-family housing development, where we helped other organizations develop housing, and we’ve grown with all their different lines of businesses since then.

“We’ve grown from around six people back then to 36 employees now. As we grow we have these other lines of businesses and they’re all interesting.”

NCALL often works hand-in-hand with Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity when it comes to developing affordable housing in downtown Dover.

Getting the chance to bring the pride of home ownership downtown is something that’s personal for Ms. Speakman.

After all, over the years, Dover has become her hometown.

“I like Dover because it does have a lot of activities to do and things to do for families and adults, plus we’re not far from other places, either, like Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.,” she said.

“Dover is small enough that you know people when you’re walking down the street and that kind of feeling, but big enough that not everyone knows your business. I really enjoy that.”

Mr. Myer believes Ms. Speakman has the right stuff to lead NCALL into the future, especially since she’s been such a big part of its’ past.

“Karen has been an important part of NCALL’s success and accomplishments over the years,” he said. “She has a high standard of work and a real heart for NCALL’s mission and the services we provide. Karen will provide a steady hand along with innovative ideas as NCALL’s new leader.”

As for Ms. Speakman, she says she can’t wait to get started in her new job.

“It is an honor to be selected as NCALL’s next executive director,” she said. “I am deeply committed to NCALL’s mission of empowering moderate and low-income people through better housing and community development endeavors.

“I look forward to leading this wonderful organization and to working with its dedicated board and staff in furthering NCALL’s positive impact on people’s lives, nonprofit customers and communities.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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