Alia Reimer grew up in Rockledge, Florida and came to Jacksonville to go to the University of North Florida. She started building homes with Habitat for Humanity through a course she took.
“I took a service learning course that required me to volunteer each week, and I chose Habitat for Humanity,” Reimer said. “I knew I wanted to help people and to work with my hands. Habitat does both of those things at once.”
After graduation, she spent a year as a volunteer with Americorps, building homes on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
“Americorps brought a whole bunch of people together at a time in their lives when they were figuring out what they wanted to do It was a wonderful experience, and we built a lot homes! The scope and capacity of it was huge,” she said.
Alia came back to Florida, found a job with a restaurant, learned every job in the business, and came to St. Augustine as a management trainee. Then she answered an ad for a part-time job with Habitat for Humanity of St. Johns County.
“It was a part-time position leading volunteers. I told the restaurant that I couldn't work on Fridays or Saturdays, since that was when Habitat built homes with volunteers,” she said.
Reimer said, “They weren't too happy about that — it's also when restaurants do their biggest business. But even though the Habitat job was part-time, it was what I wanted to do, and I was at least getting my foot in the door.”
That was the of end Alia Reimer's brief career in the restaurant business. But her skills as a manager were just taking off.
“Working with other people and making them successful was the key to my success and to Habitat's success,” she said. “It wasn't about me any longer. It was dependent on the team. We're more than a home-builder — we buy the land, sell the homes, service the mortgages. It's very complex.”
Alia again learned every job in the business, and was named executive director two years ago, at the age of 26. That's when her education really started.
“As the director, now I'm learning that there are many outside factors that impact what we do, including politics and fundraising,” she said.
And she's embarking on a mission that's bigger than building houses by volunteers, one at a time.
Reimer said, “What we're trying to do right now is build a development. We purchased a piece of land that has no infrastructure whatsoever.”
Alia Reimer may be new to development, but she's getting advice from some of the top developers in Northeast Florida. She's earned her general contractor license, and will start on her real estate license. She's become, in fact, an expert at learning.
“We just have to figure it out, one piece at a time,” she said. “I think that once we do it the first time, we'll be able to develop on an even grander scale.”
In addition to learning new skills, Alia is adept at recognizing opportunities — for her mission, as well as for herself.
“I remember when I was the volunteer coordinator, there was an opening for the finance director. I'd never done that, but I wanted the job,” Reimer said. “Somebody believed in me and said, 'I'll teach you how to do this, and we'll see what happens.' Habitat is the kind of organization that will do that. But nobody's going to challenge me unless I challenge myself.”