Inspiring Others Towards Excellence Through Leadership

by Greta Bush

What do you get when you mix humility, grace, and strong leadership together? One Bill Lineberry. Bill has been a Core volunteer with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity since 2013, starting on the jobsite, then adding in a role with the Student Build House and finally, joining the Outreach Committee. Bill also volunteers with Western North Carolina Historical Association and has a large role in coordinating speakers and professors for its adult education program.

Bill may not realize this about himself, but when he commits to something, he excels at it, and he subtly encourages others to do the same, simply by leading by example. No matter what role he plays, he seems to have a natural way of raising the bar. After 39 years in the education field—a teacher of American History and Economics for the first 25 years and a principal for the remaining 14—one can see how the years of leadership and excellence have intertwined their way into the core of Bill’s personality. Looking back on his career, Bill said, “It was a wonderful process for me to go from teaching and then leading. I couldn’t have had a better experience for my life.”

I know Bill through Habitat’s Outreach committee; members of the committee are volunteers or Habitat homeowners who represent Habitat to the public in various ways. For example, they might staff an informational table at a service fair or speak to local clubs, faith communities or school groups about what Habitat does. I serve as the staff liaison for the committee, and Bill is one of the star members. (Let’s face it: they’re all stars! I am only somewhat biased.) I have also seen Bill in action with the Student Build—a project I’ll expand on momentarily.

Bill started volunteering with Habitat on the construction site in 2013. It was through his church, First Presbyterian, that he signed up and found himself on our jobsite in Swannanoa. He found the construction supervisors to be so patient and forgiving that he kept coming back, and soon became a Core volunteer, coming every Friday. Of the supervisors, Bill says they “are the best! They are so patient with people like me, who are trying to build skills. And they utilize you and work with you, and when you leave after a day of work, you just feel really good.”

Speaking of being “the best”, Bill has always made a good impression on me. In writing this blog post, I tried to pick that feeling apart—what is it about Bill that makes me gush about what a great volunteer he is? If there is one word I would use to describe him, it’s Excellence.

I’ve noticed that in every role Bill takes, he strives to do his best—he strives for excellence. And, that has led him from one volunteer role to the next. (People start to take notice when you’re good at something!) Soon after becoming a core jobsite volunteer, Bill volunteered to help with the Student Build—another role in which he excels. In that role, among other tasks, he gave public presentations; soon afterward he was nominated for Habitat’s Outreach Committee.

Bill’s previous career benefits him immensely in his roles with the Student Build and Outreach Committee. When he was principal of Woodward Academy in Atlanta (a private school of 2,000 students from pre-K to 12th grade), he led 100 faculty and 25 support staff. He said, “It was a grand affair. I worked 24/7 for fourteen years and loved every minute of it!” On the committee, Bill raises his hand for scenarios that make others nervous—presenting to a crowd of 100 or larger doesn’t faze him. This is one of the ways that Bill makes my job easy. I have full confidence that he will do an excellent job, no matter where we send him to represent Habitat.

When talking with Bill, it’s easy to see that he is most passionate about the Student Build, and he is quick to attribute credit for the project to Charlie Franck (another outstanding core volunteer, who we hope to introduce you to in a later post). The Student Build is, essentially, a coalition of local private schools that raise money and awareness for Habitat (currently Asheville Christian Academy, Christ School,Carolina Day School and The Franklin School of Innovation). They have funded three full-house sponsorships for $55,000 each, and for each build, have provided student volunteers (age 16+) to help build the house. These schools incorporate Habitat and service learning into their curriculum. There is a lot more to it, but that’s the basic explanation.

Bill met Charlie on the jobsite in Swannanoa just after the first Habitat Student Build House had wrapped up, and offered to help on the second house. With his background in education it seemed to be a perfect fit. Now, as we approach the closing of the third Student Build House, Bill is still happily on board. As you would expect from a former teacher, Bill has a desire to see others succeed, and through his involvement with the Student Build, he sees first-hand just how transformative the work with Habitat and the future homeowners has been for the students. Here what he has to say in this video. (His remarks start at 2:40.)

I asked Bill to share with me a particular memory from volunteering that he is fond of. He explained that he can’t share just one moment, because the effect of the Student Build is continuous and encompassing. He said, “I am just blown away, constantly, by how mature these kids are beyond their years. To understand there are needs that people have, and they have a joy of wanting to help meet those needs…every time I see these kids interacting on the jobsite with the new homeowner families, I am just overwhelmed and so happy to be involved and to be a small part of this.

[Along with academics, arts, and athletics] there’s a piece missing in working with kids, and that is, you need to connect with other folks. You need to realize that you’re here by the grace of God to give back, because you’re able to give back. And once we put that piece, now called Service Learning, into our curriculum in my school in Atlanta, we watched kids become adults in front of us. Not just good students in the classroom, wonderful athletes on the athletic field, or musicians and artists. But adults.”

Bill went on to explain that he is seeing that here, too, with all the schools involved. Bill plays an important role with the Student Build. Along with coaching the students on the Student Build Leadership Team, he gives presentations to the schools to help de-mystify Habitat’s work. Affordable homeownership, Asheville’s housing crisis, mortgages…these are not topics that your average elementary-to-high school-aged student thinks about, let alone, understands. But Bill makes it interesting for them, and explains how their fundraising and volunteer work is making a difference in our community. He adds fuel to their fire. And this information has made its way into the school’s curriculum. The work that these students do is impressive. Bill says, “This whole thing has been a real joy.”

Bill and his wife Margie have been married for 43 years and they have have two grown children, Neil and Mary Beth. Bill affirmed that he is a lucky man.

After living in Atlanta for decades, they moved to Asheville to be nearer to family. “When I was growing up as a youngster, I knew I wanted to retire and live in Asheville because we spent a week every summer here for vacation. And I grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina— which is a beautiful place, but it is hot as Hades from April until September!” Growing up without air conditioning, Bill said he didn’t know what he was missing until he came to the mountains and it was so nice and cool at night. “So, I said, sort of subconsciously, this is a place I want to come to.”

It seems Bill has found his stride and is enjoying retirement. And I’m happy that Asheville has become more to him than a place with a temperate climate: it is a place where he continues to make a difference and instill in others a desire to achieve excellence.