Doak Finds Home with Habitat for Humanity
Looking back, the path that led Tera Doak ’94 to her current position as associate general counsel for Habitat for Humanity International is clear. While she may not have realized it at first, her passion for helping others and strong background in transactional practice prepared her to step into her role with Habitat for Humanity which partners with people all over the world to help them build or improve a place they can call home.
“When I was in undergrad, I started taking pre-law classes as electives and I just loved them. But, I was still a little bit on the fence about a career in the law when I graduated. So I worked in a law firm for a couple of years and I really enjoyed the work that I did there. I’ve always been drawn to problem solving, creating things, and bringing people together. And, I’ve always liked the drafting components of the practice as well,” she said.
In her first job out of law school, working on a contract basis for a law firm in Atlanta, Doak found herself handling property matters as part of a rural hospital system consolidation and then generally, as the firm’s M&A and real estate work expanded. When she eventually joined National Service Industries, where she was later named general counsel of its National Linen and Uniform Service division, she again found herself handling legal matters relating to its real property holdings in addition to her other duties.
Although real estate wasn’t something Doak initially set out to practice after law school, it became a common thread throughout her firm and in-house work. “It’s interesting because real estate was the common theme through all of the jobs that I’ve had. National Service Industries, for example, wasn’t a real estate company, but we had a number of leased and owned facilities, and we were rapidly acquiring other businesses, which often had a real estate component. I was responsible for legal issues relating to those properties,” she explained.
“When National Services Industries and its National Linen division were ultimately sold in 2006, I was figuring out my next step and thought it would be a great time, because I had been working as a generalist overseeing a variety of legal matters, to hone my skills in one particular area. I decided to build on the real estate work that I had done over the years.”
She decided to join Troutman Sanders LLP to practice in the firm’s office and industrial properties group, which allowed her to sharpen her expertise working with owners, landlords, and tenants in the acquisition, disposition, and leasing of properties.
When the opportunity arose to join Habitat for Humanity International in 2011, she leapt at the chance to apply her practice skills and real estate knowledge in a way that allowed her to give back to the community in a meaningful way. It’s a career move she said she’s grateful for every day.
“It’s funny, I didn’t know it at the time, but everything I did kind of led me here,” she said. “I hit a point in my life when I was looking forward and realized I needed to figure out what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up.’ I started looking at the types of pro bono projects I had done over the course of my career, and analyzing where I found the most meaning, and I realized I really wanted to do something to help women and children and give back to the community. Habitat for Humanity provided the means and the opportunity to do both. Access to affordable housing has an impact on all the partner families we work with. In particular, I love being able to see the changes that a stable home makes in the lives of children by giving them the opportunity to grow up in a home of their own. That, in turn leads to better education and health outcomes, among other things.”
As an associate general counsel for the nonprofit Doak supports affiliates in two main areas – real estate and federal grants. On the real estate side, she helps Habitat for Humanity affiliates understand the mortgage regulations and real property laws, allowing them to serve the families with whom they work. On the grant side, she works to ensure compliance with federal grants administered centrally by Habitat for Humanity International, as well as one-on-one with affiliates around the country who have questions or concerns about working with local municipalities and funders.
“I love the feeling here at Habitat for Humanity because it’s so centered. It really is mission driven, and we’re here to serve the families who wouldn’t otherwise have home ownership opportunities and we recognize the difference that makes. My role in supporting our Habitat for Humanity affiliates across the country helps them do the job that they love as well while fulfilling the mission to bring people together to build homes, communities, and hope. Every once in a while I get to work on a home build and meet the soon-to-be homeowners and that is the most meaningful part of it all,” she said.