Two years after Nepal earthquake, we remain committed to building hope, sharing expertise

Two years after Nepal earthquake, we remain committed to building hope, sharing expertise

Two years ago today, a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the mountainous country of Nepal, killing more than 9,000 people and reducing tens of thousands of homes to rubble.

The Fuller Center for Housing had been working in Nepal for nearly a decade prior to the quake. In fact, at the time, The Fuller Center’s most recent project was in a village called Trishuli. When we learned the massive quake’s epicenter was located only about 30 miles from Trishuli, we were concerned that our 11 partner families’ homes there could not have survived such a natural disaster — especially when we saw the widespread damage much farther away in Kathmandu.

When we received photos of the 11 Fuller Center homes a couple of weeks later from our leaders on the ground there, we were shocked. It was as if nothing had happened. While their neighbors’ homes were damaged or destroyed, these 11 homes were unscathed.

One of the 11 Fuller Center homes in Trishuli, Nepal, is shown in May 2015, two weeks after the earthquake. All 11 of the homes at the time escaped major damage from the quake. Since then, The Fuller Center has built 29 more with 10 in progress and more planned as resources become available.

While relieved for those families, we realized this left us with a major responsibility. Not only would we need to lean on Fuller Center donors and major supporters like the United Church of Christ to ramp up our building efforts, but we needed to share our expertise. As a grass-roots nonprofit, we were in no position to fund the construction of tens of thousands of homes. However, we set up training sessions with dozens of masons to teach them the same techniques that allowed our houses to stand where others fell. We showed how strong homes could be built while maintaining the style and look of a typical Nepalese home.

While the immediate response to natural disasters is often fast and furious with water, buckets, food and emergency supplies arriving in droves, too often the spotlight turns to the next disaster before the work is complete. Disaster recovery, meanwhile, is more methodical and gets little attention. To the families faced with the long process of rebuilding their lives, it is desperately needed.

That’s where you — the supporters and volunteers of our housing ministry — come in to continue extending helping hands of partnership to these families in need. With your help, we’ll be there until the job is done.

No matter the disaster, full recovery requires a simple, decent place to call home.

The very term “disaster” is a relative one. We’ve responded to natural disasters like earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti, hurricanes in southern Mississippi, Louisiana and New Jersey, and this week volunteers have gathered in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, to restore homes that suffered massive flood damage last summer. The construction of safe Fuller Center homes in Mizque, Bolivia, is a response to a health disaster — the outbreak of Chagas, which festered in the mud shacks our homes are replacing. Of course, one person who has suffered homelessness or bankruptcy over medical expenses could consider their experience to be a disaster, as well.

No matter the disaster, full recovery requires a simple, decent place to call home. And when people pull together as we’re doing in Nepal with no concern over who gets the credit, real recovery is possible. If the building technology we’re sharing in Nepal results in the country’s complete rebuilding with no credit given to The Fuller Center, so be it. Our mission is to share God’s love by helping people have decent places to live.

On this two-year anniversary of a devastating moment, we give thanks for the smiles we see every day in Nepal and for the hope that instills in the Nepali families who are still recovering.

Gallery of Fuller Center’s work
in Nepal, before and after the quake

Volunteers spruce up properties in epicenter of Louisville neighborhood’s transformation

Volunteers spruce up properties in epicenter of Louisville neighborhood’s transformation

Ten years ago, it was hardly an unusual sight to see Louisville, Kentucky, police officers converging on Boston Court in the Shawnee neighborhood. Back then, it was the epicenter of drug and crime problems in the area.

But that was before The Fuller Center for Housing came along. Local leaders went to city officials and said they wanted to hit the ground running and begin their work in the top problem area. The city sent them to Boston Court. What was once the epicenter of crime in the city has since become the epicenter of the West End’s transformation, and The Fuller Center’s most striking example of how once-vacant properties can become like-new homes again.

Last week, metro police again converged on Boston Court. But this time they were there to help homeowners spruce up the neighborhood even further, along with several other local volunteers.

WDRB-TV caught up with the volunteers and Fuller Center of Louisville Executive Director Cornelius Butler during Mayor Greg Fischer’s Give A Day week of service on Boston Court and produced this video update that you can view at this link.

Also, be sure to check out the photo gallery below:

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Scott Brand: This literally takes team-building to another level

Scott Brand: This literally takes team-building to another level

As a corporate executive, Scott Brand has seen more than his fair share of team-building exercises, meetings, retreats and seminars. Each has its benefits, but unlikely at the level a literal building experience with The Fuller Center for Housing can provide.

However, the Fuller Center Global Builders trip he made to build homes in Nicaragua nearly two months ago not only changed his life, but it also opened his eyes to the immense team-building opportunity when philanthropic and corporate efforts blend to improve lives and business. To that end, he says he has dedicated the next few months to finding “creative ways of integrating philanthropy and corporate / team development.”

In a new LinkedIn post, Brand writes extensively and in detail about how this concept and specifically about how a Fuller Center Global Builders trip can be a more effective and likely less expensive team-building retreat while also having the tangible results of putting a family in a decent home.

click here for scott brand’s linkedin post

All I want is for my mom to have a nice house, boy repeatedly wished; now she will

All I want is for my mom to have a nice house, boy repeatedly wished; now she will

When you’re Santa Claus, you get a lot of predictable Christmas wishes when kids sit upon your lap at the mall — dolls, video games, swing-sets … maybe even a pony. Simple enough. But what do you do when 7-year-old K’Hairi climbs onto your lap?

K’Hairi, who suffers from sickle-cell disease in addition to sleep apnea and asthma, has asked Santa the last few years for something rather difficult to put in his sleigh — even tougher than a pony. He asked for his mother to have a nice house.

Even as his mother Carla Ross, a U.S. Army veteran attempted to rein in those high hopes, K’Hairi insisted that dreams do come true. On Wednesday, in West Point, Georgia, K’Hairi won that argument with no help from Santa but with the help of several partners in the area.

Kim Roberts with K’Hairi

Hundreds of student volunteers from Point University packed downtown West Point, Georgia, to assemble wall packages provided by CrossRoads Missions — walls that will be raised during a two-week Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project build in June. A grant from Home Depot is funding the build that will be led by frequent volunteer construction leaders Tim DuBois and Charlie Thell of Minnesota.

“That K’Hairi has always wished this for his mom just makes it even more wonderful,” said Kim Roberts, Executive Director of the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project, who said the build will begin on June 12.

“He said,’Mama, I told you dreams, wishes, hopes, and prayers do come true,'” Carla recalled. “K’Hairi doesn’t give up. He’s my inspiration to not quit.”

Point University, a Christian university based in downtown West Point, used the wall assembly day as part of its Impact Day that encourages community service and putting faith into action. On Tuesday, Batson-Cook Construction sent a team of volunteers to do preliminary cutting and set up for the assembly.

Trustees from the local jail will provide most of the labor for the two-week build, an idea promoted by DuBois and Thell, who saw several trustees in action during the fall’s Millard Fuller Legacy Build in nearby Valley, Ala.

“A lot of guys said they learned a lot during the build and it did wonders for their spirits,” Roberts said. “One of them now comes by our store every day. He got a temp job that turned into a full-time job, and now he’s gotten a raise and just purchased a trailer. Everyone enjoyed working with them during the Legacy Build.”

Photo gallery from Wednesday’s Impact Day with Point University:

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Atlanta Journal-Constitution features Wittenberg students’ mission trip

Atlanta Journal-Constitution features Wittenberg students’ mission trip

Each week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper features a charitable organization or group doing good work in the community. This week’s story is about a group of Wittenberg University students who traveled from Springfield, Ohio, to work with the Greater Atlanta Fuller Center for Housing.

Click here for the complete AJC story

Wittenberg student Jasmine Bryant produced this video about the spring break trip to work with the Greater Atlanta Fuller Center:

Johnson State College professor: Global Builders trips life-changing for students

Johnson State College professor: Global Builders trips life-changing for students

Johnson State College of Johnson, Vermont, emphasis what it calls “education by engagement.” While undergraduates are fully engaged in their degree studies, they also are encouraged to examine their place in the community, the nation and the world.

One way Professor of Business and Economics Henrique Cezar has found to expand students’ horizons is through Fuller Center Global Builders trips. He is planning to take a team of students to Armenia in May, having taken similar Global Builders trips to Thailand and Nicaragua in the previous two years.

“They take one of those trips and they come back and it’s a change for them,” Cezar tells the Basement Medicine, JSC’s student newspaper. “I like that component. You can see the students kind of seeing things differently after that trip.”

He also said that working with The Fuller Center for Housing’s Global Builders program is much easier than previous efforts to handle such international trips on his own.

“We just tell [The Fuller Center] when we want to go, things like that, how many students are going,” Cezar said. “They take it from there. All we have to do is shop for tickets, for airfare, and the rest is up to them. The planning aspect of those trips is quite easy.”

Complete story in Johnson state’s
Basement Medicine student newspaper

Make your charitable gifts go further by supporting grass-roots nonprofits

Make your charitable gifts go further by supporting grass-roots nonprofits

For 40 years, only a handful of familiar names came to mind when I thought of the words charity or nonprofit. Ask me which charities supported housing efforts, veterans causes, animal protection, etc., and I’d reel off the same names most folks would. The bigger, the better I assumed.

Then I applied for a job opening at The Fuller Center for Housing’s headquarters in Americus, Ga. I knew almost nothing about it, other than it was founded by Millard and Linda Fuller after they were ousted from the huge nonprofit that they had grown from a grass-roots mission into a household name. It was only six years old, so perhaps I could be getting in on the ground floor of another small nonprofit bound for corporate glory.

When I arrived for my first interview, however, this headquarters did not look much like the hub of an international operation. It looked like what it was and still is — a quaint building that once was a Chinese restaurant long before supporters John and Sue Wieland donated it to the Fullers’ new ministry.

Soon, though, I would learn from President David Snell what a difference grass-roots meant. It meant maximum impact in the field, not at a luxurious base of operations. My main job, he said, was to tell the story of The Fuller Center because, “When people find out what we’re doing, they tend to like us.”

Philanthropists and corporations could make a much bigger impact on people, families and communities in need if they distributed a large gift among several grass-roots nonprofits instead of making a single large gift to one massive, bureaucratic nonprofit.

I’ve found that to be true many times over. Certainly when I found out what The Fuller Center was all about, I liked it. I’ve met other good folks from grass-roots nonprofits doing similar work in the housing field or in such related areas as homelessness and health issues, and I liked what I’ve seen from them, as well.

Meanwhile, the more I saw from the giant, familiar nonprofits that get all the corporate donations and publicity, the more I was taken aback by where the money went and how they reported misleading results such as “families served.” Apparently terminology like that allows for a lot of wiggle room and the opportunity to inflate results to impressive, if not entirely accurate, levels.

That’s not to see most of them do an awful lot of great work. Some massive corporatized nonprofits generate real results. Some do well in pockets. Others sully the reputations of everyone in the nonprofit industry. Yet, over the nearly six years since I stepped into the grass-roots nonprofit world, I’ve realized a simple truth about grass-roots nonprofits that I wish every generous soul knew:

Philanthropists and corporations could make a much bigger impact on people, families and communities in need if they distributed a large gift among several grass-roots nonprofits instead of making a single large gift to one massive, bureaucratic nonprofit.

A wealthy philanthropist or corporation could transform a community in almost unimaginable ways if they distributed that large gift among several grass-roots nonprofits working together in a single location. That donor could not only more directly impact their areas of concern, but they also could foster synergy between grass-roots organizations that work in different areas like affordable housing, education, health, job training, environmental issues, veterans affairs and more.

It’s almost imaginable. Almost. But I can imagine it.

Unfortunately, too many well-meaning donations are funneled along the familiar paths and get familiar results. The support, though, that travels along unique paths tend to get unique results.

The Fuller Center for Housing is committed to the grass-roots principles with which Millard and Linda Fuller launched their affordable housing movement more than 40 years ago despite growing and seeing greater volunteer hours and more houses built and repaired than ever before.

click here to give to the
GRASS-ROOTS FULLER CENTER

Why did we switch to Fuller Center? Groups cite grass-roots principles, local control

Why did we switch to Fuller Center? Groups cite grass-roots principles, local control

When Millard and Linda Fuller were ousted in 2005 from the helm of the nonprofit housing ministry they had built into a thriving charity over the previous three decades, they justifiably could have seen that as an opportune moment to hang up their tool belts and bask in the glow of their accomplishments.

After all, nearly 200,000 families had partnered with the ministry to have simple, decent homes in which they could properly nurture their families and build a strong foundation for their children. The Fullers had more awards and honors than they could count, including a 1996 Presidential Medal of Freedom for Millard.

But, as Linda Fuller recalled while telling her story to a group of college student volunteers recently, Millard was determined to keep helping families have decent places to live and had no interest in Linda’s “pity party.”

“I just had to get with the program,” she said. “He and David Snell (the current president of The Fuller Center) were on the ball right from the start.”

While Millard Fuller had no interest in retirement, he did want to return to the roots with which he and Linda had started the world’s affordable housing movement. He believed a new version of the old ministry would need to go back to the grass-roots, Christian principles that he developed based upon the teachings of theologian Clarence Jordan.

“It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened,” Linda remembered. “And though Millard would only be with us for four more years, those were some of the happiest years for him.”

millard-and-clarence-1960s

Millard Fuller and Clarence Jordan at Koinonia Farm in the 1960s.

Though Millard Fuller passed away more than seven years ago, those grass-roots principles remain firmly intact and often are cited by groups who have chosen to switch their affiliation from the Fullers’ first housing nonprofit to The Fuller Center for Housing. Since 2005, 20 former affiliates of the previous organization have chosen to become covenant partners with The Fuller Center, most coming in the past three years.

“The Fuller Center operates with a few basic principles,” President David Snell explained. “We are unashamedly Christian and enthusiastically ecumenical; we follow the Biblical mandate that we not charge interest to the poor; our partner families must be in need but also willing to work alongside us and repay the costs of materials on terms they can afford with no profit made; and our grass-roots nature means that decisions about family selection, construction and volunteer and church engagement are made at the local level.”

With the emphasis on local leadership rather than top-down micromanagement from headquarters, The Fuller Center uses a different term than “affiliates” for its local groups — terminology that more aptly represents the relationship between Fuller Center headquarters and those doing the work in the field.

“We call them covenant partners,” Snell added. “They agree to our basic principles before joining with us and renew their commitments annually.”

“People like our mission and the fact that we are a Christian organization,” said Director of U.S. Covenant Partner Development Stacey Odom-Driggers, who like Snell has worked with both of the Fullers’ housing organizations. “They like the simplicity, support and grass-roots-driven approach that we offer.”

“Fuller Center supports the freedom and independence of our covenant partner to do what works best in our community instead of demanding that we do things a certain way.”  — Tamara Danel, Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center, Hammond, La.

 

NEW PARTNERS APPRECIATE GRASS-ROOTS APPROACH

For those who’ve left their old nonprofit housing affiliation for The Fuller Center, there are two recurring themes about why they switched: One, they wanted local control instead of micromanagement from a headquarters they increasingly saw as “corporate;” and, two, they said that recent annual fees required by their nonprofit’s headquarters would be better put to use helping families in the field.

“We like that there are not layers of middle management between Fuller Center headquarters and our covenant partner,” said Tamara Danel, Director of Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing in Hammond, La., one of the first to make the switch to The Fuller Center. “Fuller Center supports the freedom and independence of our covenant partner to do what works best in our community instead of demanding that we do things a certain way.

Tamara Danel visits with homeowners during a Global Builders trip to Nicaragua.

Tamara Danel visits with homeowners during a Global Builders trip to Nicaragua.

“We also like that neither Fuller Center headquarters nor our covenant partner is top-heavy when it comes to spending money on management,” Danel added. “We appreciate that more than 86 percent of donations go to the projects we do in the community and around the world. [The previous organization] seemed to be top-heavy and more legalistic when it came to organizational management.”

Randy Rinehart, who leads one of the newest groups to switch in Houston, Miss., cited the ease of working with a non-corporate headquarters, particularly while working in a small rural community. He learned about The Fuller Center through the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure, whose spring ride takes it through Houston each year. Rinehart’s church, Parkway Baptist, is one of the weeklong ride’s host churches.

“The riders stayed in our church and shared their story and the story of The Fuller Center for Housing,” said Rinehart, whose group joined The Fuller Center in January of this year. “Then, when we interviewed other Fuller Center covenant partners, they talked about the ease of working with Fuller Center as a small-town organization. The biggest difference we have experienced is the personal, hands-on service and cooperation we received from The Fuller Center.”

“It is hard to have a relationship with a corporate conglomerate. Fuller’s folks, especially at the national level, bend over backwards to help, especially when you are new to the ministry. God’s love shows through them and the entire Fuller ministry.” — Kermit Rowe, Clark County Fuller Center, Springfield, Ohio

“The biggest difference that I have seen is Fuller’s people, both on the national level and at the chapters,” said Kermit Rowe, director of the Clark County Fuller Center for Housing in Springfield, Ohio. “When you are committed to God-centered principles in both word and action, that comes across in relationships.

“I’m big on relationships, and it is hard to have a relationship with a corporate conglomerate,” he continued. “Fuller’s folks, especially at the national level, bend over backwards to help, especially when you are new to the ministry. God’s love shows through them and the entire Fuller ministry.”

 

PARTNERS WOULD RATHER SPEND FUNDS ON WORK IN COMMUNITY THAN ON DUES TO HEADQUARTERS

Rowe said the primary reason that Clark County switched to The Fuller Center’s model was that they wanted to get back to the Christian principles, just as Millard and Linda Fuller did. But they also had a financial incentive.

“The clincher for us was that [their former organization] was wanting to charge each chapter our size $7,500 per year as dues — on top of asking us to tithe 10 percent,” he said. “We could pretty much rehab a house for $7,500 and help another family, which is obviously our main mission. We wanted to keep that money in the community, helping families and spreading God’s love with it.”

Delores Peoples receives a quilt and Bible from volunteers who repaired her flood-damaged home in New Jersey.

Delores Peoples receives a quilt and Bible from volunteers who repaired her flood-damaged home in New Jersey.

The Fuller Center does not require its covenant partners to pay any annual dues or fees, but it does encourage its partners to tithe 10 percent of undesignated funds to help build internationally. However, tithing is not required.

“The people I talk to are surprised that we don’t have any application fees or yearly dues,” said Odom-Driggers, who serves as the first point of contact for those wishing to join The Fuller Center. “They appreciate that we are transparent and have a genuine interest in helping them serve their communities. Each community has its own challenges and strengths, and we are able to provide the framework to build a successful organization that addresses the specific needs of their community.”

“Rather than support us in our circumstances, [the former organization] increased demands for funding over and above our tithe,” said Barbara Curtis, Director of The Fuller Center of Johnson County, Mo., which transitioned to The Fuller Center in 2016. “Additionally, compliance with ever-increasing regulations and requirements became burdensome to us, considering how little assistance they provided. It just seemed our contribution and struggles were under-appreciated.

“It seemed to us that the organization ‘went corporate’ and shifted toward affiliates that were in metropolitan settings, ran commercial re-sale stores, had full-time paid workers and were able to generate results on large-scale projects,” Curtis added. “After years of affiliation with our former not-for-profit, it became clear that our all-volunteer chapter was no longer to be well nurtured by them. We were unable to produce the results they preferred and were in a downward spiral in need of advice, assistance and understanding. We found Fuller Center just in time, and our despair has become audacious hope.”

“We found Fuller Center just in time, and our despair has become audacious hope.” — Barbara Curtis, Director of Fuller Center of Johnson County in Warrensburg, Mo.

Covenant partners also cited innovative programs in their decision to switch — including the Greater Blessing home repair program. Unlike new home partner families, Greater Blessing partner families do not sign documents guaranteeing their repayment. They are instead asked to repay the costs of materials as they are able. The Fuller Center also promotes the Save a House/Make a Home initiative through which covenant partners take donated vacant properties — often considered toxic assets — and restore them to like-new homes for families in need.

Meanwhile, the low overhead at Fuller Center headquarters helps not just covenant partners but others as such volunteer experiences as Global Builders and U.S. Builders trips are very reasonably priced.

 

A TRANSITION MADE EASY

Partners sign a simple, two-page partnership covenant when they decide to join this grass-roots ministry. The term “partnership covenant” was deliberately chosen to emphasize the use of partnerships in the work of building and repairing homes and the parallel relationship of headquarters with its partners, rather than a top-down approach.

“The Fuller Center helped us through our entire transition,” said Marilyn Hoskins, who leads the Southwest Iowa Fuller Center in Shenandoah, Iowa. Her organization switched to The Fuller Center last year, officially signing their covenant partnership when the awareness- and fund-raising Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure made an overnight stop in her community during its 2016 summer ride from Seattle to Washington, D.C.

“It wasn’t easy in Iowa, for you can’t just change your name with the Secretary of State,” she said. “The Fuller Center, though, held our hand and aided us during the entire process. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Fuller Center any day.”

Fuller Center homeowner and volunteer Thad Harris with a group of student builders from Ohio State University.

Fuller Center homeowner and volunteer Thad Harris with a group of student builders from Ohio State University.

Most transitions, though, from one nonprofit to The Fuller Center are surprisingly simple.

“From our very first conversation with representatives of The Fuller Center, our experience has been positive and hospitable,” Curtis said. “The people who staff the international office have been available to answer every question, offered helpful guidance, listened to our laments, and supported our efforts. Sometimes it seems they intuitively know our next question and provide information about our challenges even before we realize them. They seem willing to champion the ‘little guys.'”

“When we interviewed other covenant partners, they talked about the ease of working with Fuller Center as a ‘small-town’ organization,” said Rinehart, who found the transition to be simple and expedient. “When we called the first time, someone answered the phone and talked to us and then called us back and checked on us. They sent personal emails and seemed interested in what we are doing here.”

“When we interviewed other covenant partners, they talked about the ease of working with Fuller Center as a ‘small-town’ organization.” — Randy Rinehart, Director of The Fuller Center for Housing of Houston, Miss.

The Fuller Center for Housing has grown by leaps and bounds since the Fullers hit the restart button on their affordable housing ministry in 2005, but the growth has been steady and not out of control. And while the ranks of covenant partners has increased across the nation and around the world, The Fuller Center only works where it is invited. It does not plant partners, nor does it compete with other organizations to lure their affiliates away.

“The need for the work we do is so great that we welcome the participation of any groups who share our vision, knowing full well that we can’t alone meet the goal of eliminating poverty housing,” Fuller Center President Snell said. “As Millard Fuller liked to say, ‘The Fuller Center won’t compete with other organizations until the time comes to build the very last house.’ That day will be a long time coming.”

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