Louisiana build features three generations of Stoesz family among volunteers

Louisiana build features three generations of Stoesz family among volunteers

Last week’s Higher Ground on the Bayou Build in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, brought together dozens of volunteers to help a couple of families who have been dealing with the aftermath of historic flooding for months. A trio of volunteers, though, had a special connection that no other group of volunteers could match.

Randall Stoesz

Among the volunteers the build brought together were three generations of the Stoesz family — patriarch Edgar Stoesz, his son Randall and grandson David. They each have followed different roads in their careers, but they share a love for making the world a better place to live.

“It’s real special,” said Dr. Randall Stoesz, a pediatrician in Carmel, Indiana. “We’ve worked together before but never on a build like this together. We’re pretty compatible co-workers.”

Edgar Stoesz

Dr. Stoesz has worked on several builds for both The Fuller Center and Habitat for Humanity, as has his father, Edgar, who said he has done five with Habitat and five with The Fuller Center. Edgar said having three generations work together on this build was “a real bonus.”

“David is good with his hands, and I thought he’d be a good builder,” said the eldest Stoesz, who serves on The Fuller Center’s International Board of Directors and was once chairman of the board for Habitat. “Randy is probably the most skilled one of us. I’m just glad they were able to work it out with their schedules so we could all be here having a great time.”

David Stoesz

Though the family’s roots are in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, David’s trip to the build was the shortest as he works with The Nature Conservancy and lives in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

“A lot of my co-workers are either from Louisiana or Mississippi,” David said. “I’ve grown really connected to the land here, and I’ve formed a really nice bond with our preserves in Mississippi and Louisiana. Most of my work, I do alone, so it’s nice to get out here and see some people and work with others.”

Flood-impacted families waited a long time for this week to come

Flood-impacted families waited a long time for this week to come

When Cathy Wagner’s 13-year-old grandson got home from school on Wednesday, he stopped in his tracks and smiled. When she asked him what was wrong, he just kept smiling and responded:


Cathy and her husband David, a Vietnam veteran, used much of their life savings to purchase their “dream house” in Albany, Louisiana, a little more than three years ago. They even purchased flood insurance for the first year until their agent convinced them it was a waste of money. The area had never flooded, and it would never flood, he insisted. They canceled it.

In August, though, a flood deemed a once-in-500-years event began lapping at their doorstep. When they went to bed, their floors were dry. In the middle of the night, they were wading through three feet of water on their way to their four-wheel drive truck. It stalled in the rising water. Later, someone tried to rescue them by boat, but a tree fell on the boat, injuring Cathy’s knee and sending them back into the house. They would be in there with the floodwaters for 18 more hours before an airboat came by to rescue them.

Cathy and David Wagner thank Fuller Center volunteers for their work on their “dream home” in Albany, Louisiana, on Thursday.

For the last few months, the Wagners have been living in a FEMA trailer behind the damaged home. Already disabled, they blame the living conditions for respiratory problems they have developed since the flood.

This week, however, about two dozen volunteers from across the nation have come to Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, to help the Wagners get out of that FEMA trailer and back into their dream home.

“I’m so excited and so happy and so thankful,” Cathy said Thursday, the final day of the Higher Ground on the Bayou Flood Recovery Build. “I feel so blessed right now. Everybody here has been so lovely and so nice.”



In the Pumpkin Center neighborhood of nearby Hammond, Louisiana, Bill Hayden, also a Vietnam veteran, and his wife Debi thought they had seen it all after living on the same property since 1990. For the first 15 years, they lived in a doublewide. When they were in the middle of building their dream home, Hurricane Katrina hit.

“We just watched the trees blow in the wind, but we had no major damage,” Debi recalled. “We were able to finish the house just fine.”

Certainly, if they could survive Katrina, there would be almost nothing Mother Nature could throw at them to disrupt their lives. Almost.

Like the Wagners, they say they were also told that flood insurance would be a waste of money. In August, their home was flooded with about 20 inches of water. They, too, partnered with the Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing to get repairs during this week’s Higher Ground on the Bayou Build.

Fuller Center President David Snell presents a Bible to Bill and Debi Hayden during Thursday’s dedication ceremony.

“It was a very disturbing event,” Bill said of the flood. “We have bought flood insurance just in case it happens again.”

For now, though, thanks to Ginger Ford Northshore Director Tamara Danel and the volunteers she helped bring to Louisiana this week, they have nearly completed their long journey back from the flood.

“This is a great opportunity for us to serve and do what we do,” Danel said during the dedication ceremony at the Hayden home with hot sunshine beaming down. “We want to see you back in your beautiful home and be proud of it and feel safe in it.”




Volunteers came from all across the country to work in Louisiana this week, but only one came from out of the country — Jose Santos Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been an integral part of The Fuller Center’s local leadership team in Nicaragua as the group’s project manager. He knows architecture and engineering, but travel is not his specialty.

“It’s my first trip to the United States,” he said. “It’s my first time on a plane.”

Santos said the many volunteers who keep coming to work in Nicaragua through The Fuller Center’s Global Builders program have provided a tremendous boost to the families and local employment picture in the Las Peñitas area, and he wanted to do a little to pay it forward. He’ll also hanging around for this weekend’s Fuller Center Conference at which he’ll meet with Global Builders team leaders. And now that he’s gotten his first plane flight under his belt, he’ll have another before going back to Nicaragua.

“I’m flying to L.A. to see family,” he said. “I haven’t seen them since 1998.”


Hammond Daily Star article about the Build

high-resolution photo gallery from the build




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 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.



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.”



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.



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.”

interested in starting
a covenant partner?





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: