SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “hand-up”

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “hand-up”

(Photo: Ana Tarazona Ramos of La Florida, Peru, partnered with us to build a new home and even came to America in 2011 to help build homes at the Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Minden, Louisiana. She since has become mayor of her community.)

This is the second in a series of blog posts about terms that define how The Fuller Center for Housing works to help families have simple, decent places to live. On Friday, we’ll take a look at the meaning of “ecumenical.”


If I had a nickel for every charity or nonprofit that claims to give “a hand-up instead of a handout,” I’d be a wealthy man — and I’d donate a lot of those nickels to a nonprofit that actually does provide a hand-up instead of a handout.

The phrase “hand-up instead of a handout” too often has meant nothing and has become rather cliché — and that’s a shame because it’s at the very heart of what we do at The Fuller Center for Housing.

Many people mistakenly believe Fuller Center homeowners are given houses or given repairs for free. They’ll leave comments on our social media pages such as, “I wish somebody would give me a house!”

That’s not how it works. For new houses, homeowner partners must be working hard to provide for themselves even if they fall just short of what they need to qualify for traditional lending from banks. They must perform hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” in the building of their homes and then repay the costs of materials, over time, with zero interest charged on mortgage terms they can afford. This allows them to pay it forward as the money goes into a Fund for Humanity to help others in their local community get the same hand-up.

For smaller repair projects, there is the Greater Blessing program. There is no mortgage involved in repaying the costs of repairs, but homeowners are asked to contribute “sweat equity” alongside our volunteers and are asked to repay the costs as they are able. For many of the seniors and disabled with whom we work, this may mean just a few dollars at a time. We find that even though they aren’t legally required to repay the costs, they want to. Perhaps that’s out of pure gratitude, a sense of pride, or a combination of the two.

When you truly extend a hand-up instead of a handout, the recipient of the help is able to retain their pride and their dignity. They appreciate the opportunity they have been extended because they have to work for it and repay it. Because their repayments help others, they become givers themselves instead of charity cases. It’s what we call “enlightened charity.”

That hand-up can even lift the recipient far beyond the home itself. One of the best examples of this is Ana Tarazona Ramos in Peru. She struggled daily to get by on the streets of Lima, moving from rented room to rented room with her three young children at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords. She often wondered where their next meal would come from as selling school supplies on the streets did not provide an adequate living.

Then she heard about The Fuller Center’s growing community in La Florida. She hopped a bus in desperation and wound up partnering with us to build a home for her family. She was so grateful for the hand-up that she even came to America in 2011 to help others build homes at the Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Minden, Louisiana. With her children having a stable life and excelling in school, she felt empowered and rediscovered herself. She would go on to be elected mayor of La Florida.

I heard her tell her story directly to our Board of Directors during that Legacy Build. She fought through tears of joy and gratitude to explain how the hand-up changed her life and why she came to the U.S. to pay it forward. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

My friend Thad Harris, meanwhile, epitomizes what a hand-up can do perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever met. Years after being paralyzed in a traffic accident that cost him his livelihood as a construction worker and sent him spiraling into a depression, he partnered with The Fuller Center to build a new home in Americus, Georgia, a few miles from our headquarters.

Thad Harris

Not only did Thad perform hundreds of hours more than his required sweat equity from his wheelchair, but he has since become one of our most prolific volunteers with the local covenant partner, of which he also is a board member. On top of his usual volunteering, he spends weeks each year leading U.S. Builders teams who come to work in Americus. Thad’s smiling face is the main thing they remember about their trips here.

Also, Thad comes by our headquarters office at least once a week to see how things are going, ask if there is anything he can do and to say, “Thank you for what you’re doing.”

“Thad,” I told him last week, “you don’t have to keep thanking us. We appreciate it, but you’ve paid it forward many, many times over.”

“I’m just so thankful,” he said. “I just want you to know you’re appreciated.”

There is a time and a place for handouts, such as in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. But, too often, handouts are diminishing and counter-productive. When we first began working in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, we found a culture of dependency that had been created and exacerbated by decades of well-meaning handouts from the United States. We can’t change the entire culture of dependency, but in the areas where we’ve built more than 200 permanent homes, our homeowner partners have been our co-workers instead of charity cases. They are proud of their accomplishments. And they set an example for the Haitian people around them that shows how empowering a hand-up can be.

Everywhere we work, there is a sense of accomplishment at the end of a project — and it is one shared by everyone who contributes, including the homeowners. Instead of someone saying, “Look what we did for you,” we are saying, “Look what we have done together.”

When you support The Fuller Center for Housing, you are truly extending an empowering hand-up instead of a diminishing handout. For that, to echo Thad’s sentiments to us, we are so thankful and want you to know you are appreciated.

President David Snell explains why we don’t do handouts in this short video:

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “grass-roots”

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “grass-roots”

(Photo: Doug Miller (left) is a generous financial supporter of The Fuller Center for Housing and an active volunteer who recognizes the direct impact made possible through The Fuller Center’s grass-roots mission. He helped build the home of Latisha Booker (right) in Lanett, Alabama, Millard Fuller’s hometown.)

This is the first in a series of blog posts about terms that define how The Fuller Center for Housing works to help families have simple, decent places to live. On Thursday, we’ll take a look at the meaning of “hand-up.”

A lot of political campaigns tout “grass-roots” efforts to convey their message. A lot of organizations, especially charities, like to describe themselves as “grass-roots.” But what does the term really mean?

No, it’s not the musical group who belted out great songs like “Let’s Live for Today” and “Midnight Confessions” in the 1960s. Nor is it a simple term to explain, but simplicity is at the heart of what “grass-roots” is all about — especially at The Fuller Center.

When Millard and Linda Fuller were forced out of Habitat for Humanity in 2005 — nearly 30 years after founding the nonprofit — it was heartbreaking for them, but Millard saw an opportunity. Tired of the corporate struggled he had enduring the previous 10 years or more, he recalled the simple days of the 1970s and early 1980s when his affordable housing ministry was just getting started.

Back then, they relied on generous individuals, a determined corps of volunteers and churches committed to putting faith into action. As Linda recalls of the early days:

“We lived at Koinonia Farm after returning from Africa in mid-1976, with a makeshift “office” in an old rat-infested, pecan-drying barn. It was hot in the summer, cold in the winter. We purchased a $2,500 dwelling in Americus as Millard’s law office and the first “real” office of Habitat for Humanity. The rotten porch was replaced with a neat brick entrance, painted and modestly furnished. I sewed drapes from bed sheets. In order for our family to live in town, we purchased an old house for $12,500, a 10-block walk for Millard to the office.”

Some might say Millard was too committed to living simply. Some might think it was an overcorrection for the lavish lifestyle he had gained as a millionaire businessman in the 1960s before giving it all away to serve others.

By the time 2005 rolled around, Habitat was not just a household name but had grown to have large offices in both Americus and Atlanta. Corporate influence on the board was growing. Fundraising, marketing and technology expanded. Habitat continued to grow by leaps and bounds. But Millard was concerned about the direction and the adherence to foundational principles. He wanted to ensure that a family “served” was actually a family housed. The head-butting continued until Millard and Linda got the boot from the nonprofit they had founded as an affordable housing ministry.

It didn’t take long for Millard to seize an opportunity from that disappointment — and he, Linda and current President David Snell founded The Fuller Center for Housing as a return to the founding principles with which they had set out more than three decades earlier. They vowed that The Fuller Center would not stray from its grass-roots, Christian principles — the same principles that proved so effective in the early days. They vowed to be transparent and used clear words like families “housed” when reporting success. A family who simply attended a class on home ownership or whose current housing situation was merely evaluated would not be considered “housed.” They knew that donors wanted results — homes built and repaired — more than peripheral and tangential activities that may never result in homes built or repaired.

Millard worked joyously and tirelessly for this restarted affordable housing ministry right up until the day he died unexpectedly in 2009. Linda said that his final years were some of the happiest of his life because he had been able to simplify and do what he really wanted to do with his life — help people in need. He was simply committed to putting faith into action. He was happy that he once again had a nonprofit that allowed him to make a direct impact without a hindering bureaucracy.

FCH headquarters

The Fuller Center remains a grass-roots ministry. Simplicity guides the mission. Despite having more than 70 U.S. covenant partners and 21 international partners, the nonprofit’s headquarters remains a donated former Chinese restaurant in which a handful of dedicated staffers are committed to running a lean operation. They have forsaken larger salaries and greater benefit packages to serve the ministry because they believe in it.

Because of our grass-roots commitment, 90 percent of donations go to work in the field with less than 10 percent going to overhead. (See latest independent financial audit.) Overhead is not inherently evil as it is important to keep the lights on and ensure that such dedicated staff is reasonably compensated for their efforts, but Fuller Center leadership is committed to maximizing every cent given to the ministry in the field where families are housed.

Because of our grass-roots commitment, individual donors know that their donations make a bigger impact. A $6,000 gift can build an entire house in some countries. Donors know the feeling of direct impact that brought Millard such joy in his final years.

Because of our grass-roots commitment, a company or business can work through The Fuller Center to build an entire community or transform an entire neighborhood. They can have far more direct impact. They can point to an actual project they made happen instead of simply sending out a press release about a large financial donation to a corporate nonprofit that went into the same ol’ big bucket with other such gifts.

The Fuller Center is committed to growing the impact this ministry has on families in need of simple, decent places to live. But we remain committed to the grass-roots principles that maximize the impact. In fact, the question has been raised more than once: How do we grow and remain committed to our grass-roots principles? A whole panel of concerned thought leaders who care about this ministry has actually been convened to consider this question and offer guidance on the subject.

We will never allow our commitment to growth to overtake our commitment to the simple, grass-roots, Christian principles that allowed this ministry to flourish in the first place.

So, what does the term “grass-roots” mean to us? It means simplicity that allows the greatest direct impact.

Fuller Center co-founder Linda Fuller talks about getting back to basic principles after leaving Habitat:


Groups help Fuller Center build ramps, make repairs for veterans in Louisiana

Groups help Fuller Center build ramps, make repairs for veterans in Louisiana

(Photo: Vietnam veteran Joe Simms Stafford’s home in Independence, Louisiana, was flooded in August 2016.)

With the help of a group from First Presbyterian Church of Rumson, N.J., the Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing built a ramp for an Army veteran in Hammond, Louisiana, on Friday, and then teamed up with volunteers from Rebuilding Together and Charter Spectrum to build a ramp and make repairs for a Vietnam veteran in Independence, Louisiana, on Saturday.

Ginger Ford Northshore Executive Director Tamara Danel reported live from the scene Saturday in a video that you can view here. Meanwhile, the Hammond Daily Star reported on both of the projects — click here for the report on Friday’s work and click here for the report from Saturday. Below are a few photos from the two days of work:

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How an ailing child’s Christmas wish became a home for the holidays

How an ailing child’s Christmas wish became a home for the holidays

(Photo, from left: Homeowner partner/volunteer Robin Pierre, homeowner partner and Army veteran Carla Ross and Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project Executive Director Kim Roberts with K’Hairi outside the Ross’ new home in West Point, Georgia.)

K’Hairi has been going in and out of hospitals all eight of his years, just a fact of life with sickle-cell anemia and asthma. Coming home from the hospital used to mean going back to houses that were in terrible condition, exacerbating his health issues.

Yet, when K’Hairi would crawl upon Santa’s lap at the mall every Christmas, he did not wish for anything for himself — not for toys, not even for his sickle-cell to be wiped away. He simply told Santa that he wanted his mother, Army veteran Carla Ross, to have a good home.

Fortunately, Fuller Center for Housing supporters managed to do what Santa Claus could not. In June of this year, dozens of volunteers came together over two hot weeks in West Point, Georgia, to build a simple, decent, energy-efficient home in partnership with Carla and K’Hairi. With the exception of outstanding Minnesotan house captains Tim DuBois and Charlie Thell, it was a virtually all-local effort from the tri-city communities of Lanett and Valley, Alabama, and West Point.— three adjacent cities along the famous Chattahoochee River. Lanett, by the way, is the hometown of The Fuller Center’s founder, Millard Fuller.

“I wanted The Fuller Center to be the one to step up and give him that wish,” said Kim Roberts, Executive Director of the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project, one of more than 70 local Fuller Center partners across the United States, in addition to 20 more around the world. “He deserved that wish. What a Christmas wish!”

“It was a lot of work — a lot of hard work was put into it,” Ross said recently as she reflected upon those couple of weeks in June and settling into the home in the weeks afterward. “But it makes you appreciate it more.”

“We were very blessed on this build — just to see K’Hairi’s smile. I think this is going to change his life, and it’s going to help his family.” — Kim Roberts, Executive Director, Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project

Ross has worked multiple jobs and been furthering her education since leaving the Army. She is not the type to look for a handout, which made her an excellent fit to partner with The Fuller Center for Housing. Homeowner partners not only must contribute sweat equity in the building of their homes, but they also must repay the costs of materials on terms they can afford — at zero-percent interest with no profit made — into a Fund for Humanity to help others in her community get the same hand-up. In fact, Ross’ home was the 37th new house built by the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project, and she can see those payments at work right next door today as CFCP broke ground on house No. 38 earlier this week.

“It’s not given to you,” said Ross, echoing a feeling many military veterans have expressed about preferring a hand-up from The Fuller Center over a handout. “It’s not free. The labor doesn’t cost anything, but it’s not free. But we don’t have to pay all the extra stuff and interest. We’re just paying for the house itself. That’s exciting.”

“Our veterans deserve a decent place to live,” said Roberts, who added that a $25,000 grant from Home Depot helped make this project possible. “Home Depot loves our veterans. If it wasn’t for our veterans, we probably wouldn’t be standing here today being able to speak what we want to say. I thank Carla for that — and for being a wonderful mom to K’Hairi and taking very good care of him.”

Not only is Ross’ zero-interest mortgage payment hundreds of dollars less than that for which she could rent a substandard property, but she will someday own the home outright. As theologian Clarence Jordan (a mentor to Millard Fuller) once said: “What the poor need is not charity, but capital; not case workers, but co-workers.”

Another financial benefit is that new Fuller Center homes are extremely energy-efficient. With K’Hairi’s health issues, they cannot allow their home’s air to become thick, muggy and stale in the Georgia heat. Ross understood the home would be energy-efficient, but she still experienced reverse sticker shock when she got her first utility bill this past summer. She was certain she had been undercharged by the power company.

“There was a $300 difference,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Are you sure this is for the whole month?’ It’s a really big difference.”

The Ross build provided a spiritual lift for the entire community. For Roberts, seeing K’Hairi’s wish come true and the community support that made it happen is the kind of positive story that makes the daily struggles of running a nonprofit worthwhile.

“It was just amazing to see the way the local community came out to support this — just to give K’Hairi a decent place to live,” Roberts said. “You know, when you feel bad or are sick, you need a decent place to lay your head. We wanted K’Hairi to have that.

“We were very blessed on this build — just to see K’Hairi’s smile,” she added. “I think this is going to change his life, and it’s going to help his family.”

Of course, now that K’Hairi and his mother have a simple, decent home to spend the holidays, he is free to ask Santa Claus for something else this Christmas. When asked what will be on his wish list this year, K’Hairi thought for a moment and then responded earnestly:

“I wish every kid in the world had a good home, too.”

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Click here to support K’Hairi’s new wish



SLIDESHOW: View each of the first 40 Fuller Center homes in India

SLIDESHOW: View each of the first 40 Fuller Center homes in India

The Fuller Center for Housing’s covenant partner in Trivandrum, in the state of Kerala, India, completed its 40th new home last week thanks to a team of hard-working Fuller Center Global Builders led by Kaye Hooker and Pamela Bland. You can view a few photos from their memorable trip at this link.

Before the trip, T.H. Lawrence, who leads our work in India, shared photos of the first 39 houses (we added the 40th in the slideshow below) in this blog post telling the story behind each of those homes. You can read his notes at this link and view photos of all 40 homes in the slideshow below.

Your support makes these milestones possible! Thank you!

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New house for once-homeless Army veteran, wife built in memory of teen

New house for once-homeless Army veteran, wife built in memory of teen

(Photo, from left: Fuller Center for Housing of Northwest Louisiana Executive Director Lee Jeter, Sterling and Rhonda Combs, Bryan and Peri Reed. Mrs. Combs is holding a photo of Molly Reed, in whose memory their home was built.)

Army veteran Sterling Combs and his wife, Rhonda, have seen their share of hard times, but they have come all the way back from years of addiction and homelessness. Today, they have a new two-bedroom, one-bath Fuller Center home in Bossier City, Louisiana, thanks to churches and a community that came together to honor Molly Reed’s spirit of joy and compassion.

Molly Reed

Molly was 15 when she died in a car wreck with friends Katy Watkins and Emily Perdue in 2006. All three girls were passionate about helping others, and two Bossier City homes already have been built in honor of Katy Watkins. A future home is planned in honor of Emily Perdue.

“There’s a lot of people struggling like me and my husband. I just want them to know, there is help and there is hope,” Rhonda Combs told KSLA-TV, whose coverage you can view at this link.

She also told KTBS-3 News that she plans to start a community garden in Molly’s memory from which seniors who are struggling to buy food can simply come and pick what they need.

The new Fuller Center home for Sterling and Rhonda Combs — who both work at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center — is the 57th new home built by The Fuller Center for Housing of Northwest Louisiana. The 58th, also for a veteran, is under way in Shreveport, just across the river from Bossier City. Financial and volunteer support from The Simple Church and Asbury United Methodist Church, along with Fuller Center donors, helped make this project possible.

your gifts make these stories possible!

The Bossier Press-Tribune covered Tuesday’s entire dedication ceremony, which you can watch in this video:

Giving you can trust: 90 percent of your gift goes directly to housing families

Giving you can trust: 90 percent of your gift goes directly to housing families

(Photo: “Gracias!” New Fuller Center homeowner partners at our 90-home community in Ahuachapán, El Salvador, are grateful for your hand-up to a better life.)

Nearly everyone who contributes their hard-earned money to charity wants to know that their gifts make a difference for the cause about which they care deeply — and not for lavish offices, high salaries and unnecessary frills.

The latest independent financial audit of The Fuller Center for Housing for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017, shows that 90 percent of revenues go directly to program work in the field — namely the building and repairing of homes across the United States and in 20 countries around the world. Less than 10 percent of gifts fund overhead expenses.

“We here at The Fuller Center are happy that 90 percent of our funds last year went to program and only 10 percent went to administrative expense,” Fuller Center President David Snell said. “There are a number of reasons for that — we were blessed with some exceptionally generous donors on one hand and we maintain a lean operation here in Americus, Georgia, on the other. We pay modest salaries, work out of a simple headquarters building that we own, and we watch every penny.”

The benchmark standard is for nonprofits to spend less than 33.3 percent of donations on overhead and administration expenses and to use at least 66.6 percent for program activities that directly impact the cause or issue they address. Of course, those percentages must be evaluated with many factors in mind — including the type of work done, the size of the nonprofit and the amount of gifts the nonprofit receives, but a charity that spends less than 66.6 percent on programs should rightfully be subject to questions from supporters and potential donors.

The Fuller Center for Housing is a lean, grass-roots, Christian affordable housing ministry that has received the highest-level Platinum rating for transparency from charity watchdog GuideStar and meets all 20 standards as a member of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.

President Snell said that, ultimately, effectiveness is not measured so much in ratios and dollars as it is in families who receive a helping hand-up into simple, decent homes. Two years ago, The Fuller Center saw record numbers of families housed. That record was short-lived as The Fuller Center exceeded those numbers in the past fiscal year. To date, more than 4,140 families have partnered with The Fuller Center to build new homes or repair existing ones — and The Fuller Center is poised for yet another record building year ahead.

“It’s important to point out that while a healthy program ratio is a good thing, the real measure of our work is in the quality of the product that we deliver — new and restored houses for families in need,” Snell said. “Maintaining that quality requires adequate support from headquarters. We’re fortunate to have a good group of highly motivated folks here who work overtime to make sure that the mission moves forward.”

He added that even though administrative costs are kept to a minimum, there always will be some overhead required to maintain and grow the affordable housing ministry.

“While I’m proud of our positive ratios, I’m not at all embarrassed that we have administrative expense and I’m truly grateful to those donors who give to help cover it,” Snell said. “The way I see it, as long as we’re doing our part to keep expenses in line then everything we do is program.  Our success in the field comes in large measure from the tools and services that we provide.

“Special thanks are due to all of the donors and volunteers who gave so generously of their resources and time to reach out to the poor among us and dramatically improve their lives.”

VIDEO: President David Snell — “Every house is a sermon of God’s love”:

Click here to build a better world
with The Fuller Center for Housing


Point University football players tackle 25-home Block of Blessings in West Point, Georgia

Point University football players tackle 25-home Block of Blessings in West Point, Georgia

RELATED STORY (Click here):
Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project
announces 38th and 39th new home builds

Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project Executive Director Kim Roberts brought her Block of Blessings neighborhood improvement event to West Point, Georgia, on Tuesday, working in the city adjacent to late Fuller Center for Housing founder Millard Fuller’s hometown of Lanett, Alabama.

Roberts and her 25 volunteer house captains spruced up 25 properties along east Seventh and Eighth Streets in West Point — an effort made possible by more than 75 freshman athletes from Point University’s Skyhawks football team.

“It was awesome,” Roberts said of the day that included everything from yard maintenance to painting and minor repairs to help families in the area. “Those football players did a tremendous job.”

Roberts gave special appreciation for West Point Mayor pro-tem Steve Tramell, who, again, not only supported the CFCP’s work but also volunteered his skills on the site.

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Homeowner partners selected for
CFCP’s 38th and 39th new homes

Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project Executive Director Kim Roberts said that the organization will begin its 38th new home build on November 2 in West Point as a team raises the walls on a simple, decent new home in partnership with Ruthshun Hall and her three daughters.

Roberts said that a team of skilled volunteers will work November 2-4 on the home that is slated to be completed the week of December 4-8 by a team of volunteers from East Alabama Medical Center-Lanier Hospital, major sponsor of the build.

In February, the project plans to begin construction of its 39th new home, also sponsored by EAMC-Lanier, in Lanett, Alabama, in partnership with Loretta Brewer.

Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project Executive Director Kim Roberts (center) with future homeowner partners Loretta Brewer (left) and Ruthshun Hall.