Fuller Center General

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

My son is one of Atlanta Braves star Jason Heyward's biggest fans. When he played youth league baseball, he wore the number 22, batted left-handed and played right field. Of course, Heyward plays right field because he's got speed and a rocket arm. My son played right field because that was the place he was least likely to get hit in the head while ignoring the game and watching airplanes fly by in Columbus, Ga.

When I found out the 2012 Millard Fuller Legacy Build was coming to Henry County, Ga., just south of Atlanta, I knew that Jason Heyward was from Henry County, so naturally we will try to get him and the Braves to throw a little support our way as we converge on the county in September to work mostly in the community of Blacksville, which is a mixture of dilapidated homes and decent homes around Henry County Middle School.

And if “J-Hey” (who is one of just two players in Major League history to homer in his first career at bat and again in his first at bat the next Opening Day) can lend us a little support, perhaps we can even get Hammerin' Hank Aaron, my all-time favorite sports hero, to do the same. I never had the joy of meeting The Hammer during my sportswriting career, so maybe my nonprofit career will get me there. And who better to give us some love in metro Atlanta than someone nicknamed The Hammer?

I visited Henry County on Friday to have lunch with Henry County Fuller Center President Shane Persaud, tour the community and attend a planning meeting for the 2012 Legacy Build. All I knew about Henry County before then was that it was some place I blew through it a million times on I-75 on my way to Atlanta, and it was Heyward's home. But just like any place you take the time to get to know a little better, there's much more to McDonough and Henry County.

I plan to learn more and more, but here's some of the interesting tidbits I've found so far:

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

Somewhere, I've got Georgia Press Association plaques for winning first place in humor column writing and sports writing. I've got several certificates for first-, second- and third-place finishes in Olympic enterprise reporting, page design, more humor columns, headline writing and even serious column writing.

They're in a box. Somewhere. Maybe several boxes. Or maybe they're in a trash bag. My fiancee wants me to frame many of them, which would require finding them and hoping rats haven't eaten them. Because I've not kept these honors treasured and safe over the years, she kinda wants to strangle me. At least, I think that's why she wants to strangle me sometimes.

And it's not that they meant nothing to me. I just didn't do what I did in the newspaper business to win awards. The only reason I even remember most of those awards is because I had to list them on a resume I had to whip together when I saw the opportunity to apply for this position with The Fuller Center for Housing.

Some people like to collect awards. Some people like to have their office walls covered with them. Some like buildings, roads and bridges named after them. That's fine. It's just not my thing. The intrinsic value of a job well done is good enough for me. You'll rarely see me stand up and say “Look what I've done!” unless I think it could somehow benefit others.

Mike Bonderer, who leads The Fuller Center's operations in El Salvador, is the kind of person who could not care less about personal recognition, but he deserves honors and awards galore for the way his Homes from the Heart group has transformed communities and hundreds of lives in Central America.

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

During my 22-plus years in the newspaper business, I learned that there's always more to the story. The more you dig, the more you learn.

Sometimes these are big stories that you dig into. If you keep peeling back the layers of a shady lobbyist's deals with a lawmaker of questionable morals, there will always be more layers. And there will always be more to the story. You can dig forever and never reach bottom. You just have to make the decision to eventually quit digging.

Of course, the same principle applies to positive stories. Charlie Park (whose wonderful radio voice still echoes in my head months after the 2011 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Minden, La.) sent me a few pictures of a couple from Saginaw, Mich., who came to work this past weekend with the Webster Parish covenant partner he leads.

It didn't take much digging for Charlie and his broadcast journalist background to find out that this couple who decided to make a pit stop for a little volunteer work in Springhill, La., had a connection beyond merely having heard about the wonderful work of The Fuller Center for Housing in a newspaper, on Facebook or from a friend. Charlie learned that John and Debbie Haiderer's son, Mike, participated in our 2011 Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure.

Of course, Charlie found that connection interesting and evidence that the Bicycle Adventure's secondary mission after fundraising -- raising awareness -- is paying off, too. He also sees it as a ripple effect from the Legacy Build, that the spirit from the build is still alive and working.

But, yes, there's more to the story.

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

For three straight days at work, Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner and Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola have kept me busy putting out stories about new covenant partners coming on board with The Fuller Center for Housing.

Following up on the first new U.S covenant partner of the year in New Iberia, La., Kirk came to me Thursday and Friday with the additions of Tupelo, Miss., and then Elk City, Okla. And there appear to be more in the pipeline and plenty expressing interest in helping us fight poverty housing in the United States.

And then Ryan returns from a swing through Central America with a new covenant partner in Nicaragua and plans for a second covenant partner in El Salvador, one of our most popular build sites with the Global Builders.

They're gonna give me carpal tunnel syndrome writing about all the people they're bringing on board with our ministry. This whole fighting poverty housing thing and putting faith into action appears to be contagious. If Kirk and Ryan aren't stopped, they could very well attract enough good-hearted, hard-working folks to actually end the problem of poverty housing.

So, not only could I wind up with a terrible case of carpal tunnel, but I could be out of a job in communications if there's no poverty housing problem to communicate. I'd be back to covering high school football and county commission meetings.

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

Sorry if I got that old Disney tune stuck in your head, but the song “It's a Small World After All” actually means something to me now other than just being the hold music the bank used to play when I'd call to check on my checking account balance.

One thing I didn't expect when I joined The Fuller Center for Housing in June was that this ministry had the power to shrink the world. And I mean that in a good way, not in a “I can't believe you washed this in hot water” kind of shrinking way.

I've met folks from such places as Sierra Leone, Iraq, Peru, Armenia and even Idaho since I came on board. That's part of the way The Fuller Center has shrunk the world for me. Another is that I'm constantly getting pictures and updates from places we work like Haiti, India, Nepal and even Idaho.

But one of the main ways The Fuller Center has shrunk the world for me is by giving me a boss who has been in more countries than Evel Knievel has broken bones.

I realized once again just how well-traveled Fuller Center President David Snell is compared to me when I was interviewing him about our work in Nepal for a recent story. (You can read the in-depth story by clicking here.) I asked him how many times he'd been to Nepal, and his response was “two or three times.”