Fuller Center General

By Hailey Dady
Global Builders coordinator

Earlier this week, I arrived back in the States after a two-week stay in Peru. Since then I have been trying to put into words the joys and heartbreak that came along with the journey. Before I left the States, I knew the trip would open my eyes to a way of life much different than my own. I have traveled to many places and experienced much sorrow, but what I experienced in La Florida, Peru, has motivated me to do something. Whether that something is spreading the word of the community needs, sharing the stories of the families or raising money for home sponsorship, my mission will not end until every family has a place to call home. Until then, the tug and longing La Florida has on my heart will drive me to bring about God’s desire to provide for the basic needs of everyone.

Even with all the stories I've come back with, I could not move your heart the way seeing and experiences for yourself would. The only way to truly experience this is to see the sorrow in the mother’s eyes when she cannot provide for the basic needs of her children or the smile of the little child with worn-out clothes and shoes too small for their feet smile from ear to ear because they are going to have a house! A beautiful house made of bricks!

For many of these families, owning a home with solid walls never even crossed their minds as possible. They have spent their whole lives living among the dirt and sticks, which are pressed together to form four walls and, sometimes, a roof. They gather together whatever they can to provide a soft and warm place to sleep at night, but for many this is not much.

By Chris Johnson
Director of Communications

In World War II, my grandfather, Fred Dixon, lost both of his legs to Nazi machine gun fire in Tunisia 1943 while he was fighting as a member of the legendary Darby's Rangers. He carried one of his legs in his arms on his way to cover as he continued to return fire. He was quite the fighter.

That drive continued when he came home and helped raise war bonds in Washington, D.C. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about him in her nationally syndicated “My Day” columns on Feb. 21, 1944, and Feb. 25, 1944. (Click the dates to read them.) He was optimistic then. But by the time I got to know him in the 1970s until he died in 1981, all the optimism had been drained from him. He was pessimistic, caustic and bitter because he felt like he gave a lot more for his country than his country gave for him. It was a daily struggle then, back when America wasn't nearly so accessible for those in wheelchairs. He loved kids and his grandkids, but he had little use for adults, especially bureaucrats and the people who held up his medical care with red tape.

That brings me to Fuller Center homeowner Thad Harris. His story is similar, though inversely. He once had feelings similar to what my grandfather experience late in his life. But Thad rose from that point to where he is now. Now, he exudes joy, optimism, determination, love and amazing generosity and selflessness.

Thad was confined to a wheelchair after he was paralyzed in an auto accident through no fault of his own. For years, he was depressed and felt hopeless. “Life was just one long day,” he told me last year. But everything changed when he became a Fuller Center homeowner. As he said, “The American Dream was here. It's here now, and for me!”

If generosity was a drug, Thad would be hopelessly addicted. I see Thad all the time these days, rolling through the headquarters in search of Americus-Sumter FCH director Alyssa Hostetler, trying to find out whom he can help next. One of those people he has helped is Deborah Clayton, who faces challenges of her own, yet is just as positive as Thad. No wonder they're friends.

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.