Millard Fuller Legacy Build

By Leah Gernetzke
Communications/multimedia specialist

A pillow embroidered with the words “life’s uncertain, eat dessert first” rests on a couch in Bob and Judy Hippler’s RV, a cozy, carpeted home on wheels in which the Hipplers travel all over the country. A black and white picture of the couple sits on a coffee table, and curtains grace the windows.

But when looking at this couple, it’s clear that these are all just details – after so many years blending together in a happy mosaic of life, home is simply wherever they are, as long as they’re together.

And to celebrate the 50 years they’ve spent together in marriage, they’re building homes for families at The Millard Fuller Legacy Build this week.

“It just blows my mind that they chose to spend this time with us … we are so grateful,” said director of Webster Parish Fuller Center Charlie Park at a special dinner celebration for the couple.

But it was no accident that the Hipplers chose to celebrate on the build site.

“For our anniversary, we wanted to do something special,” Judy said. “We couldn’t think of a nicer way to celebrate.  We feel very blessed, and we just want to pass it on.”

Leah Gernetzke
Communication/multimedia specialist

This week I’ve walked up and down Millard Fuller drive dozens of times, taken hundreds of photos/video clips of people hammering, sawing, painting, climbing ladders, roofing, and cutting siding, and met and interviewed people from faraway places such as Peru, Mexico, Burma and Iraq.

Out of all of this activity, the latter is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the build – The dominating Southern y’alls mixed with a few Spanish phrases, Midwestern drawls, and Eastern and Middle Eastern accents. I wondered how all these people from different cultures, with such different ways of interacting and even joking, managed to communicate on a construction site.  

Of course, somehow it’s never actually a problem.

“It’s been a great week. We all loved it. We all came with no experience at all,” said Sara Sabaa, a pre-engineering student at Webster University from Iraq. “We all thought we would be standing to the side just handing nails and hammers to people. But when we got here actually our house captains were giving us work to do. This is the first time I’ve been on a construction site. I didn’t know most of the names of the tools and materials and now I feel like, hey I can do this, it’s a piece of cake.”

By Leah Gernetzke
Communications/multimedia specialist

"It's more blessed to give than to receive."

This common saying might hold a lot of truth, but walking around the Millard Fuller Legacy Build work site this week has lent me a new perspective – that perhaps the two are not totally opposite, but instead intertwine in constant synergy.

Because inevitably, the giver receives as much as he gives, and the receiver gives as much as he receives. And both receive a new sense of contagious hope from working together.

In the space of one month, “Ginger” Virginia Williams, a volunteer here at the Legacy Build in Minden, Louisiana, has been on both ends of the equation.

Williams’ story stretches back to 2008, when her home in Hammond, Louisiana, was severely damaged by Hurricane Gustaf.

For three years, Williams and her husband and three children lived in the tarp-covered home, facing major challenges on a daily basis.

By Leah Gernetzke
Communications/multimedia specialist

When your fingers are too frozen to properly type, you feel like you’ve been exercising all day just from shivering and shaking and your brain feels like it’s waiting for a spring thaw (sorry for any typos in this blog), you know it’s officially cold. 

Today is one of those days. Never mind that the thermometer says it’s 54 degrees. With a damp, bone-chilling, blustery wind blowing through the worksite, and a chilly mist turning yesterday’s dust into sinking piles of mud, it may as well be –54 to me.

But surprisingly, the volunteers on site seem far less affected by the inclement weather than I – they’re still hard at work, swinging hammers, climbing roofs and carrying on cheerfully. Many of these workers were also on site much longer after supper last night, working on the houses under the glare of street lamps and headlights.

By Leah Gernetzke
Communications/multimedia specialist

When coming to an epic blitz build like this year’s Millard Fuller Legacy Build, volunteers undoubtedly have a jumble of thoughts and ideas about the week. They may be contemplating the noble deed of helping their neighbors and giving people in need a hand up. They may have pre-build jitters and worry about falling off a roof ... or a piece of the roof falling on them. Maybe they’re excited about meeting the homeowners, excited to see old friends or just excited to get out of the office.

As part of the communications staff, I also have a jumble of thoughts running through my head – like making sure we successfully document all the volunteers who have come from far and near to help someone have a place to call home, all the homeowners who are working hard for a new place they and their families can be safe and secure for years to come and all the sponsors and people who made this thing possible. I want to make sure we capture all of it – the stories, the smiles, the camaraderie, the tears of joy – everything.

But today, I want to write about the cake we had last night. 

I’m willing to bet one of the last things people think about on such a work site is food – least of all, a dessert such as cake. But in reality, food is one of the most important parts of the build (and technically speaking dessert is food) – food is the fuel that feeds the volunteers, who build the homes where the homeowners will live. 

In some very rare cases, that whole process is bypassed and the food is where the homeowners will live. 

That’s right – our dessert last night was a small-scale replica of what Millard Fuller Drive will look like at the end of the week here in Minden, La. Although at roughly twelve by four feet, it wasn’t very small by cake standards.