Fuller Center General

Jack Wolters says giving is his blessing

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

I love colorful characters. Even more so, I love colorful characters who make a difference. I've met plenty since I've joined The Fuller Center for Housing last year, and I've met plenty in a couple of decades in the newspaper business.

Jack Wolters of Tucson, Ariz., fits that definition of a colorful character who makes a real difference. He does so now, he did so in the past and, now 88, he'll do it for decades to come.

While talking with Fuller Center Director of Development and Planned Giving Dianne Fuller and Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola about featuring people who've made financial commitments to make sure The Fuller Center's fight against poverty housing continues, they both said I needed to talk to Jack. Problem is, I didn't know much about the man. So he got Googled! Interesting guy.

Jack not only goes back to Fuller Center founder Millard Fuller's early days in the affordable housing movement, but he and wife Lois were the driving forces, no pun intended, behind Habitat for Humanity's Care-A-Vanners, once called Habitat Gypsies, who rolled place to place building houses after Jack retired from building skyscrapers in places like New York City.

So I called Jack this week and chatted about why he decided to include The Fuller Center for Housing in his planned giving. Though he said his heart is not doing well, he still has fire and humor. When he thought I might need a photo from him for a publication, he retorted: “You wanna put my picture in there? You'll ruin the dang camera!”

Fortunately, we already had a few pictures of Jack, including the one accompanying this column from the very first Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure in 2008. As Ryan, who founded the Adventure, will tell you, there weren't a lot of places for the cyclists to stay during their run through Arizona that year, so Jack's stepping to the plate to put them up was crucial. Jack was also a veteran of the old fundraising and awareness walks the Fullers and supporters made decades ago, walks inspired Ryan to start the Adventure.

“Millard Fuller was a blessing to Jack Wolters, that's for sure,” he told me. “He was a very, very dear friend, a wonderful person, no doubt about that. I feel very, very strongly about Millard Fuller, doing what he did with his life. I've been involved with him since a year after it started. Through all these years, I support him, I support Linda and the program that's been a blessing in my life to be able to give back to folks who've never, ever dreamed of having a home. I've been so blessed to be able to do this.”

Thoughts on a Fuller year

By Chris Johnson
Director of Communications

Today marks my one-year anniversary as communications director here at The Fuller Center for Housing, a position that a little over a year ago I'd have never imagined having. Having been in the newspaper business continually since 1989, I was ready for a change but felt that journalism was all I'd ever be able to do.

But wanting to get out of the struggling newspaper business, as well as wanting to be closer to my family and my then-girlfriend, and closer to an area of the great state of Georgia that most feels like home, I took a total leap of faith and applied for this job. I was 40 years old, and if I didn't take the leap then, I probably never would.

I came into my interviews with a facade of confidence that I could succeed in growing awareness and building support, but it was a facade indeed. I was terrified that I'd fail miserably and take the entire affordable housing movement down in some kind of communications global apocalypse.

Fortunately for me, President David Snell and the others at The Fuller Center didn't see through my facade. And, fortunately for The Fuller Center, the communications apocalypse I feared never happened. In fact, I'd like to think that word about the great work we do is spreading and that support is building. The numbers do seem to indicate I'm OK in thinking that.

I'm thankful that I've been able to keep my weekly newspaper column, and I believe a good many readers of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer are fairly thankful, too. There ain't many nonprofit Christian organizations that would hire a Southern humor columnist who preaches the gospel of Jimmy Buffett and Sheriff Andy Taylor, and allow him to keep his toe in those rare waters. It's just a few minutes of my week, after this job is done, and I believe it helps our dealing with the media to have a communications director who actually in a small way is still a member of the media.

My mission here was fairly simple as put to me by David. Sure, it'd be great if I were some master of the gazillion marketing and fundraising tools out there, but I had one primary job, and they thought I could do it despite my quirky Southern humor and always-against-the-grain notions:

“We want you to tell our story.”

Little things mean a lot (Part 4)

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

Tag, you're it!

Remember those days of running around, playing tag with all your friends? Man, those were the days. Seems like it was just yesterday. Oh, that's right ... that was yesterday! No wonder I didn't get those web pages updated. And no wonder that guy walking down the street looked at me funny when I slapped him on the back and yelled, “Tag you're it!”

(Tag is so much more fun when you play with folks who don't know they're playing. Dangerous, but fun nevertheless.)

Speaking of tags, that's another seemingly small way you can help us spread the message. Any photo you see on our Facebook page is available for you to tag friends who are in it. Why does this matter? Because the people who have already “liked” our page have nearly 1.3 million friends between them who are likely to also “like” The Fuller Center for Housing when they see what we do and know their friends are involved.

One way they can find out their friends are involved is when they see their friends have been tagged in a photo. When you see your friend has been tagged in a photo, you're more likely to look at it.

It's another one of those seemingly tiny things you can do in just a few seconds that could help our mission be seen by many, many more people. And, again, it costs nothing to do it, and any free promotion is immensely valuable.

I've touted some of our successes on Facebook, but getting folks to tag their friends in our photos is not one of those successes. In fact, recently I put a photo on our page, which you can see above, with many people in it during the 2010 Legacy Build in Indianapolis. I figured surely everyone associated with us knows someone in that picture. Alas, it didn't get a lot of attention.

Looks like we'll have to keep pushing that whole tagging thing. Of course, it's not too late for you to click on that photo -- or any of our Facebook photos -- and tag your friends, or yourself. Just click here and then tag away. Then Fuller Center President David Snell can say, “Hey, Chris! Neato idea with that Facebook tagging thing! You are one super groovy dude!”

Little things mean a lot (Part 3)

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

More sharing of free/super inexpensive ways we're spreading the message about The Fuller Center for Housing: Today, it's something you'll find on YouTube … and linked to from our website and Facebook page.

It's a short video making use of what's known as kinetic typography or motion typography or something to that extent. I just call it one cool thingamajiggy as we say down here in Georgia. OK, not everyone around here talks like I do (though everyone should).

It was produced by Kelli Yoder. Kelli was a communications specialist at The Fuller Center but left a few months before I arrived. (She must have heard I was interested in the director of communications job!)

Though Kelli was busy at Elon University working on her master's, she contacted me and wanted to see if she could put any of the new skills she was learning to use on a volunteer basis to help us spread awareness. I said something to the extent of, “Hot diggity dog, you sure can!” and one of the things she came up with was this video.

It succinctly explains the general concept of our Save a House/Make a Home initiative. She could have made a loooooong video explaining all the details of working with banks and financial institutions and such, but what she does in less than 90 seconds here is what we truly need to build this very needed initiative.

We need to simply let the world know that there are too many unwanted vacant houses and many decent families who could use them. It just makes no sense to us to have families unable to find decent housing when there are millions of vacant properties that banks and other folks simply don't want anymore.

And this very short video sums it all up. Thanks, Kelli!

Little things mean a lot (Part 2)

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

This week, I'm sharing some of the cool little ways we're spreading our message for free … or at super low costs.

Here's kind of a fun one. You've probably seen versions of this on Facebook with various other causes. Basically, you try to find a message that people want to be associated with and give them an easy way to attach it to their profile picture in their Facebook feeds. Our graphic artist Richard Aguirre designed this, and the arrow points straight to the picture of the person who shares the image. Kinda cool huh?

If people like the photo and the message (and, again, nobody seems to be against helping people help themselves as we do at The Fuller Center for Housing), then they are likely to click “share” on such a photo and it appears next to their picture. And if their friends like it, they might share it … and so on and so forth.

The point is that the more it's shared, the more people get a glimpse of what we do here. It's more likely to get shared than a long story … which kind of stinks for writers like me who love to tell a story with words more than with graphics, pictures and video. Oh well, it's the short-attention-span world we live in and my immense literary genius is just going to waste!

There's one example at the top right and a simple explanation of how it works below. Be sure to go to our Facebook page and pick out one of these images you like best. I personally like the cute little girl below from Peru (who lives in a Fuller Center home, and you can see a video of her by clicking here), but some folks might like the one above that shows more folks in action. It's your choice. All I ask is that if you agree with the message, just take the fleeting moment it requires to click share. That fleeting moment of your time could change somebody's life!


Little things mean a lot (Part 1)

By Chris Johnson
Director of Communications

Whether you love or hate Facebook, there's no doubting its impact on society. Not only does it allow each and every person to have a say on matters from the trivial to the life-changing, but it helps organizations like The Fuller Center for Housing to spread awareness of our great work … without great cost.

Not that we have anything against paid advertising, but anytime it's possible to spread our message at no cost, that's the path we choose. That allows more funds to go directly to our mission -- making sure people have access to simple, decent, affordable housing.

This week, I'll share some of the cool little ways we're spreading our message for free … or at super low costs. It's a product of a lot of learning and a little common sense.

We've been experimenting with interesting ways to engage Facebook users, especially those who are not already friends of The Fuller Center but who are likely to support our work. And the best thing is we're not trying to “sell” ourselves. We're just letting people know who we are and what we do. You don't have to “sell” a mission like ours. You just have to get people to get a glimpse of it.

So the first little experiment I'll share this week is this quote from founder Millard Fuller. It's not my favorite quote, although I definitely agree with it. I'll use his best quotes later on. I just wanted to see if folks out there on Facebook would like to see and share this quote and photo of Millard.

They did. They shared it with many friends. In fact, it's the most shared item we've had in the history of our Facebook page, and we can't even calculate how many other times it's been shared out of our realm of measurement. But between those shares and about $15 I spent out of my own pocket (let's call it an extra donation this month), we multiplied our usual Facebook reach about six-fold. And you'll see more such quotes in the future, though we won't wear out that approach to garnering attention on Facebook.

It's just one of many seemingly little things we're doing that attract a lot of attention, and I'll share more this week. Some folks might think it's silly or a trick or whatever, but it has been seen by thousands of people, including thousands who had never even heard of The Fuller Center for Housing.

There's no mathematical formula that X amount of awareness equals Y amount of dollars. But it's a pretty safe assumption that zero amount of awareness equals zero amount of dollars. And it's the donations of people like you who make our ministry possible. And we're going to seek out even more people like you.

I think Millard would approve.

Listen to the Judge - National Day of Prayer May 3, 2012

By Kirk Lyman-Barner
Director of U.S. Field Operations

Virtually visit the far corners of the world

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

I've spent an awful lot of time with my headphones on this week. When I was in the newspaper business, that was my signal to co-workers that I had about eight hours' worth of work to do in the crazy three hours before the nightly deadline and that should they attempt to disturb or distract me by pulling me away from the smooth jazz or Jimmy Buffett being pumped into my brain, then they were doing so at great risk.

But this week I've spent a lot of time wearing my headphones because I've been sorting through the many videos Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola brought back from his journey to our Fuller Center operations in Sri Lanka, India and then Nepal. That's a pretty exotic two-week journey.

The videos with which he returned provide quite the window into the world. And, now that I'm done, I can take my headphones off for a bit and rejoin society. But after all that editing, I want to make sure it gets seen, so please check out and share them on your Facebook pages or email them to friends. If you're like me, seeing all these images and videos will make you want to go.

And, best of all, you can go. Go to our Global Builders page at GlobalBuilders.org and learn how you can join or lead a trip to one of these exotic lands or another country where we are very busy, such as Armenia, Haiti, El Salvador or Peru.

So, please, click the links below and enjoy these windows into a far, exotic corner of the world.


Sri Lanka video

India video

Nepal video

Sri Lanka photos

India photos

Nepal photos

Sri Lanka story

India story

Nepal story


Louisville mayor GETS IT

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

The Fuller Center for Housing does not build with government funds. It's the way founder Millard Fuller wanted it. He preferred the financial path to building be from Jesus to your heart to the home with as few stops as possible along the way.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with utilizing government funds, but it comes with a lot of red tape, sometimes enough red tape to keep you from achieving a goal. Our goal is to help people achieve the dream of affordable home ownership, pure and simple.

But, governments, especially city governments, can still play a significant role in helping us achieve our goal. Usually, we find city leaders such as mayors and councilors to be supporters of our work. After all, who is against helping people achieve home ownership with a hand-up approach? No one seems to be against helping people help themselves.

And when we get city leaders to truly understand what we do and how it can benefit their city's neighborhoods -- making them look good in the process -- they become enthusiastic supporters of our work.

One of those enthusiastic supporters is Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Ky., where our Fuller Center of Louisville covenant partner carries the flag for our Save a House/Make a Home initiative. Our Louisville crowd is quite experienced in turning vacant houses into new homes and, in doing so, resurrecting a once-proud neighborhood that had been dragged down by vacant homes and the many problems they draw into a community -- such as drugs, crime and falling home prices.

At last week's home dedication for Carolyn Mayes (which you can read about here), his genuine appreciation for The Fuller Center's work was evident. More impressive is that he gets it. It's so refreshing when a politician gets it. He truly understands the value of our giving vacant houses new life, and he demonstrates an earnest fondness for the many people who partner in Louisville to make such community renewal possible.

(Click here to watch this video produced by the City of Louisville, and you'll see exactly what I mean. Oh, by the way, you'll also hear one of the most inspiring invocations ever given by a pastor at a Fuller Center home dedication, and that's truly saying something!)

The Save a Home squeeze

By Chris Johnson
Director of communications

I remember the first time I met Fuller Center for Housing founder Millard Fuller. I wasn't involved in any way with the affordable housing movement. I was merely an overworked sportswriter with high blood pressure at the age of 23.

I was covering a Futures Tour golf tournament (sort of the minor league of women's golf) at the Brickyard Plantation golf club outside of Americus in 1994. Among the notables in the tournament was Australian Karrie Webb. She was unknown at the time, but she has since earned more than $16 million and won 38 times on the LPGA Tour, more than any other active player. She finished third at the Brickyard that year, but I'll remember her more for glaring at her caddie during the final round for laughing when a pig on an adjacent farm loudly squealed as she attempted and missed a short putt. Judging by the look she gave him, he's lucky to be alive.

Only in Americus can we mix pigs and golf.

Anyway, I'd been covering the tournament and had spent a good bit of time putting together the program for the event, which that year benefited Habitat for Humanity. On the final day, Millard came up and hugged me and told me what a great job I'd been doing.

That he may or may not have actually been following what I was doing and had any basis to give me credit for a good job wasn't the issue. He hugged me. This man who had changed the world and redefined what charity meant hugged me. I wasn't the touchy-feely type, and I'd have been perfectly fine with a handshake, but the man was a hugger. My compliment came with a hug, and compliments are very hard to come by for small-town sportswriters, so I had to take it.

Which leads me to our Save a House/Make a Home initiative. Well, in a roundabout way. Our Fuller Center covenant partner in Louisville, Ky., will have a home dedication at 10 a.m. CDT Wednesday for Carolyn Mayes. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer will be there to present the keys. It's a home that was foreclosed upon, sat vacant for a year and was refurbished into a simple, decent home for Ms. Mayes, her daughter and two grandsons through the hard work of FCH Louisville, supporters, volunteers and partners.

Grace Patterson, who leads FCH Louisville's family selection committee, told me of Ms. Mayes, a cancer survivor and long-time FCH supporter: “She gives great hugs.” Actually, Grace told me much more about Ms. Mayes' amazing spirit that you can read later this week, but I found it interesting that Grace pointed out the hugging.