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:

 

NBC affiliate catches up with cross-country cyclists whose Adventure ends Saturday

NBC affiliate catches up with cross-country cyclists whose Adventure ends Saturday

NBC-41 television of Macon, Georgia, caught up with members of our cross-country Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure on Wednesday after they rode 91 miles from Americus to McRae. The 3,600-mile fundraising and awareness journey officially ends on Saturday with a short ride from Savannah to Tybee Island, where riders will dip their front wheels into the Atlantic Ocean two months after dipping their rear wheels in the Pacific. Click here to view NBC-41’s report.

The Bicycle Adventure is nearing the all-time
fundraising mark of $2 million. Click here to help
them reach this year’s ambitious goal!

Bicycle Adventurers relish opportunity to help people during build days

Bicycle Adventurers relish opportunity to help people during build days

(Photo: Americus-Sumter Fuller Center homeowner partner and frequent volunteer Thad Harris leads cyclists building a wheelchair ramp in Americus, Georgia.)

The Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure’s primary purpose is to help raise funds for The Fuller Center for Housing’s affordable housing ministry — something it has succeeded in doing over the past 10 years to the tune of nearly $2 million.

Related to that mission is spreading awareness about The Fuller Center. Because The Fuller Center does not build or repair homes with government money, it relies on the generosity of individuals, churches and companies to accomplish its work. Naturally, such generosity only comes when people know and appreciate the cause they are supporting.

Several days during the Adventure, there is a bonus mission as riders hop off their bikes and spring into action, building with Fuller Center covenant partners across the United States. The cross-country summer ride — which has less than one week remaining on its 3,600-mile, two-month journey from San Francisco to Savannah — was busy with its fifth build day of the ride Monday in Americus, Georgia, birthplace of the world’s affordable housing movement. Tomorrow, they will have their sixth and final build day of the ride in Albany, Georgia.

“It’s a full-circle blessing — to bless someone else blesses us.” — Wes Shattuck, cyclist from New Hampshire

For Oklahoma City’s Macy Holsinger, who is riding for the third straight year, the Adventure would not be complete without these build days.

“It’s like you pour cement in a hole, but really it’s the water that makes it form,” she explained from a site where she and several other cyclists were adding a much-needed wheelchair ramp to the home of Frank Angry. “The biking is the framework, but then the build days kinda put it all together and tie it into something more concrete, literally.”

Also working at the Angry house was New Hampshire’s Wes Shattuck, who has been riding with wife Cheryl on his first Bicycle Adventure at age 65.

“It’s a full-circle blessing — to bless someone else blesses us,” he said. “We receive something as a group that’s a little different when we come to the build sites, a sense of accomplishment not just of moving as a group but creating something as a group. That’s really cool.”

Across town, other cyclists — including Colorado’s Jennifer Wells — are working with the Americus-Sumter Fuller Center for Housing, which is converting a vacant second floor above its office into transitional housing.

“I’m walking in my faith when I’m helping others.” — Jennifer Wells, cyclist from Colorado

“The build days for me are a way of helping someone else,” said Wells, who is participating in her fourth straight Bicycle Adventure. “I love to help people out. It’s heartwarming, it’s fulfilling and it’s a way for me to be more Christ-like or Christian. I’m walking in my faith when I’m helping others. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of this experience because that makes it more personal.”

While fans circulated fresh air through the upper area of Americus-Sumter’s office, the cyclists at the Angry home worked in the sunshine with Monday’s low humidity and relatively tame 88-degree high temperature providing a welcome break from weeks of oppressive heat and humidity in Georgia.

“This is wonderful,” Shattuck said. “Believe me, we are thankful for it. This feels more like my New Hampshire home in July.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Bicycle Adventure is nearing the all-time
fundraising mark of $2 million. Click here to help
them reach this year’s ambitious goal!

Cross-country ride leader Henry Downes talks Saturday after the riders arrived in Americus, Georgia:

There is more to some housing projects than first meets the eye

There is more to some housing projects than first meets the eye

Last week, I spent a little time with Mr. Earnest Solomon of Americus, Georgia. At 78, he still gets around his home fairly well. It almost makes you wonder why he needed a wheelchair ramp added to his home.

Actually, he didn’t. It was for his wife, Evelyn. As her health declined with her children living far away, they asked the Americus-Sumter Fuller Center for Housing if they could build a ramp for her.

“They were concerned about her falling,” said my friend Thad Harris, who is confined to a wheelchair himself and lives in a specially designed, ultra-accessible Fuller Center home of his own and who has become one of The Fuller Center’s most prolific volunteers as well as a local board member. “So, we agreed to help.”

Sadly, Evelyn passed away in February of this year. But the children asked if they could still tackle the project for Earnest before he lost mobility.

“They did a great job,” Earnest Solomon said of the volunteers who built the ramp behind his home.

“They’re looking out for me farther down the line — just in case,” Mr. Solomon said. “I’m a diabetic, so you never know. Plus, I’m getting up there in age, too.”

On the surface, a ramp project may not seem like a very big deal. But ramps like these allow many disabled and elderly residents to stay in the homes they love rather than moving in with relatives or into assisted-living facilities.

The Fuller Center builds new homes and repairs existing ones. We work with families to provide a better life for their children, with middle-aged formerly homeless folks who are putting their lives back together and with many seniors, including the disabled and veterans.

Maybe a ramp seems like a big deal to me because I saw how my grandfather struggled with mobility. He lost his legs to a German machine-gunner in Tunisia in 1943 as a member of the legendary 1st Ranger Battalion (“Darby’s Rangers”). First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about him, Cpl. Fred Dixon, in this column from Feb. 21, 1944, and this one from Feb. 25, 1944. He won a prize for selling war bonds on a national radio show and got to spend time with the first family at the White House, even having dinner with the family and going with them to see a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra.

In the decades that followed, life grew tougher for my grandfather. He went from war hero to forgotten veteran. Parking spaces for the disabled and wheelchair ramps were few and far between. They’ve become a far more common sight since he died in 1981. That’s great to see.

But there are those who still feel trapped in their inadequate homes. There are those who fear that the rotting floor in the bathroom will lead to a life-altering fall or that the leak in the roof will ultimately lead to their home’s demise.

I’d like to thank all of The Fuller Center’s financial supporters whose gifts have helped hundreds of good people like Mr. Solomon and Thad be comfortable in the homes they love. I’d also like to thank the volunteers who have worked on these kinds of projects, including those from Congregational United Church of Christ of St. Charles, Illinois, who helped Mr. Solomon on this project.

There are few things more exciting than seeing a team of volunteers raise that first wall on a brand new house where children will grow and have a strong foundation for success. But there are also few things more gratifying than hearing these two words from people like Mr. Solomon, who will get to stay in the homes they’ve grown to love over the years:

“THANK YOU!”

Please enjoy this slideshow of volunteers from Congregational UCC working on Mr. Solomon’s ramp:

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50 college students, 5 different communities and 1 amazing spring break

50 college students, 5 different communities and 1 amazing spring break

For the second straight year, a huge team of Wittenberg University students on spring break drove to the Southeast last week — not to hit the beaches but to hit nails … a whole lot of nails.

Fifty came from the Springfield, Ohio, school for alternative spring breaks last week — driving hundreds of miles before splitting into five groups working with Fuller Center for Housing covenant partners in Atlanta, Perry, Americus and Albany in Georgia and Tallahassee in Florida.

Here is a location-by-location glance at the students’ stops along with additional links to media reports and more:


 

GREATER ATLANTA FULLER CENTER FOR HOUSING

atl-group-2Board member Jackie Goodman made sure that students got an overview of the many sights, sounds and tastes of the Atlanta area, while Director Mark Galey kept the students busy during the day, including a project for a Jewish family. At a time when anti-Semitic acts have been rising, Galey was glad that the students could express their Christian love for others while witnessing The Fuller Center’s commitment to ecumenicalism and service to all of God’s people.

“We had an incredibly great experience last week, working in partnership with students from Wittenberg University as our Christian ministry made needed repairs to the home of a Jewish family whom we had learned about through a member of their synagogue,” Goodman said. “The synagogue member was a member of NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) who knew Mark Galey through that organization, and brought the family’s needs to our attention.  Construction management students from Gwinnett Tech joined us to help supervise the project.”

“The homeowners (husband, wife, and two teenagers) worked alongside the volunteers all week,” Goodman added. “The husband, who has been employed in a low-wage job at Rite-Aid for more than 20 years, was able to take a week of vacation in order to be able to help, and the wife, who is a seamstress and works at home, also assisted with painting and repairs. I think I speak for the entire group when I say we did our very best to show God’s love in action, and I think the homeowners felt the love! The Atlanta Fuller Center appreciates the hard work of the Wittenberg students and looks forward to our future association with Wittenberg and other groups who are committed to helping improve living conditions for families in need.”

Click here to view Atlanta participant Jasmine Bryant’s
outstanding video about the group’s experience in Georgia.


 

PERRY GEORGIA FULLER CENTER FOR HOUSING

perry-group-1In Perry, eight students worked with local President Warren Johnson and two local volunteers — Coy Goff and Michael Boden — to repair the roofs of two elderly women, including Velma Robinson, who has lived in the same house all of her life.

“There are some good people in the world,” Ms. Robinson said as the students scraped off old shingles a day before replacing them with CertainTeed shingles provided by World Vision. “It’s a blessing for these kids to give up their free time to come help somebody like this when they could be doing something else. And I do appreciate them, very much.”

“We built two roofs but I think the best part is just the community that we’ve been hanging out with in Perry,” student Becky Schmitthenner said. “It was a great way to spend our spring break instead of just partying on a beach. It was so meaningful.”

Jenn Downing also worked with the Perry Fuller Center during her 2016 spring break. She could have headed for the beach this year but instead chose to be a team leader and return to Perry.

“This is so much more rewarding,” she said. “You’re still with your friends, you get to meet amazing people in a new place and you know that someone benefits from what you’re doing. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Fuller Center Director of Communications Chris Johnson said the students’ visit helps the small-town covenant partner garner media attention (including this front-page centerpiece photo in the Macon Telegraph), renews the energy of local volunteers and enhances relationships with church partners, including First Baptist Church of Perry, which hosted the students in a vacant house on its property.

Perry’s Houston Home Journal newspaper published an
article about the students’ work that you can read at
this link.

High-resolution photo gallery.

Chris Johnson, a columnist for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer,
used the students’ visit as inspiration for his latest article.


 

AMERICUS-SUMTER FULLER CENTER FOR HOUSING

americus-group-1In Americus — also home to The Fuller Center’s international headquarters — the students worked on a couple of different projects, including restoring a donated home to decent condition and helping transform a space above the Americus-Sumter Fuller Center’s headquarters into a transitional housing space.

“I got here thinking that we were just going to be painting and flooring, and then they showed us this place and told us we would be building an apartment,” Jessica Skoglund said. “Seeing this entire apartment come together has been the best experience I’ve ever had on a mission trip, honestly.”

Rachael Fink appreciated being able to work alongside people like Thad Harris, an Americus-Sumter Fuller Center homeowner partner who also has become a local board member and one of The Fuller Center’s most prolific volunteers, inspiring hundreds of people while rolling around job sites in his wheelchair.

“Ive learned so much about the community and I’ve absolutely loved hearing stories about the people who work with the Fuller Center,” she said. “It’s just been an incredible experience. You can’t make a difference without knowing the story and knowing other people’s backgrounds.”

You can view multiple slideshows of the students’
work on the Americus-Sumter Facebook page.


 

ALBANY AREA FULLER CENTER FOR HOUSING

albany-group-2In Albany, students saw the widespread damage caused by two bouts with January storms, the second of which spawned a devastating tornado.

While helping Ricardo Miguel’s family repair damage to their storm-damaged mobile home, the Wittenberg students also helped put a major initiative on the map, sparking media coverage of Albany Twin Storms Relief. Also known as “A2,” it is an effort to help families affected by the storm who lack adequate housing insurance or who have been overlooked by FEMA efforts. The Albany Area Fuller Center is a primary partner in the effort.

“This is amazing,” Miguel told the Albany Herald newspaper. “It is amazing to know that there are people in your community willing to help out when things are bad. I am overwhelmed.”

Speaking to WFXL-TV, Metta Devine-Quin said, “It’s a lot of damage. I have seen it before, and I sympathize with all of the people down here. Anything that we can do to help them, I just want to be able to do anything I can.”

See the complete story in the Albany Herald newspaper.

View the WFXL=TV report.

Facebook photo gallery with more than 180 pictures.


 

TALLAHASSEE FULLER CENTER FOR HOUSING

tallahassee-group-1In Tallahassee, Florida, students worked on five homes in a low-income community. Though most had little to no construction experience, they learned that it’s the passion for helping others that makes a difference.

“What I learned was that regardless of your previous skills, anyone can contribute anything to any cause, so that was a really rewarding experience for me,” Alex Quillin said.

Their efforts not only improved homes in the area, but they provided inspiration and hope for the residents — including some of the youngest residents.

“I was not expecting it to be this amazing,” Lydia Newton said. “We met a little girl who was living in a trailer. She was helping me and she told me she wanted to be like me when she grew up. She wanted to wear the apron and the gloves and help out and make a difference. It was really amazing.”

View WCTV’s report on the students’ efforts.


 

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Americus project helps burglary victim have sense of security, added mobility

Americus project helps burglary victim have sense of security, added mobility

Emma Ruth Lewis of Americus has called the same house “home” for the last 30 years. However, the last three of those years have been less than perfect. Her home was burglarized, leaving her susceptible to future break-ins as the door would no longer shut properly. Since then, Emma has been afraid to be in the house alone. 

On top of that, as she aged her knees began deteriorating, leaving her nearly unable to climb the stairs into her home. 

Everything began to change for Emma when the Americus-Sumter Fuller Center became involved. With their help the home now has a ramp to ease her knee problems, new vinyl siding, a new water heater, and a secure door to deter future robberies. 

Her daughter, Renee Lewis, is moving out of the house this week. She is overjoyed knowing her mom will be safe without her there.

Local Fuller Center board member, Thad Harris — who also is a Fuller Center homeowner partner himself — says “By making the ramp, we’re making the house more accessible for her now.”

Showing the true compassion in the community, The Fuller Center wasn’t the only group involved with this home. As news spread of Emma Ruth’s situation, neighbors, community members, and the church congregation at Americus Holiness Deliverance Temple descended upon the home, helping in any way they were able.

When asked about why they felt drawn to this project, the team has reached a simple conclusion: Emma needed help, and they were able to provide that help. 

As for Emma, she rests easier knowing her home is now safe and accessible, and that the community is truly looking out for her.

To get a better look at the scene of the Lewis home, take a look at the video below! 

 

Demand transparency from nonprofits; GuideStar rates Fuller Center ‘platinum’ for transparency

Demand transparency from nonprofits; GuideStar rates Fuller Center ‘platinum’ for transparency

(This is part of a regular series of blog posts related to The Fuller Center’s #MoreSmilesFewerShacks 2016 year-end campaign.)

There are more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States. This includes tiny charities in small towns and huge nonprofit organizations that reach across the nation and around the world. The majority of these nonprofits — big and small — provide valuable services to people in need. However, given the vast number of nonprofits in the U.S., it’s impossible to know whether each and every one is true to their cause without doing some research.

Unfortunately, every year we hear stories of so-called charities that do very little to benefit anyone outside their paid staff. A very few are downright scam artists, using names similar to quality nonprofits that help veterans, feed the hungry or house the needy to line their own pockets. There also are very well-known charities found to not have been fully transparent about where their money actually goes. Others use vague terms such as “families served” to measure their work. Does a “family served” equate to mouths fed, bodies clothed or families housed? Not always.

new charity rating logosThe Fuller Center for Housing is proud to be one of the small percentage of nonprofits to have been rated Platinum for transparency by GuideStar.

Quite frankly, this rating does not require a nonprofit to do anything extraordinary; it merely requires nonprofits to be 100 percent open and transparent about their work and clear about how donations and gifts are used. The Fuller Center also meets all 20 standards set forth by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.

“When folks find out what we’re doing, they tend to like it.” — David Snell, Fuller Center President

The Fuller Center encourages every generous person to demand transparency from the charities they support — whether that charity involves helping people have decent places to live as we do or a completely different mission. Whatever the cause, you deserve to know that your gifts are being put to proper use and not to build ornate headquarters buildings or to fund unnecessary overhead and high salaries.

The latest independent audit of The Fuller Center for Housing shows that 86 percent of revenue went directly to fund programs in the field over the past fiscal year — far above the nonprofit industry average. Because The Fuller Center remains committed to minimal overhead, an increase in donations this fiscal year means that excellent 86 percent figure would only improve.

Please get to know the nonprofits you support. If it’s in your backyard, pay them a visit or, better yet, spend a day volunteering with them to get a real feel for their work. Check their websites for their IRS 990 filings, audits and other reports. Visit their headquarters and see if it is simple or if a great deal of money was spent on unnecessary things. We’d love to have you come visit our international headquarters. The building — a former Chinese restaurant that was donated to our ministry — may not be striking, but seeing how efficient a small staff can be at running an international nonprofit spanning more than 70 U.S. communities and 20 countries surely will impress you.

So, get to know us at The Fuller Center a little better. We’d be happy to answer any questions you might have and would be happy to have you visit our cozy headquarters in Americus, Ga. Browse our website and learn about our history and principles. If you would like to see most of the pertinent information about our ministry in one document, please click here to download our simple, 8-page case statement.

As our president, David Snell, has often said, “When folks find out what we’re doing, they tend to like it.” Indeed. Find out what we’re up to. I think you’ll like it, too.

click here to support
our year-end campaign

 

Americus woman transforms home into shelter for homeless veterans

Americus woman transforms home into shelter for homeless veterans

Annie Bell White-Moss is an Americus-grown woman. She grew up in town, went to the local high school, and ran her own business in town. Now, she has turned an old property of hers into something to give back to the community she loves so dearly: a shelter for homeless veterans. 

After finishing cosmetology school, Annie Bell noticed that the home two doors down from her was for sale. After purchasing the home, Annie Bell paid $50 a month to Mr. Clover, the previous homeowner. Annie Bell finished payments on the house after ten years and ran a beauty shop out of it for thirteen years. 

Eventually, Annie Bell’s beauty shop outgrew the house on Hampton, and relocated to a bigger property. The home sat empty for years, and eventually, the city moved to condemn it. That was when the house came back into Annie Bell’s life. 

Annie Bell’s husband, Charles Moss, passed away in November of 2015. “I decided to try to make it a veteran’s shelter in memory of him, because he was a navy veteran.”  After four months of work on the home including a new roof, new wiring, and new plumbing, the home is nearly ready for business. Annie Bell dedicated today as a visitation and dedication of the home, letting anyone who may need its resources know that it is available. 

Annie Bell is working with the town of Dublin, GA, to let the town’s homeless veterans know that resources are available for them in Americus. The local shelter in Americus is also sending overflow to Annie Bell.