PHOTO GALLERY: Volunteers further improve school in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua

PHOTO GALLERY: Volunteers further improve school in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua

While on a Fuller Center Global Builders trip to Las Peñitas, Nicaragua, in late 2015, Rick White visited the Miracle of God Preschool. He found beautiful kids, dedicated teachers and woefully inadequate facilities. He resolved to do something about it.

He launched a fundraiser to pay for the addition of walls, safe electricity and running water, which he helped install. Then, he moved on to phase two of improvements, adding a covered patio and walled kitchen area. He and friend John Manchester went to Nicaragua last month to help complete that project. Next up is a weekend trip at the end of May to complete a latrine for the students.

While The Fuller Center for Housing is focused primarily on making sure families have simple, decent place to live, we are proud to be a catalyst for other improvements in communities and grateful to be associated with the good folks who go above and beyond to help build a better world.

Here are photos from last month’s work at the school:

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Volunteer writes of ‘gestaltism’ and ‘unending gratitude’ after Nicaragua trip

Volunteer writes of ‘gestaltism’ and ‘unending gratitude’ after Nicaragua trip

Roughly two weeks ago, 12 Americans, a Canadian, and a Brit arrived in a new country.  They represented different religions, world views, and occupations.  With ages spanning a range of 60 years, they would converge on a little-known village in Nicaragua called Las Peñitas.  Just over a week later, both the village and the 14 who were once strangers were changed in one way or another forever.

By Scott Brand

By Scott Brand

They say a true understanding of history requires time and context.  Meaning, it is nearly impossible to see or comprehend the impact of a change until there is enough distance from it to see it with a broader perspective.  This is our story from the perspective of one of those 14.

We all arrived with the best of intentions — aware of our differences, and wanting to ensure inclusion was evident.  At first it was overt, asking each for input and all willing to make concessions to show support for the new strangers in our lives.  We didn’t know that by the end, there would be no effort required.  That, in a way, 14 would become an extended family, with a common understanding and respect for the other.  Yet, when that first day of work began, it would have been difficult to predict that outcome with any confidence.

My journey began at the school, where the site was dirt, large boulders, and debris.  Our first task would be to remove the several hundred pound boulders.  We would try different techniques.  Dig with shovels, use pry bars, and get in each others way quite a bit.  About thirty minutes later, after several failures, we achieved our first goal and celebrated with high fives.  Though the celebration was short-lived as shovels and pick axes were distributed to build a trench that would be two feet wide, a foot and half deep, and roughly 35 linear feet.  No small task when considering the make up of the ground.  The minority of which was actual dirt, occupied primarily by dense clay and rock.  This would make up the majority of the remainder of our day.  Our first day.  The get to know each other day.  The light day.  It would end an hour and half later than expected, with just 20 minutes of daylight remaining and would finish with a fully poured concrete foundation.  While all of this was happening, the remainder of our team was laying block, mixing concrete and sifting in 90 degree heat to build a home roughly 100 yards away.  A humble description of the work our group wouldn’t come to understand until the following day.  

Each of the following days would have team members rotating to different sites, swapping for fresh legs and giving others an opportunity to share a moment in the shade.  Stories would be exchanged, sometimes one to one, others in small groups.  With each story, each collaborative task bringing us just a little closer.  In between the work, we would share meals with our extended Nicaraguan family who accepted us into their home.  We would learn about the Nicaraguan revolution.  Not as a historical event, but as personal accounts.  A boy pulled from school at 14 to fight against those he now calls friends.  A boy who would become a man through incredible adversity, tumble into despair only to emerge as a man who provides for his community every day with a smile and a Coke.  This was no longer some distant country on a map.  It was the home of Danilo, Alberto, Ricardo, Lorraina, Carlos, Santos, Benito, Veronique, Maria, Perla and so many more.  All who grow up in a different world than the 14 who arrived, but all shared the same common goal: Leave the world a little better than they found it.

This was no longer some distant country on a map.  It was the home of Danilo, Alberto, Ricardo, Lorraina, Carlos, Santos, Benito, Veronique, Maria, Perla and so many more.  All who grow up in a different world than the 14 who arrived, but all shared the same common goal: Leave the world a little better than they found it.

Which brings me to the key ingredient of any great team, a great leader.  There is a term that has begun to pick up popularity in the corporate world, and is quickly becoming the most recruited skill, but the most difficult to obtain.  The difficulty is that it is not only rare, but it cannot be seen on a resume.  That term is Servant Leadership.  A servant leader is one who serves the team first.  Not the boss, and not even the customer.  It is a working leader with no task being beneath him or her.  She leads with influence, and reserves her authority only for safety or moments of crisis.  She spends this authority wisely knowing that no one would challenge it when used so sparingly.  Instead, she removes obstacles, gives a heavy bucket a little extra lift, and casually breaks up a task with conversation when a member needs a break but won’t ask for it.  She has the unique ability to conduct the orchestra while playing percussion, setting the tempo, and allowing the orchestra to find the crescendo.  With each eloquent piece of music forming organically, and changing shape as it develops.  The actual outcome is undefined, unknown, and left to the symbiotic forces of the team.  And what few realize as they are developing the outcome, is that it can be terrifying at times for the leader.  The ambiguity, external forces, and knowing while the glory of success is shared by all, the risk of failure sits on the shoulders of one.  It is both courageous and selfless.  This team experienced the incredible good fortune of having that leader, and it will shape my own leadership for years to come.

A servant leader is one who serves the team first.  Not the boss, and not even the customer.  It is a working leader with no task being beneath him or her.

Back to 14 Nicas and one more term that received some attention this week.  Gestaltism, which means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  As I look back over the week, my belief in this phenomena is reinforced more than ever before.  Hundreds of buckets of gravel, sand, concrete and mortar were hoisted.  Blocks moved, staged, and placed in just the right place.  Scaffolding built, lumber transferred, and mortar filled.  Every single one of these tasks alone were essential.  Down to the last block, bucket and trowel.  But in the end, it was a home and a school annex.  In time, no one will focus on any of the parts.  They will see a family in a home, and children learning and enjoying a meal in school.  And through all of that, there was a third thing built.  It cannot be seen, it cannot be touched, but it is as real as any structure.  It is the 14 Nicas and the relationship we have developed.  The memories made, the lessons we’ve learned, the stories we shared.  There were tears, sweat, some blood, and so much laughter my greatest injury is probably in my abs.  

You each have my unending gratitude.  Each and every one of you has changed my perspective in some way or another, and together you have made a meaningful impact on my life.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

(Dedicated to Liz Bellantoni, a true servant leader, and to The Fuller Center for the great work they do around the world.)

Scott Brand is Senior Vice President in charge of North American Operations for Nielsen, an S&P 500 company.

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Preschool children in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua, see facilities get needed improvements

Preschool children in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua, see facilities get needed improvements

The Fuller Center for Housing’s work has transformed lives in the Pacific fishing village of Las Peñitas, Nicaragua, through the construction of dozens of simple, decent homes. Thanks to The Fuller Center’s generous donors and many Global Builders volunteers, the local leadership on the ground expects to hit the 100-homes mark in Las Peñitas before this year is over.

That means that The Fuller Center will be wrapping up Phase I of the Las Peñitas project, putting us halfway to completely eradicating shack living in the community.

Many of the Global Builders who have worked in Las Peñitas have fallen in love with the hard-working, friendly people of the community. Among those is Rick White of Maryland.

White is passionate about families having simple, decent homes in which to raise their children. While on a Fuller Center Global Builders trip to Las Peñitas in November with Frederick Church of the Brethren, White visited the Miracle of God Preschool in the area. When he saw the children learning under the shelter without walls, running water or safe electricity, White decided to do something about it.

Now a Control Specialist at Coastal Automation in Texas, White started a fundraising page through The Fuller Center to raise $4,200 to provide the school with walls, water for washing, safe electricity for lights and school supplies. Not only did the gifts quickly flow into the fundraiser, but also the work has been completed.

“I’m excited to see the completion of this phase and to know the children will have class on a regular basis,” White said. “I know the kids might not be thrilled about it, but hopefully they will thank us when they get older.

“I am also humbled to know that I have the type of friends who will support this with time, money and talent,” he added. “To see the involvement of the parents brings it full-circle. I can’t wait to get the next phase going.”

The next phase will be another fundraiser to help the school build a kitchen and a bathroom for the students.

“There are many needs in the communities where we work, and we’re proud to be a catalyst for others to come in to help meet those needs.” — David Snell, Fuller Center president

“The Fuller Center knows how to get houses built, and our success is due in part to the fact that we stay focused on house building,” Fuller Center President David Snell said. “But there are many needs in the communities where we work, and we’re proud to be a catalyst for others to come in to help meet those needs.

“When Rick White and his intrepid band of friends decided to raise money to help finish a schoolhouse in Las Peñitas, we were honored to welcome them into the neighborhood,” Snell added. “Now the school is done and dedicated — looking forward to see what these good folks come up with next!”

 

Here are some before-and-after photos from the Miracle of God Preschool:

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Volunteer Quell Jenkins inspires others with faith, service and perseverance

Volunteer Quell Jenkins inspires others with faith, service and perseverance

Making your way around the streets of Las Peñitas, Nicaragua, is no easy task, and it only gets more difficult as you walk up the rocky, washed-out dirt paths into the fishing village where Fuller Center for Housing volunteers are helping hard-working families build simple, decent homes.

As hard as it is for volunteers to traverse those village trails that can only loosely be described as roads, it is even more difficult for Quell Jenkins. The 23-year-old is confined to a wheelchair.

But those who know Quell Jenkins were not surprised to see her volunteer to help build homes for those in need — nor were they shocked to see how hard she worked on the job site or how much inspiration she brought to every person she met along the way last month.

What Jenkins saw on those roads of Las Peñitas pales in comparison to what she has witnessed — and overcome — on the streets of New Orleans.

“I feel like God has helped me overcome a lot in my life,” the Ponchatoula, La., resident said.

What does she mean by “a lot”? Jenkins’ father died a few days before her second birthday. Her mother’s life was consumed by drugs. She grew up on the streets of New Orleans, in the projects and in the homes of various relatives. When she was 12, Hurricane Katrina struck and she lived a couple of months in California. As a teen, she joined a gang with some friends who lived in her housing project. Finally, she left the gang, got back into her grandmother’s church and recommitted herself to her schoolwork.

Then, at 17, she got into an argument with an ex-boyfriend. The young man shot her three times, leaving her paralyzed. She got out of the hospital three months before graduation, and the school allowed her to catch up on her studies and receive her diploma. But she was in a dark place.

“It paralyzed me and changed my whole life,” Jenkins said. “It was really hard for me during that time trying to figure out why God put me in this situation at such a young age. I was struggling with depression — hating myself and hating other people.”

Her sister invited her to join her church, First Baptist Church of New Orleans, in an effort to lift her spirits. There, she made friends who were full of joy and committed to serving others. Jenkins saw their Christian service as the power behind their enthusiasm for life. She began studying scriptures, was saved, and joined a church ministry to help the homeless of New Orleans.

“It was really hard for me during that time trying to figure out why God put me in this situation at such a young age. I was struggling with depression — hating myself and hating other people.” — Quell Jenkins

It was while feeding the homeless that she met Mike Chance, who was a pastor in New Jersey at the time.

“I shared my story with him, and we exchanged emails,” she recalled. “He came to New Orleans on several occasions with his family, and they’d always come pick me up. I didn’t know it, but God was tugging on his heart to take me in as his daughter.”

After the Chance family moved back to Ponchatoula, La., where Mike is a senior adult pastor at First Baptist Church, they welcomed then 19-year-old Quell into their family. She calls Linda and MIke Chance “Mom” and “Dad” and now has a brother and two sisters. But it was a new aunt in nearby Hammond, La. — Tamara Chance Danel — who inspired Jenkins to work in Nicaragua.

quell jenkins sifting sand

Quell Jenkins sifts sand in Las Peñitas.

 

Working in Nicaragua

Danel, who leads the Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center in Hammond, La., held a local meeting to encourage people to join her on a Fuller Center Global Builders trip to Nicaragua. In rolled Jenkins, along with three friends — Sara Rehm, Zoia Carr and Reggie Taylor, all of whom wanted to help the families of Las Peñitas.

“It was actually my idea,” Jenkins said. “Honestly, I just love missions, and I love ministry. And I know a decent home is very, very important. Stability is vital to your future and the things you can accomplish.”

Jenkins developed strong relationships with the group’s homeowner partner in Nicaragua — Lourdes — as well as with fellow team members, other residents of Las Peñitas and with the staff of the local Fuller Center that made sure Jenkins could fully participate in the weeklong project.

“God just provided everything that we needed for her to be able to be productive,” Danel said. “She stayed busy sifting sand and gravel and tying rebar and that kind of stuff. She learned a lot about construction and just really got a lot out of the trip.”

“Because I’m in a wheelchair, wherever we went it was always a little extra hard for me to do things,” Jenkins said. “But the people tried to make it as easy as possible. The Fuller Center team went above and beyond to make sure that I was comfortable and that I was included in everything. (Construction leader Jose) Santos made sure at any given moment that I had something to do. He never made me feel like I couldn’t do anything. He was always like, ‘You can do it.’ I appreciated that.”

“Because they have so little, they’re so grateful for everything. They go above and beyond. I feel like that’s something a lot of us in America are now missing because we are so spoiled.” — Quell Jenkins, talking about the residents of Las Peñitas

Fuller Center experiences ultimately are more about people than about houses, and Jenkins found that to be especially true in Las Peñitas.

“I love the Nicaraguan people, and I’m hoping to go back again one day,” she said. “They’re amazing. Because they have so little, they’re so grateful for everything. They go above and beyond. I feel like that’s something a lot of us in America are now missing because we are so spoiled.”

Alberto Maradiaga, a staffer with the local Fuller Center managing the Las Peñitas project, was so inspired by witnessing Jenkins’ efforts that her departure brought him to tears.

“Well, Quell, for me, is a role model,” said Maradiaga, who was tasked with helping Jenkins get around the village, though her friends often took care of those duties. “For me, it was a very valuable experience to see her humility, devotion and not minding being in the sunshine working with the team. My friend inspires me to be a better person more dedicated to helping those in need. Her example will live forever in my heart. For the first time, I cried seeing a volunteer leave.”

Quell Jenkins with friends Zoia Carr, Alberto Maradiaga, Reggie Taylor and Sara Rehm in Las Peñitas.

Quell Jenkins with friends Zoia Carr, Alberto Maradiaga, Reggie Taylor and Sara Rehm in Las Peñitas.

 

Putting the Bible in more hands

Jenkins now reads Bible passages every day, and she encourages others to do the same. That effort has developed into a ministry in which she and her friend Sara raise money to buy Bibles and give them to those without.

“I grew up in the church, but I never really had the thirst to read the Bible, and when I got saved I still didn’t have the thirst to read the Bible on a daily basis,” Jenkins said. “Then I met my friend Sara, and she loves her Bible. She reads it every day and takes it everywhere. I used to poke at her like, ‘We’re at the beach! Put the Bible up!’

“But she kind of rubbed off on me, and I got a thirst for the Bible,” she continued. “It just changed my whole life. You think once you get saved that you’re living for God and that’s it, but you have to continue to grow. A lot of people don’t experience the fullness of the Bible and the Word of God. On different occasions, God has shown me how much need there is for the Bible and His Word.”

“You think once you get saved that you’re living for God and that’s it, but you have to continue to grow.” — Quell Jenkins

Her thirst for the Bible was reinforced by a relationship she struck up with a Rastafarian during a mission trip to New York City last year. The Rastafarian was impressed with the way Jenkins clung to and constantly referred to a pink Bible she had received from her friend Lydia when she was saved in New Orleans.

“She’d never really heard about Jesus,” Jenkins said. “She had a lot of questions for me about Jesus. She was just so amazed with my Bible. I’d written all over it and highlighted scriptures. It was very hard, but I wound up giving it to her. She really appreciated it. I stay in contact with her, and the Bible has really opened her up to God and what Christ did for us.”

Today, Jenkins continues to give away Bibles but on a larger scale. She has launched a Go Fund Me campaign to help her raise money for her mission.

“When I started reading the Bible every day, it just changed my life,” said Jenkins, who added that she wants everyone to know that same feeling.

“This girl is somebody to watch,” Danel said.

Make a donation in Quell Jenkins’ honor.