Alaskans Bob and Leslie Bell eager to lead first Global Builders trip to Papua New Guinea

Alaskans Bob and Leslie Bell eager to lead first Global Builders trip to Papua New Guinea

(Photo: Fuller Center for Housing Global Builders Coordinator Maegan Pierce, Registrar Stacey Goolsby, Bob and Leslie Bell and Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola during the Bells’ visit to Fuller Center headquarters in Americus on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017)

Bob and Leslie Bell ought to be the most famous folks from the small, coastal hamlet of Homer, Alaska — also known as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World” and “the end of the road” as the last stop on Alaska’s Sterling Highway.

Instead, that recognition probably goes to their neighbors, the Hillstrand family from The Discovery Channel reality TV show “Deadliest Catch” or to singer Jewel Kilcher (“Who Will Save Your Soul,” “You Were Meant for Me”), who rose to instant stardom in 1995 with her album “Pieces of You,” still one of the best-selling debut albums of all time, having gone 12-times platinum.

The Bells, though, have been volunteering in the affordable housing ministry for more than 20 years and have visited 75 countries and led 48 international volunteer build trips. These two former teachers, though, are more interested in service than stardom and in faith-building more than fame-building.

“We’ve got too many things to do to watch TV,” Bob said with a chuckle during a visit to The Fuller Center for Housing’s international headquarters in Americus, Georgia, on Thursday. “I’ve got more important things to do.”

“We don’t even have TV, for one,” added Leslie, who taught Jewel in middle school.

Among the important things the Bells have to do is to plan next month’s first-ever Fuller Center Global Builders trip to Papua New Guinea, one of this affordable housing ministry’s newest and most exotic international covenant partners. Fortunately, the Bells not only have loads of experience leading international volunteer trips with Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center, but also the 75 countries they have visited includes previous visits to Papua New Guinea. In fact, years ago they trained Petrus Martin, who now serves as the coordinator for The Fuller Center’s operations in Papua New Guinea.

“Martin is an intense person in that he is so committed to his community as a whole,” Leslie said. “He is going to make this a community that thrives. He’s very Christian, very compassionate, and he has a way of motivating other people in the community. He’s not a preacher, but he is like a New Guinea version of Millard Fuller. He doesn’t take no for an answer, and he doesn’t think anything is impossible.”

The Fuller Center Global Builders team led by Bob and Leslie Bell will be partnering next month with the Korong family from the Panapai Village of Kavieng District, New Ireland Province, to build a safe, new home.

The Bells will be leading a team of at least 16 volunteers on next month’s trip to build a home in partnership with the Korong family in the Panapai Village off Kavieng District in New Ireland Province. Sam, a woodworker and furniture maker, and Harriet, who sells produce and baked goods, have longed for a decent home in which to raise their daughters since their former house made of untreated logs and bamboo recently had to be torn down.

Bob and Leslie both said that based upon their previous trips to Papua New Guinea and the motivation provided by Martin they know the Korong family and others in the community will be heavily involved in working alongside Fuller Center volunteers.

“If you just mention anything, it will be done,” Leslie said. “They just jump right to it. They love to teach other people. They love to learn. Interaction is like in their DNA. They don’t stand back or watch. They’re not bystanders. They are a people that are involved in what they are doing. Everybody is involved. It’s not pushed onto them — it’s just what they do.”

Venturing to far-away places like Papua New Guinea may seem inconceivable to people used to the modern conveniences of bustling American cities with a Starbucks seemingly on every corner, but 50 years of Alaskan living on the shores of Kachemak Bay have the Bells prepared to handle all the ups and downs that come with international volunteering in impoverished villages.

“To live in Alaska, you have to be pretty independent,” Bob said. “There’s a lot of things you have to be able to overcome, so you’re used to problem-solving. You don’t wait for somebody else to figure it out for you. I think a lot of that transfers to going to other countries. If you’re in another country, you need to figure things out. And if you’re standing back and waiting for somebody to figure it out for you, you’re going to be waiting a long time.”

“To live in Alaska, you have to be pretty independent. There’s a lot of things you have to be able to overcome, so you’re used to problem-solving. You don’t wait for somebody else to figure it out for you.” — Bob Bell

One thing they have figured out, time and time again, is that these trips are part of a spiritual journey — their own and the volunteers who join them on these missions, something Leslie said she and Bob learned directly from Millard Fuller, who met the Bells while speaking to churches in Alaska and then encouraged them to come to Americus for a volunteer stint, where their love of international service was nurtured and flourished.

Leslie said that the volunteers on this trip are not just fulfilling needs in a community but are nourishing their own spiritual needs, adding that morning devotions before each work day are a crucial component of their trips. They also believe that by planning and organizing such trips that they are merely opening doors for other service-minded people to walk through.

“This one trip is part of their spiritual growth — it’s not a one-shot, been there, done that, got the t-shirt kind of thing,” Leslie said. “Our morning devotions is a really important time because that’s where we connect, where we share not just things that inspire us but share our questions, share why we’re doing what we’re doing and what draws us here. … I know that 100 percent of the people who go on our trips are going because of something that they need to grow and understand why they do what they do. If you give them an opportunity to learn that, it helps the teams be successful.”

“We want their experiences to be personal,” she added. “We’re not there to make their experience our experience. We want them to have the opportunity to build a relationship with the homeowner or be one-on-one with the community’s kids so that when they leave, it’s their place. .. It’s about setting up opportunities for them to grow and learn on their own.”

become a global builder

Q&A: Fuller Center President David Snell reflects on four trips to North Korea

Q&A: Fuller Center President David Snell reflects on four trips to North Korea

Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell knew it was a monumental challenge to try to foster a little peace between North Korea and the United States through the construction of simple, decent homes. In the end, it proved too monumental a challenge.

The peacebuilding idea was first brought to then Fuller Center President Millard Fuller in 2008 by Don Mosley, who helped Fuller start Habitat for Humanity and went on to found Jubilee Partners, a Christian community in North Georgia that extends hospitality to newly arrived refugees from around the world. Fuller tasked Snell with leading the effort.

Snell, who was named president of The Fuller Center after Fuller’s sudden death in February of 2009, would go on to make four trips to North Korea. He brokered a memorandum of understanding in which The Fuller Center would build 50 homes for families in a farm collective known as Osan-Ri just outside of Pyongyang and was there for the project’s groundbreaking in November of 2009, as was Mosley.

Working with North Korean leadership, though, grew more cumbersome over the next couple of years and the project was put on indefinite hold when leader Kim Jong Il died in December of 2011, just a few days after the final Fuller Center team visited the project.

The Fuller Center today is coming off of its most productive building year ever and is piling up success stories, but Snell took a moment this morning to reflect on this non-success story. He has visited 25 countries, but he has seen North Korea in ways that few Americans ever have or ever will.

How did this Fuller Center project in North Korea begin?

This all started when our friend Don Mosley from Jubilee Partners, who’d been involved with Millard since Mbandaka (where the Fullers worked in then-Zaire 1973-76) came to us. He’d made friends with Dr. Han Park at the University of Georgia. Dr. Park was well-connected with both North Korea and U.S. leaders and was able to navigate between the two. They came up with the idea of The Fuller Center building some houses in North Korea. The idea was that we would fund them, but we’d work with the North Koreans to design them.

The key to it was we’d send U.S. volunteers over to work with the Koreans in getting the houses built. The idea was — as we stated in the memorandum of understanding we signed in Pyongyang — that it might “foster friendship and trust between all persons involved.”

So Dr. Park arranged for a small group of us to travel over to North Korea, and we met with officials at the Paektusan Academy of Architecture, who were going to carry the ball on the Korean side. We started talking about it, and it sounded like a pretty good idea.

Did you get any pushback against this idea of working with North Koreans?

Actually, very little. We had one donor who wrote and said he’d never give us another dime because we were “cavorting with the enemy,” but that was the only real visible objection. I’m sure there were people who were concerned, but that was the only actual resistance we got.

David Snell (center) at the Osan-Ri groundbreaking on Nov. 11, 2009.

What was the actual housing plan for Osan-Ri?

They initially wanted us to build in Pyongyang, but everything in Pyongyang is huge, very expensive condominium-style apartments and housing blocks. We said no, that we would build in the country where we’re comfortable and we’ll build single-family homes. So we ended up in Osan-Ri and were going to build 50 houses there. It was a farm, apple farm as I recall. Some of the housing was derelict and needed to be replaced. Then they were going to continue the project and build another 150 houses.

You knew how tough this would be. Why even try?

If you don’t try, you know your result will be failure. And in the early days it was actually very encouraging. The folks in Korea were embracing of the notion by all appearances. Met some wonderful people there. The idea of doing something collaboratively like this would demonstrate both to Koreans and to Americans that we’re not all that different and that our governments don’t agree on things, but we can get along. So there was real momentum in the early days — on both sides — to do this.

What got in the way of that early momentum?

Well, we had some disagreement over the house plan itself. I visited a number of rural communities in North Korea and visited the homes there. They were really quite lovely homes — small but lovely two- and three-room homes. But they seemed well-built and were comfortable. So we were trying to design something that would accommodate that. There was some back and forth on what the actual house design would be.

There also was the building system itself. We were prepared to introduce a new system there. It’s cold in North Korea and they used asbestos panels for insulation. We were suggesting a sort of Styrofoam block kind of system that we could bring in from China. They were actually kind of excited about that. We ended up bringing some of those blocks into the country.

It got worse and worse. I think what really happened was that in the early days they expressed excitement about the volunteers coming in. But as this thing progressed and it looked like something might actually happen, they weren’t so sure they wanted that feature. It finally ended when they said, “We can do this. Just send us the money and we’ll build the houses.” That flew in the face of everything we were trying to do. The volunteer piece was fundamental to it. When that started to go away, then it appeared that we might not be able to do this.

In December of 2011, we sent a team of six Fuller Center volunteers to check on the project. A few days later, leader Kim Jong Il died. What were your hopes for the project and the country itself at that point of transition to the current leader, Kim Jong Un?

We worked pretty well when Kim Jong Il was in power there. He actually visited this site and had eyes on the project which made it more difficult for the Koreans because they were under the gun. When he died and the son took over, we were hopeful. (Kim Jong Un) was Western-educated, and maybe he’d bring new eyes and a new approach. It hasn’t turned out to be that way. I’m actually thankful every day that we aren’t sending volunteers to North Korea because things certainly changed, but not for the better.

School children in Pyongyang.

What were your impressions of the country and the people from your four trips there?

I came to believe that what we know about them and what they know about us is mutually flawed. Pyongyang is not a bad-looking town. It’s full of skyscrapers, and that’s where everyone lives. That’s the place to be in North Korea. I did get into the countryside, and I did visit with the folks. I know that they’re carefully selected and things are orchestrated, but we had a groundbreaking at Osan-Ri with officials there with a long table and banners and got to speak and then we got to mingle with some of the farmers afterward. You know, they’re folks just like us.\

They have a whole different life. They’re totally isolated. There’s no information coming in. There are three TV stations and they all play the same thing — it’s all propaganda. And they’re taught from an early age that we are the enemy, America is the enemy, and that our goal is the destruction of North Korea. Regime stability is probably the most important thing for the government there. They watched their neighbors and what happened in the Soviet Union when Western influences started to show up and Western TV and movies came and they couldn’t support that socialist system any longer. So they’re keeping it out, and they’re very effective at it.

I found that the food was delicious. I did not see starvation on a mass scale. Like I say, I can only report on what I saw, but I saw a fair amount.

Is it true that you went to church in North Korea?

I went to church. Again, people say it’s staged but it seemed like there was a lot of sincerity in there. It was sort of a Presbyterian-style service. The choir was magnificent. They seated the guests up front, and we had headphones so we could pay attention to the sermon. There were a couple of times that the headphones went blank, so I figured the pastor must have been saying something they didn’t want us to hear. At the end of the service, they walked us down the aisle, and the choir sang “God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again.” It was very powerful.

Then the members left by the side door, and a very interesting thing happened that told me that maybe there really was some sincerity in all of this. Everybody in North Korea has a pin that they wear over their heart. It used to be a picture of Kim Il-Sung, but then it became both Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong Il. Everybody has one. I tried to get one, but they told me no. When they left the church, I saw people putting their pins back on. So, they took their pins off to go to church. I might be reading too much into it but that seemed to indicate to me that there might have been some sincerity. There are only two or three churches in Pyongyang, and they’ve done a very effective job of promoting atheism there. But, nonetheless, there is a spark of belief.

We like to tout The Fuller Center’s success stories, like our record building year we just had. How does this non-success story of North Korea fit into the annuls of The Fuller Center?

It fits just where it ought to. It was certainly not a success in many ways — in any way, actually. But it was an education. We tried something. We’re talking about a global thing. I realized when I was over there that we weren’t dealing with peers. We were negotiating with the government of North Korea. But if you don’t try, you know you’re going to fail. We tried. We were blessed in that it didn’t happen because it’d be a terrible thing right now. It’s not a good time to be an American visiting North Korea. The volunteer component would have crumbled anyway. But you learn from your failures.

Now, I don’t know anywhere in the world we could go that would be as challenging as North Korea. Cuba would be a cakewalk compared to North Korea. But we reached out and actually made some relationships. They can’t sustain themselves because we can’t communicate with them. And we don’t know what we left behind. We don’t know whose lives we may have touched. We’ll never know, but, by golly, we made the effort.

Kim Il-Sung’s birthplace and childhood home, as photographed by David Snell in 2009.

 

With all the tension between the U.S. and North Korea today, do your experiences there put a human face on this political turmoil?

It does for me. I know some of these folks now. I’ve met them. One of the folks that I worked with there I really enjoyed, just a wonderful guy, was in the equivalent of our State Department. Recently he was posted in New York at the United Nations. There’s no way I could call him up and say, “Hey, how are things?” But he was a very decent man, and I wonder what’s going through his head as we’re watching all of this happen.

There’s an interesting bunch there. When you arrive in North Korea, you’re met by your translator, who is with you the entire time. You don’t leave the hotel without them. It’s their monitoring system; I’m not naive to that. But a couple of these guys were very interesting young men. They’re exposed to the West. One of them came to me — in the upper floors of the hotel where the tourists stay, they had BBC and China TV in addition to the local stations — and he came to me and said, “Do you have BBC up there in your room” I said yeah. He said, “Can I come up and watch the news?” I said, “It’s fine with me; I don’t know about your folks.” It was a 20-minute thing that came on at five o’clock. He knocks on the door at five o’clock, I let him in and he came and sat five feet in front of that television set, absolutely riveted for the entire broadcast. When it was done, he thanked me and left.

But there’s a corps of these folks, a fair number of them, because every foreign visitor has someone to accompany them. I think at some point this is gonna fail; this regime can’t sustain itself. And when that happens, I think these people are going to be in an interesting position to help guide the future. I was very taken with their intellect, friendliness and interest.

We’re sharing a photo gallery (below) of just some of the images you’ve captured in North Korea. How did you bring home so many images?

I see these things on Facebook — photos that the North Koreans don’t want you to see that some guy is secretly taking — I took pictures the whole time I was there. I’d ask. … One place we went when we were first looking for a site out in the country, we could see in the distance artillery covered in camouflage. I thought, hmm, we might have gotten too close to that particular post. But I never had a problem and didn’t have a problem getting my camera out of the country. So, I don’t know. We blow things up in the West. One of the things that always bugged me about Kim Jong Il was how he was always portrayed as a buffoon, and he wasn’t a buffoon. He was an autocrat. He was a dictator. He was cruel. But he wasn’t a buffoon. Now this youngster (Kim Jong Un), I’m not so sure about.

One of the things I’ve learned from this and from my other travels is if we could get governments out of the picture, we could probably all get along. The Koreans, really, on a 1-to-1 basis, love to get to know folks. And that’s true all around the world. If we could get governments out of the picture, we could probably have peace.

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David Snell’s visit to a Christian church in Pyongyang:

David Snell’s footage from Arirang Mass Games:

2017 Legacy Build Day 5: Heavy rain cuts final day short, but so much accomplished

2017 Legacy Build Day 5: Heavy rain cuts final day short, but so much accomplished

While heavy rains may have called an abrupt, muddy halt to Friday’s final day of work at the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in the Tuxedo Park area of east Indianapolis, volunteers already had made great progress not just in building five new houses but also in lifting the spirits of an entire neighborhood that had felt its best days were behind it and its worst days were at hand.

No more. Tuxedo Park is on its way back up, and the volunteers and supporters of The Fuller Center for Housing and The Fuller Center for Housing of Central Indiana are to thank.

Click here to download high-resolution photos from the 2017 Legacy Build.

View WTHR-TV’s report from the final day of the build.

President David Snell talks about the success of the 2017 Legacy Build:

 

Legacy Build Day 4: For Doug Miller this week is all about one day — Dedication Day

Legacy Build Day 4: For Doug Miller this week is all about one day — Dedication Day

(Photo: Doug Miller is serving as a block captain at this year’s Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis. He has been to numerous builds in the U.S. and internationally and is a generous financial supporter of The Fuller Center for Housing’s work.)

The Millard Fuller Legacy Build is a weeklong project, but for longtime Fuller volunteer and supporter Doug Miller, it all builds up to a single day … actually, a single moment.

“I love the dedication,” he said Thursday where volunteers scrambled to get exteriors done before rain moved in with a near 100 percent chance of precipitation for Friday’s Dedication Day. “When it’s done, you feel like a million bucks and it’s a little bit of payback.”

Miller first got involved with Millard Fuller’s affordable housing ministry in 1999, when he participated in the Jimmy Carter Work Project in The Philippines. It was there that he got to know Fuller and meet President Carter, who years later would welcome Doug and wife Jill to their home in Plains to thank them personally for their financial support of The Fuller Center for Housing. According to Miller, he almost had no choice but to become a mainstay of the ministry.

“If I didn’t show up for a build,” he’d call, Miller said with a chuckle as he recalled his relationship with Fuller. “Naturally, I had to go. He was very persuasive. From that day in Manila on, I’ve been behind Millard and Linda and David Snell.”

As a block captain, Miller is keeping his eye on multiple work sites at this year’s build rather than swinging his hammer at a single house. But whatever role he can perform with The Fuller Center, he’s happy to do so — whether it’s shoveling mortar in Nicaragua or helping solve the urgent issues that constantly pop up during a blitz build like this one.

“Usually the chaos is the first four or five hours,” he said of blitz days. “You’ve got hundreds of people coming together with different personalities, different egos — all with a big heart and wanting to do the right thing. By five or six o’clock, we’re all going to eat and everybody is now on a team. And it works. … All in all, I don’t think anybody has a complaint at the end of the week.”

Brothers Ray and Eldon Graber outside the house where two other brothers, Merle and Steve Graber also are working.

ELDON GRABER, Phoenix, Arizona

Another fixture on these builds is Mr. Graber. Of course, when you say “Mr. Graber” on a Fuller Center Legacy Build site, you have to be a lot more specific as that could mean any of the Graber brothers — Merle, Ray, Steve or Eldon.

“It’s a family thing,” Eldon said of the brothers getting together on blitz builds, adding that he has been on about a dozen between The Fuller Center and Habitat for Humanity. “We like to go together and talk some of our friends into going along.”

Of course, having a few Graber boys on the site is not just about a family reunion. They are all expert builders, and that makes for a smooth build, especially when they do succeed in talking friends into going along.

“We know we’ve got experienced help to spread out with the younger kids and whoever to just make the project go easier,” Eldon said.

Longtime Tuxedo Park resident Brenda Dennis chats with volunteers at a home site on North Bradley Avenue.

BRENDA DENNIS, Tuxedo Park resident

Brenda Dennis has lived on the corner of New York Street and North Bradley Avenue for three decades — during which time there have been no home building permits issued in her zip code  … until now. And she welcomes the construction noise as she walks the street visiting with the volunteers who are making this possible and thanking them for their service.

“Haven’t seen any new ones at all,” she said of homes in the area. “I’ve seen a lot of them go down. I love to see this rebuilding, bringing back our neighborhood — taking it back for the right people.”

The “right people” include families like J.R. and Tia Morris and their four children, who will be moving into the Fuller Center home being built closest to her house on North Bradley. Dennis has checked in daily on the progress and visited with the family.

“Bringing back the neighborhood benefits all of us — especially the kids, our next generation,” she said, adding that she would be willing to put up with the noise all summer long if she had to. “I really appreciate it. It even makes other neighborhoods aware that they can come back, too. The ones who don’t want to do the right thing, we can get them away from our neighborhoods and take them back and build our city back.”

 

 

Legacy Build Day 2: “So grateful to be a part of Millard’s legacy”

Legacy Build Day 2: “So grateful to be a part of Millard’s legacy”

Mark Bippes of Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, has long been a grateful man. But since battling cancer, gratitude permeates his life in everything that he does.

One thing Bippes has done for many years is help people have simple, decent places to live. It is an issue he became passionate about through his friendship with Millard Fuller — a friendship that dates back even before the Fullers launched Habitat for Humanity in 1976 and long before they founded The Fuller Center for Housing.

Bippes is especially grateful for the responsibility to serve as a house co-captain at this year’s Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis, where he is leading a build on Denney Street with a couple dozen volunteers, including a few regulars from his Morris Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

“Being here this week is extremely significant for me,” an emotional Bippes said Tuesday on the second day of the Legacy Build. “I was here seven years ago for the 2010 Legacy Build, and it was five and a half years ago that I came down with cancer and wasn’t able to do much of anything. I’ve been through an incredible amount. Just in the last year I’ve been able to get back out volunteering on site. This year I’m finally doing well enough that I decided to try something like this.”

Leading a house build — particularly during a one-week blitz — is an enormously stressful job but one that he relishes.

“I’m just trying to put my faith in Jesus into action,” he said. “I’ve been involved with Habitat since before the beginning, and my relationship with Millard Fuller is something that’s been extremely significant in my life. Having a Legacy Build is something that I am so grateful to be a part of. … The way Millard put faith into action, he was just so deeply committed.

“The bottom line is that we’re making a difference in the lives of the people who are going to be our homeowners,” added Bippes, whose homeowner partner is Paula White, a widow who will be living with her grandson. “I think that’s what really gives me the greatest amount of satisfaction and working along with the volunteers who are giving of their time and their resources and skills. Just being part of a team is so important.”

William and Margaret McKeller were married on May 27 of this year.

NEWLYWEDS “CAN’T GET A BETTER BLESSING”

A couple hundred yards away on North Bradley Avenue, Margaret and William McKeller are feeling doubly blessed. They were just married on May 27, and soon they will have a decent place to live. They look at the rapid progress on their new home with a mix of gratitude and disbelief.

“It’s a blessing to see all these people volunteering, coming from all over the country,” William said. “And they’re not getting paid to do it. You can’t get a better blessing than that. It’s amazing.”

Both Margaret and William were born and raised and have lived their entire lives in Indianapolis. They currently live in apartment about two miles from the Legacy Build site. Their adult children worry about their ability to safely get in and out of the apartment due to the knee problems each suffers.

“We got married and now we’re going to own our own home,” Margaret said. “It’s such a blessing.”

Of course, they know a little about blessing others. Margaret works for Dove Recovery House, a women’s shelter that works helps women with dependency problems get clean and back as productive members of society, while William works at a food pantry and does prison ministry work with his pastor.

Al Harano is working on his first Fuller Center project.

VOLUNTEER HAPPY TO “GO WITH THE FLOW”

One of those volunteers who has given time and resources to help the McKellers have a good home is Al Harano of San Jose, California. Amid all the chaos and fervor surrounding him during a blitz week, he has maintained an almost constant smile and ease on the house co-captained by husband-and-wife team Mary Lou Bowman and Russ Cubbin.

Harano began volunteering on Habitat projects after Hurricane Katrina, but this is his first Fuller Center build. His friend Steve Lumpp (a house co-captain across the street) encouraged him to register for this week’s Legacy Build.

“Since I’ve been around to a lot of different affiliates across the country, I’ve learned everybody’s got their own way of doing things so you just kinda go with the flow,” he said with almost stereotypical West Coast cool. “But all of the workers we have are all pretty good. And Mary Lou and Russ have been great.”

He also has been impressed with the youthful contingent of volunteers associated with Nazarene churches in town for a conference.

“The young church people here are really good and really enthusiastic,” he said. “They get stuff done, and you don’t have to keep watching them. So, it’s been a really good build.”

 

 

Boy’s Christmas wish for mother to have a decent home now taking shape

Boy’s Christmas wish for mother to have a decent home now taking shape

When Christmas approached, it was time yet again for K’Hairi to climb upon Santa Claus’ lap and ask for the same thing as the year before. The 7-year-old did not ask for toys or video games. He did not even ask for the jolly old elf to end his struggles with sickle-cell anemia.

Instead, he asked for Santa to help his mother, U.S. Army veteran Carla Ross, have a nice house.

Well, he did ask for a couple of other things — a fan and a heater to fight the heat and cold that penetrate the old mill-era shack in which they currently live and where Carla pays about $350 a month in power bills.

On Monday, June 12, K’Hairi’s wish began to take shape on Frank Hall Jr. Street in West Point, Georgia, as volunteers and community leaders worked under a blazing sun and smothering humidity to raise walls on the first day of a two-week blitz by the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project.

Not only will they be able celebrate this Christmas in a new, safe, comfortable home, but K’Hairi also will be able to celebrate his eighth birthday there at the end of July. And for a family dealing with the constant struggle of trying to pay the bills while fighting a disease like sickle-cell, an affordable, energy-efficient home is a dream come true. In fact, it was a dream she had given up on before Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project Executive Director Kim Roberts convinced her that this opportunity was within her reach.

“Ms. Kim had to hunt me down because I was thinking that because I’ve got bad credit it’s going to be too hard to do this,” said Ross, who was active duty in the U.S. Army from 1994-98 before serving in the Army Reserve and being deployed to Uzbekistan after 9/11. “I thought there was no need in trying because I don’t like disappointment. She finally called and said, ‘I’m not taking “no” for an answer.

“It is a blessing,” she added. “I didn’t think it could ever happen for me, and I’d sorta given up trying because every time I took a step forward a storm would hit me and set me back a couple of steps. It’s a wonderful feeling that it’s really going to happen.”

 

STRONG COMMUNITY SUPPORT

It is the fifth year that the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project has teamed up with Home Depot to help a veteran have a decent place to live, with Home Depot providing a $25,000 grant for the Ross build and Charter Bank contributing another $10,000. But the community support does not end there.

City officials — including Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Tramell and Fire Chief Milton Smith — were sweating it out Monday alongside other volunteers, including a team from New Birth Ministries, a yearlong addiction recovery program, and a crew from Perry’s Construction Company that included the boss, Michael Perry. The walls they are raising were provided by CrossRoads Missions and assembled by teams of students from Point University. Ten churches and businesses are providing meals for the workers, and the local Coca-Cola bottler is bringing water, sodas and ice. Meanwhile, a couple of Minnesotans — frequent Fuller Center volunteers Tim DuBois and Charlie Thell — are braving the Georgia heat to serve as house leaders for the build.

“It’s just been a whole flock of people from the community that have been involved,” Tramell said. “This is the group that will see the most dramatic change. This lets the community know that things are changing.”

West Point Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Tramell takes a look down Frank Hall Jr. Street on Monday with K’Hairi.

It is hardly the first time that Tramell has worked with The Fuller Center as he has helped on projects in West Point and in adjacent Lanett, Alabama, where the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project’s success is most visible and where Fuller Center founder Millard Fuller was born and raised. While this is the 37th home for Chattahoochee, it is the first new home build in West Point since Roberts joined the ministry eight years ago.

“It was huge that the citizens wanted The Fuller Center to start back building in West Point again,” said Roberts, adding that a group of local citizens responded to an effort by Tramell to pool money to purchase the lot on which Ross’ home and another will sit. “It’s exciting to have the mayor support you and have the town support you.”

For Tramell, drawing The Fuller Center back into West Point just makes good sense for the city.

“We had a great need in this area of town to do some redevelopment, and this is a new start for Frank Hall Jr. Street,” he said while wiping sweat from his forehead. “This is going to be the kickoff for hopefully a lot more things to come to beautify this street and this whole area. It’s something that’s been a long time coming, and we really needed it. This is a great start. We’ll just keep going right down the street.”

‘I LOVE THIS WORK’

However, even if this build were happening in Lanett or nearby Valley, Alabama, Tramell probably would still be there working alongside volunteers. The build makes sense for revitalization in West Point, but his belief in the hand-up extended to families through this ministry is his main reason for serving on the build.

“K’Hairi is just as sweet as he can be, and Carla is just as deserving as she can be,” Tramell said. “It’s going to be a great thing to be able to get them out of the situation they are in and into something new and clean and safe and just wonderful.

“I love this work,” he added. “I wouldn’t miss it. I really enjoy being out here helping, and it’s a blessing to be able to help. One of these days, I’ll be too old to do this.”

West Point Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Tramell with Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project Executive Director Kim Roberts.

Roberts gets emotional — not that that’s unusual for the woman who hears joyous shouts of “Ms. Kim! Ms. Kim!” from Fuller Center homeowner partners’ children almost every day — simply knowing that another family will have a decent place to live and that a little boy battling illness will have a healthy place to grow up.

“When you can take people out of those situations and put them into something that they can afford and is decent, you’ve changed their life,” Roberts said. “And K’Hairi is just precious. And he’s sick, but he doesn’t show it. He’s always got a smile on his face.”

That smile was even bigger than usual on Monday.

He’s already picked out where he wants to be,” said Ross, who noted that K’Hairi had been ill since Memorial Day weekend, improving enough only this past Saturday to be on the job site. “He said, ‘That’s my room!’ It feels wonderful. This is amazing with all of these people coming out to help. It’s just awesome!”

 

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Indianapolis’ Fountain Square thriving seven years after 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build

Indianapolis’ Fountain Square thriving seven years after 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build

(Photo: Fuller Center of Central Indiana board member Ron Fisher holds a tuckered-out Kamar’e during a September 2011 build in Fountain Square. Kamar’e lives in one of the homes built during the 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build. The 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build returns to Indianapolis June 18-23.)

When The Fuller Center for Housing of Central Indiana agreed to host the 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis, the new covenant partner had been around for just one year and built just one home. Hosting hundreds of volunteers to build seven new homes in a one-week blitz meant that the new covenant partner would gain instant visibility.

As Fuller Center of Central Indiana President Chuck Vogt recalled, there was just one problem with hosting such a major build: They could not find a place to put the homes.

“We needed some property,” he said. “We’d just about exhausted everything we could find looking for property in one neighborhood when all of the sudden we got a phone call from somebody who said there’s a street called St. Paul Street and it sits between Churchman Avenue and St. Peter. We figured that was a God sign.”

While the local group may have seen that as a God sign, many other people saw the area in the neighborhood known as Fountain Square as nothing less than godforsaken.

“City officials told us that St. Paul Street was the armpit of the city and that it had a bunch of boarded-up and dilapidated houses with drugs and prostitution and rodents,” Vogt said.

Chuck Vogt and then-Mayor Greg Ballard in Fountain Square, a year after the 2010 Legacy Build.

Vogt visited the site, along with Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell, and they found that everything the city told them was true — and then some.

“When I first saw St. Paul Street, it was a panorama of urban decay with derelict and vacant houses and weed-covered empty lots — a perfect place for The Fuller Center to get to work!” said Snell, who recognized opportunity where others saw hopelessness, just as founder and friend Millard Fuller had done in countless similar places across the United States and around the world.

“And get to work, we did!” Snell continued, noting that The Fuller Center also rehabbed 15 homes in the neighborhood that week. “The street was transformed. The first rehab we dedicated had been a crack house, but the new and restored homes drove out the bad element.”

“When I first saw St. Paul Street, it was a panorama of urban decay with derelict and vacant houses and weed-covered empty lots — a perfect place for The Fuller Center to get to work!” — Fuller Center President David Snell

During the week of June 18-23, The Fuller Center of Central Indiana will host the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build, looking to resurrect yet another Indianapolis neighborhood with a five-home, weeklong blitz. Volunteers from across the nation will build four homes on North Bradley Avenue and another on nearby Denny Street. The build will kick off an extensive effort to revitalize the entire area just east of downtown and a couple of miles from Fountain Square.
(Click here to volunteer or to learn more.)

“It’s exactly the same kind of neighborhood as Fountain Square,” Vogt said, setting the stage for a similar neighborhood rebirth.

Fuller Center President David Snell talks with a reporter in Fountain Square one year after the 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build.

FOUNTAIN SQUARE TODAY, SEVEN YEARS LATER

For too long, when residents stepped out of their Fountain Square homes, they heard the sounds of fighting and gunshots. Then came the sounds of hammers, saws and drills at the 2010 Legacy Build. Now, the neighborhood is filled with the sounds of laughter from children playing in front yards and along the sidewalks.

Tiffany Parker’s sons Kendrick and Kamar’e are among the children whose laughter has filled the neighborhood for the past seven years. Ages 12 and 10 respectively, they now have a 10-month-old brother, Tyrelle.

“The boys are doing great!” Parker said. “It’s pretty cool to have a house that you can call your own and can go back to. I’m the only one out of my five brothers and sisters to have a house.”

The homeowner partners from the 2010 Legacy Build and the 2011 Labor of Love Build are not just neighbors, Parker added.

The home dedication for Tiffany Parker and sons in 2010.

“We all look out for each other, and our kids play with each other,” she said. “We take turns cooking dinners for each other. We take family trips together and go places together.”

“Everything is great, and all these great kids are growing up,” said Manuel Martinez, whose son Manny was just 2 years old at the time of the 2010 build and is now in third grade. “The kids are always out playing games and playing tag. We are so thankful for all the volunteers who helped all of these families.”

For all that a decent home has done for Parker, Martinez and their sons, the more than two dozen homes built or repaired by The Fuller Center has done perhaps even more for the surrounding community.

“Since the build, I have seen a steady growth of renovation and new builds in the area,” said Jennie Gibson, whose husband Chip spends most of his time in a wheelchair. “It definitely seems like it kind of kick-started a renewal in the area. There are more people around, more kids in the neighborhood. It seems to be growing.”

Chip & Jennie Gibson

Though it has been seven years since the 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build, Gibson still gets choked up when she thinks about the volunteers who came to help build their St. Paul Street home.

“We’re just so thankful because we have been so blessed with the house,” she said. “When we built the house, my husband could still walk. Within months after we moved in, he started deteriorating and is not walking hardly at all anymore. The ramps on the house have been such a blessing. He’s been able to come and go in the wheelchair, and that’s been so helpful.”

Parker, who now works as a parent involvement educator at Charles W. Fairbanks Elementary School, also remains grateful.

“I still remember the house being built and when the walls went up — that was my favorite part as it began to look like a real house and I just remember crying,” she said. “I was just thinking about all those folks the other day because I have a collage of pictures of everybody who worked on our house.”

The Martinezes in 2010

Martinez is thrilled that more Indianapolis families and another neighborhood are about to get a hand-up through the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build.

“We are so grateful, and I love The Fuller Center,” he said. “I’m always telling folks about it. I think it’s especially great that it provides an opportunity for people to volunteer to help each other. It’s a noble way to help, and it’s what America needs. I would encourage everyone to do it.”

 

Revisiting Fountain Square slideshow:

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Below: 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build announcement

Family Life Radio’s ‘Vantage Points’ program features Fuller Center’s work

Family Life Radio’s ‘Vantage Points’ program features Fuller Center’s work

Fuller Center for Housing Director of Communications Chris Johnson — pictured above with his friend Iris while working in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua — was interviewed on the Family Life Radio program “Vantage Points” for the May 20, 2017 episode. Below, you can hear the complete discussion with host Calvin Carter, accompanied by related photos of The Fuller Center’s work.