As the nation marks the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that are still painfully fresh in so many minds, the 9/11 Day movement encourages people to mark the anniversary by doing good deeds or volunteering their service.
But for most of the Fuller Center for Housing volunteers who were working to repair homes in McDonough, Ga., as part of the 2012 Millard Fuller Legacy Build, there are many such days of service and good deeds.
Karen Jewell, whose famously mustached husband, A.J., leads the Fuller Center of Central Florida and is the house captain on Ruth Joyce’s home in McDonough, said volunteering is hardly a once-a-year thing for her circle of friends.
“It makes us feel good to do these things for other people, especially on a day like to day when we remember so many tragedies and so many bad things that happened,” she said. “This is something good that’s come out of it.”
“Of course, we’d been volunteering long before that,” she added. “We’ve been doing this for so many years. The Fuller Center of Central Florida has projects every week. One of our favorites was our very first home where the man says he sits in his front yard and just looks at his house because he can’t believe his house now is the way that it is. He no longer has a hole in his bedroom floor where he could lift up his rug and see animals on the ground. That’s the reward for us, to spend time with these families and become friends and go to their churches once in a while. They help us and we help them. We are blessed by being with them.”
And while serving others is the point of volunteering, Jewell said that this work is how she and friends enjoy almost every weekend in Central Florida. And many of those friends made the trip from Florida with their well-oiled core of volunteers.
“There are so many people who have so many needs, why would I want to sit at home when I can do this for people like Miss Ruth?” she asked rhetorically. “Most of us go to Sunday school together, so we’re able to spend time with our friends and do all these wonderful things for people at the same time. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
For Lee Struck of Hudson, Wis., he gives back because he know how important a home is.
“I volunteer because I’ve had a home,” he said. “I had people to help me fix it up when I needed to. These people with whom we work and serve don’t have that opportunity. And I’ve had mine.”
And since The Fuller Center requires homeowner partners to perform sweat equity on their homes, he gets to work alongside homeowners like Miss Joyce, and that allows him to see clearly that his efforts are appreciated.
“She’s right there with us all the time, and it’s that kind of participation, real-time while we’re building and working, that is very encouraging,” he said.
Miss Joyce has made many new friends through the Legacy Build this week, including Minnesota’s Charlie Thell. Of course, Thell has no shortage of such friends thanks to his numerous volunteer trips with The Fuller Center and other organizations.
“It’s a great thing to do, a great way to meet new friends,” Thell said. “I’ve met a lot of people along the way who think the same way I do and help people out for the same reason. And the homeowners, particularly in this particular area are just fabulous people. Doing this kind of thing, no matter where you travel, you make new friends. I’ve got friends around the world, and a lot of them I haven’t met yet.”
And, like Struck, Thell sees it as a way to pay forward the help others have given him.
“Over the years, a lot of people have helped me out,” he said. “I have a lot of free time now. Seeing as how I had the free time and there were people who needed help along the way, why not? As long as I’m able to, I’ll probably keep on doing it. It’s very enjoyable, very satisfying.”
Merle Brown is president of The Fuller Center in the New Jersey Pines in Tabernacle, N.J. She was part of the team that founded the covenant partner after years of church mission trips. After learning about The Fuller Center just a few years ago, she says she recognized that the mission trips were training ground for the work she and others, including husband New Jersey Pines Executive Director Neil Brown, do through building and repairing homes.
“I get back to work and I hear everyone else say how they spent their weekend or how they spent their vacation, and it just sounds empty to me now,” she says of how her life has changed since the covenant partner formed in 2009. “I am blessed with a wonderful husband, wonderful children and a wonderful life, and it just feels right to give back.”
Brown echoed what many people say about giving to others: that the giver truly does receive the greater blessing.
“It sounds so corny to hear people say it, but you do get back so much more than you could ever give,” she said. “You get to carry it with you. It’s this reserve of good that you just keep building up inside of you and your soul. It sees you through the times that aren’t so great.”