Fuller Center helping homeowners in need

Tuesday, Jul 14, 2009
WSBT-TV – South Bend, IN

SOUTH BEND — With everyone struggling to save in this rocky economy, even the smallest of home repairs doesn’t always fit into already tight budgets. But the newly formed St. Joseph County Fuller Center for Housing has begun its first round of repairs to help homeowners in need improve their homes.

The group was working Monday in the 600 block of Clinton Street in South Bend with 76-year-old homeowner Freddy Mae Williams, who has lived in her home for almost 50 years. She was grateful to the group for all of its help. "They are so friendly," Williams said. "It’s just wonderful what they are doing."

Volunteers performed both exterior and interior repairs to her home and another in the 2000 block of High Street.

Williams learned about the opportunity when she went to a neighborhood meeting. To be chosen for the program, the homeowner had to apply and show he or she was in need, said Will Streeter, a board member for the St. Joseph County Fuller Center. Once an applicant is chosen, he or she then takes out an interest-free loan with a local credit union and sets up a payment plan that is plausible, Streeter said. He said the group is looking for homes in need of repair because of neglect as a result of financial need, especially elderly residents who cannot physically keep up with repairs.

The group chose Monroe Park as a place to start because it met the criteria, Streeter said. Stephanie Merryfield, president of the Monroe Park Neighborhood Association where the two homes are being repaired, said she was happy to see Monroe Park chosen for the project. "The goals of the (Fuller) group are in line with our mission, which is to encourage long-term residency," Merryfield said.

The Fuller Center, an international organization started by Millard and Linda Fuller, who co-founded Habitat for Humanity, is in 50 cities and 14 countries. Unlike Habitat for Humanity, which builds new houses for families in need, The Fuller Center takes older homes in need of rejuvenation and repair, said Notre Dame graduate Ryan Iafigliola, [a staff member at the international headquarters of the Fuller Center.]  

To raise awareness for the group, Iafigliola and 16 other volunteers are riding bikes 1,300 miles, from Benton Harbor to Tallahassee, Fla. They will be stopping at eight different places during their five-week journey to fix up homes along their way, and they intend to travel about 50 miles each day they do not work, Iafigliola said. "They call this the new kind of triathlon. First, we get on our bikes, then we put our bikes down and pick up our hammers and tools, and then we go speak about our new organization," Iafigliola said.

The group stops at churches and civic centers along the way to inform people about the Fuller Center and what it does. The national group teamed up with the newly formed St. Joseph County Fuller Center for Housing to repair the two homes today, the first two the local group has ever done. LeRoy Troyer, chairman of the board for St. Joseph County, said that as the group gets started organizers hope to "get the community engaged."

"Our vision over the next 20, 25, 30 years is to work on improving sub-standard housing in our community," Troyer said. Although the group is new, Troyer said they hope to be around for many years. "We are just getting started and we don’t know what’s fully in store, but we have dreams and visions of what we want to see in the next 30 to 40 years," Troyer said.

The local group hasn’t launched a Web site yet, but is working out of Kern Road Mennonite Church.

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