After Fuller Center for Housing volunteers converged on Atlantic City this time last year for the 2013 Millard Fuller Legacy Build, homeowner partner Camilo Leal made a promise that he would go to the next Legacy Build to help another family.
The promise he made was to himself.
“I had to come because last year I had promised to myself that I would help another family that was in a similar situation as I was a year ago,” said Leal, who is working in Louisville this week to restore a home on West Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
For months, Leal, wife Maynee and their two young children had to live well outside of Atlantic City after Superstorm Sandy devastated their home — a long commute from their jobs and their children’s schools. Like many in the city, they had heard empty promises of help and fended off shysters who preyed on the many vulnerable residents along the Jersey Shore in the storm’s wake. And when Fuller Center in the New Jersey Pines Executive Director Neil Brown told him about The Fuller Center, Leal was more than a little skeptical about this enterprise that vowed to help him put his family back in their home.
But a voice inside him told him to give The Fuller Center a chance to prove it was truly an organization of people who sincerely longed to help others have decent homes. And he’s glad he did as his family is once again safe at home.
Frequent Fuller Center volunteers Steve Lumpp and Kenneth Young led the work on the Leal home last year. This year, Leal again finds himself working alongside Young, the house captain on the West Muhammad Ali Boulevard home. Lumpp was to be co-captain on this home, as well, but had to leave because of a family emergency.
“I was glad to see him, and Steve was really looking forward to seeing him,” Young said of reuniting with Leal and being able to witness him paying it forward. “It’s such a rarity because most of these people are just glad to get a house. It’s not like they have the wherewithal and the time to travel and do what we do. Most of us that have the money to be here are not in the same situation. The homeowners are typically just trying to make a life. Having the privilege to work on these builds is pretty amazing.”
“We were so close for a week back in Atlantic City,” Leal said. “I was really looking forward to seeing some of the faces here. I wasn’t sure who was going to be here, but when I got here one of the first faces I saw was Ken. It’s great to be in the same house with him since he was one of the persons who helped a lot in Atlantic City on my house.”
Though Leal had no construction experience before last year’s build, he now looks like a pro on the job site. When a reporter from WHAS-TV in Louisville showed up Monday to talk to Leal, he was reluctant to stop working long enough to give an interview on camera. Yet, he relented because he wants people to know how much The Fuller Center has done for him.
Young said Leal is a valuable asset on the job site because of his tremendous work ethic and because he put in so many hours on his home in the pre-build week last year and the Legacy Build week.
“We worked a lot of hours on his house, but he worked three times that,” Young recalled. “He was not only working at night (at the Revel in Atlantic City), but he was also working all day long with the volunteers. And Steve had him working during the pre-build just as much as he had him working during the build. So he had a lot of time and a lot of expertise to take on, and I think he’s worked on some of his neighbors’ houses. So he’s kinda sharing the wealth.”
Speaking to a reporter, Leal teared up for a moment as he talked about the impact volunteers had on his family’s lives last year. But a smile quickly returned to his face. That range of emotion is common at Fuller Center builds, and Leal has now experienced it from both sides.
“I think the emotion is the same,” he said of comparing the 2013 Legacy Build to this year’s. “When it comes to getting together with everybody and working on a house, you know that the goal is to provide for another family that will call that place home. The feeling is just overwhelming. Of course, at the end, when the house was mine last year, I was really happy that I was able to bring my family back. But the thing today and this week that we’re going to be working together, this is kind of the same. You just feel back home, just like when we were working together last year. It doesn’t feel like we were separated for a year.”
And he said this will not be his last Fuller Center build. While Leal may never rack up the volunteer hours that Young, Lumpp and many others do, he truly wishes he could.
“I think it’s a reward, but it’s not like a material reward,” Leal said of volunteering. “It feels your chest, it feels your heart. It makes you feel good to be with people that have a common goal of helping. It’s making sure that everybody has place to call home. That’s what moves people. It’s the opportunity to see this family and say, ‘Here, now you can go to this place and call it home, go on with your life and enjoy it.’ That’s a wonderful feeling that you will get out of this.”