Huge volunteer response powers Disaster ReBuilders’ work in North Carolina

Huge volunteer response powers Disaster ReBuilders’ work in North Carolina

Photo: The Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders’ Aaron Ratliff with homeowner Norika Nakada at the Jan. 10 dedication of her repaired home.

Long-term recovery after a natural disaster is extremely difficult, and the work often is exacerbated by the lack of attention in the months and years as other disasters make headlines. It is in the trenches of this struggle that the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders work to rebuild homes, rebuild lives and rebuild hope for those in danger of losing it.

The Disaster ReBuilders’ newest base is in New Bern, N.C., helping families impacted by September’s Hurricane Florence. One week ago, they dedicated their first repaired home for the widow of a Marine Corps veteran whose house was damaged primarily by a large tree that smashed through the roof of her home and the water and mold issues that followed. (Click here for a photo gallery and a video from the dedication.)

The dedication happened while teams of volunteers from Orchard Park (N.Y.) Presbyterian Church and Auburn (Ala.) United Methodist Church were in town working with the Disaster ReBuilders. This is fitting because the two churches worked together with the Disaster ReBuilders last year on the Texas coast, where the Disaster ReBuilders maintain a current base of operations.

“A lot of those who signed up already are teams who came to work with us in Texas,” the Disaster ReBuilders’ Toni Karam Ratliff said Wednesday by phone in New Bern. “They had a good experience and wanted to come back. We’ve got over 700 volunteers over the next three or four months coming in every week.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that anything is slowing down in the Houston area. If anything, work there may still be increasing.

“For those west of the Mississippi, we’re still encouraging them to go to Houston where it’s closer and cheaper, which is a good thing,” said Ratliff, whose husband Aaron is leading construction efforts in New Bern after leaving the Texas work in capable hands. “That way, we can keep them flowing to both areas. Or, if we’re too full in one, we can shift and ask them to go to another. We want to make sure there’s enough work for everyone to do.”

While volunteers’ positive experiences working with the Disaster ReBuilders in Texas means they can find plenty of eager hands to serve in North Carolina, that track record of success in Texas also helped them set up shop very quickly in New Bern.

“We have been very, very fortunate to immediately connect with some wonderful people,” said Ratliff, referring to the Craven County Disaster Recovery Alliance. “They are all on board and have really put the word out there. When they looked at our website, they saw what we’ve done in Texas and were a lot more comfortable with it and saw the track record.”

The work in New Bern has been a little different from that in Texas, mainly because of a dearth of funding.

“In Texas we’re doing complete rebuilds, and here with the funding so far we are very limited,” Ratliff said. “We are having to go in and do surgical repairs. Then, if we get more funding or if a church sponsors a house, then we can do the kind of rebuild that we are used to doing.”

Ratliff added that there is a severe housing shortage in the area, so much of the grant money has gone to making critical repairs to get people back in their homes as soon as possible even if they are not 100 percent ready.

“The money is just not pouring in here fast enough,” she said. “We’ll go back with a phase two plan as more grant money rolls in or sponsorships come through. Of course, we’ll have to do the work while they’re living in the homes, but our plan is to go back in and make that a Fuller Center home and complete it. It’s taking a little while for the community to get rolling and the funding to come in. Hopefully that starts happening for these people.”

New Bern is a beautiful community of about 30,000 people with a rich colonial history and close proximity to the Carolina coast, making it a popular tourist destination. In a way, that has complicated recovery efforts as some officials work to paint New Bern in the best possible light, glossing over the struggling families and damaged homes.

“As a tourist town, hey want to make sure they don’t lose that income coming in,” Ratliff said. “But by covering up the ugly, then people forget and won’t know they need help here.”

Ratliff suggested striking a balance between tourism and recovery efforts.

“The people who vacation here are the kind of people who can help,” she said.

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RELATED LINK:

Auburn United Methodist Church blog post about their experience in New Bern

 

New home in Madagascar helps children see “everything is possible in life”

New home in Madagascar helps children see “everything is possible in life”

Jean Luc Mananjara and wife Olive have been raising their three children — now ages 16, 13 and 11 — and a 14-year-old niece in rental units in the Madagascar village of Antsirabe. It is an area of great housing need but also a unique opportunity for The Fuller Center for Housing because a little bit of generosity can go a long way in the area.

Jean Luc and Olive are living proof of that as they recently moved into a brand new Fuller Center home built for just under $2,800. It is a far better situation than renting a cramped space in a home shared with another family — a place where their rent increased anytime they made necessary repairs and improvements to the building. They also have clean water and sanitation through The Fuller Center’s local team in Madagascar.

“I feel like I’ve been living a dream since the construction started,” Jean Luc said through an interpreter. “Today, I am overjoyed. The worries of homelessness are forgotten, and my family has what it needs to improve our lives. I am grateful to The Fuller Center for Housing for changing our lives.”

Like other Fuller Center homeowners around the world, the couple will make zero-percent-interest mortgage payments to repay the building costs. Those payments will go into a fund to help others in their community get the very same hand-up. Olive said she is thrilled to able to pay if forward rather than being a charity case.

“To get a house of our own has always been my dream, but we didn’t have the means to achieve it until The Fuller Center came along,” she said. “I praise God for it, and I thank The Fuller Center for transforming our lives. We are happy that we can repay the costs of materials and labor and pray for the other families to soon have their own homes.”

Olive was not the only happy family member at the recent home dedication. The three children each said that the new home will give them space to study and will be closer to their school.

“I’m happy, happy, happy,” said 16-year-old Nirina. “I’m inspired to work like never before. Getting this house, I now see that everything is possible in life. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to build a house like this someday.”

“I love that we children have our own room,” said 13-year-od Flavien. “It makes me want to work harder at my studies. Before, it wasn’t quiet and I wasn’t motivated. And our parents shared the same room. Now, it’s a better situation, and I’m thankful to everyone who worked so that we could have a peaceful life.”

Their brother Sunley, 11, is particularly grateful for the access to clean water.

“We have drinking water and don’t have to wake up early to draw water from the well,” he said, referring to his family’s time in nearby Mahafaly. “When we had been in Mahafaly, we stood in line every morning to get water for cooking and taking a bath. It was tiresome!”

Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola visited the island in 2017 shortly after the local partner joined The Fuller Center and said it was some of the worst living conditions he has witnessed in his travels around the world — especially the lack of access to clean water.

“Fuller Center Madagascar is just amazing,” he said today. “They’re dramatically changing families’ lives by building decent and attractive homes. They also help families have access to clean water and sanitation — and they don’t even spend much to do it.”

 

Related story: First new Fuller Center homes in Madagascar

Photo (below): The family and others pose in front of the new home on dedication day:

Sharon Tarver Evans reflects on 24 years of service to two ministry leaders

Sharon Tarver Evans reflects on 24 years of service to two ministry leaders

In 1994, she walked into the doors of Millard Fuller’s office at Habitat for Humanity as an impressionable young woman. She walked into the right doors as Fuller impressed upon her the values of kindness, generosity, service to others and putting faith into action. Those values would define her service for 15 years as Fuller’s executive assistant and for the past nine years in the same role with Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell.

After a luncheon honoring Sharon for her service and friendship today at The Fuller Center for Housing’s headquarters in Americus, Georgia, she sat down for a brief chat about her time in the affordable housing ministry and her bittersweet departure as she begins a new chapter in her life:

A few photos from today’s going-away luncheon:

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New York family’s greatest gift: Having a home for Christmas and their son’s holiday joy

New York family’s greatest gift: Having a home for Christmas and their son’s holiday joy

After Silvia and Henry Merlo were married in August 2015, they moved in with Silvia’s parents — sharing a single room in the home even after welcoming their first-born child, Brayden, into the world.

“It was very crowded, but we made it work,” said Henry, who is thankful for the generosity of his in-laws but longed for a place that he and Silvia could call their own and raise Brayden in security and comfort.

Earlier this month, that dream came true after they partnered with The Fuller Center for Housing of Greater New York City to renovate a three-bedroom property — once vacant, dilapidated and considered a “zombie house” — in Yonkers, N.Y., and make it a home of their own. In fact, they were able to move in before Christmas, giving them a place not only to celebrate the holidays with their own little family but also with their extended family.

“It was a beautiful thing,” said Henry, who noted they welcomed about 20 members of his and his wife’s families into the home over the holidays. “This year we hosted Christmas for the first time in our new house. Having family over and sharing our home with them was a huge blessing.”

“The greatest gift we received this year was not found under the Christmas tree — it is our beautiful three-bedroom, single-family home where our Christmas tree stands,” Silvia added. “As we were getting ready to host our first Christmas Day in our new home, we felt so many emotions within our hearts. Seeing my son’s face really enjoy decorating the house with Christmas lights is far too valuable.”

The Merlos began partnering with The Fuller Center on this home back in September, but Silvia and Henry had long been volunteers with the organization before that. Their volunteerism was sandwiched around Silvia’s work managing a clothing store and Henry’s job as a technician with a home security company.

“We’ve volunteered on a lot of houses,” said Henry, who worked with his wife alongside many volunteers on their new home. “When we finally found our about the house that was going to become ours, we definitely put all of our sweat into it. We did a lot of work on this house.”

Though their sweat equity is complete on their new home, the Merlos plan to continue volunteering with and supporting the work of The Fuller Center for Housing of Greater New York City, which transitioned to The Fuller Center for Housing in the fall of this year after being previously affiliated with another affordable housing nonprofit. Henry said that Executive Director Jim Killoran and his group are doing much-needed work.

“Affordable housing here is not easy to find from what I’ve seen,” Henry said. “But Jim and his crew are doing an awesome job!”

As for Christmas, the Merlos now have even more appreciation for the holiday and their faith.

“To me, Christmas means love, joy, laughter,” Silvia said. “It is a time of God showing His great love for us by sending His son Jesus to be born. God loves us so much He blessed us with a place of our own this year — a place we will forever be grateful for, a place where everlasting memories will be created. Thank you, Fuller Center, for believing in us and helping us achieve our dream of owning a beautiful home. This is the true meaning of Christmas — hope, love, joy.”

VIDEO — Tears flow as the Merlos tour their new home on dedication day:

PHOTO GALLERY:

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Formerly homeless Army veteran gets a home for Christmas

Formerly homeless Army veteran gets a home for Christmas

Daniel Baugh says he lost everything, including his home, in Iowa before hopping in his truck and heading south six years ago. He wound up in a Volunteers of America traditional housing center in Shreveport, Louisiana, and kept pulling himself up by his bootstraps as best he could. Last year, he volunteered to help build a Fuller Center home for another once-homeless veteran in Bossier City, Louisiana.

This week, he officially became the owner of the Fuller Center for Housing of Northwest Louisiana’s 58th new home build in the Veterans Village area of Shreveport. He performed his required sweat equity alongside volunteers and will repay the costs of the home with zero-percent mortgage payments of about $400 a month for 20 years — with those repayments helping others get the same hand-up. KTBS-TV has the full story in the video below:

Art can boost nonprofit work — that’s the mural of this story

Art can boost nonprofit work — that’s the mural of this story

Artists and nonprofits have come together in a unique way in the Allendale neighborhood of Shreveport, Louisiana — the area where The Fuller Center for Housing built its first homes in the U.S. back in 2005 and a neighborhood that has been resurrected by dozens of new home builds since. The Shreveport Times reports on a mural that dons the side of a Fuller Center of Northwest Louisiana building in the neighborhood — a striking piece of art with a wonderful message.

Working with Fuller Center in Chappaqua, New York, strengthens basketball team’s bonds

Working with Fuller Center in Chappaqua, New York, strengthens basketball team’s bonds

Time and time again, we have seen church groups, school groups, business groups and even groups of complete strangers strengthen connections and enhance their bonds when they spend time serving others through The Fuller Center for Housing. Whether it is a week working with the Global Builders or U.S. Builders or just one day with a covenant partner, the memories last a lifetime.

America’s largest Catholic newspaper, Catholic New York, caught up with the varsity boys basketball team from Our Lady of Lourdes High School after they worked with The Fuller Center for Housing of Greater New York City in Chappaqua, N.Y., to learn how the experience impacted their team.

“We came into the weekend as friends and we ended up leaving as brothers,” freshman Sean Lee told the newspaper.

Click here to read the complete story from Catholic New York.

 

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Yonkers family has a home for the holidays thanks to Fuller Center of Greater New York City

Yonkers family has a home for the holidays thanks to Fuller Center of Greater New York City

It was an emotional day Friday in Yonkers, N.Y., as the Merlo family’s new home was dedicated. Join Fuller Center of Greater New York City Executive Director Jim Killoran in this first video as he tours the new home with the family and then in the second video as he talks about how The Fuller Center of Greater New York City, which transitioned to The Fuller Center a few months ago after years under another nonprofit’s umbrella, is improving the local neighborhood and how its work is made possible by volunteers and supporters.