Gabrielle's Christmas Message

Gabrielle's Christmas Message

This Christmas, 7-year-old Gabrielle Bunch, from Americus, Ga., is spreading the word about our mission to eliminate poverty housing around the world and helping children around the world have a safe, decent place to lay their heads this holiday season. See and hear what Gabrielle has to say!

Fuller Center helps blind woman who was "living in terror" in Mississippi

Fuller Center helps blind woman who was "living in terror" in Mississippi

Bettie Mae Williams, a single woman in her early 40s, has been legally blind for most of her life. Over the years, she’s learned to deal with the everyday challenges of her visual handicap. 

But without warning, the Greenwood, Miss., resident found herself living with a different kind of challenge: quiet but constant, gut-wrenching fear.

The doorbell would ring — she would get up to answer it only to be greeted by the nothing but the breeze. Teenagers had discovered Williams was an easy target, turning her inability to see into a neighborhood game, even breaking into her home on several occasions. She could not identify the criminals to the police. With no family members nearby to help, she was powerless to protect herself. The days went by, and the persistent fear continued to trickle like a leaky faucet.

In addition, Williams was living off of a disability check and could afford property only in a rundown neighborhood. As a result, the home in which she lived had no insulation, offering little relief from sweltering summers and harsh winter cold. And the house was infested with pests because  she couldn’t see well enough to deal with the insects.

One day, Williams decided to begin attending church after listening to a service from the local First Presbyterian Church on the radio. Unbeknownst to her, the unfortunate circumstances that kept her a prisoner in her own home were all about to change.

“She was walking about a mile and a half to get there. Of course we found out immediately that she was blind,” church member Elizabeth Powers said. “Later we learned that she was living in a very unsafe neighborhood and that she was being harassed by some teenagers. … It made life very hard for her. She was living in terror, literally.”

Powers, secretary for The Fuller Center for Housing of Greenwood/LeFlore, Mississippi, as well as other Fuller Center volunteers and church members, began brainstorming ways to help Williams.

Their first priority was getting Williams into safe, adequate housing.

Another member of the church, Steve Scott, had just purchased five Katrina cottages — small, portable homes designed to withstand hurricane-force winds.

“We approached Steve, and he let us have one of those Katrina cottages at his cost,” Powers said. “We were able to move it to a permanent foundation, and it is just lovely.”

The two bedroom, one bathroom home has a porch, a metal roof, tiled floor, and is completely insulated and furnished with a stove, refrigerator, microwave and more. A local store also donated all of the furnishings for the home.

Williams, who moved into the home in November, will pay almost the same price on this home as she did on the unsafe, insect-infested, un-insulated home in which she previously lived.

“We had six members of our board present when we closed the loan (on her old house) and it was a very happy occasion. She is now a proud homeowner,” Powers said. “She had been in the other house for a number of years only because it was something she could afford — $175 a month, you know what you would get for about $175 a month. Even in Greenwood, Mississippi.”

But those days are behind Williams now, and she has the support of an entire community.

“We have about four families in the church that are working with her to get her totally situated where she can live as independently as possible,” Powers said.

That includes buying Williams a washer and dryer — otherwise she has to walk with heavy laundry almost a mile to get to the nearest Laundromat — and a television set so she can listen to the local news and get warnings for bad weather.

The families frequently check up on Williams, as well, and take her to run errands and buy groceries from time to time.

“She’s about a block and a half from a nice supermarket,” Powers said. “She likes to be independent, but we do have people that go back and help her.”

Additionally, Williams is now enrolled in a program in which nurses and therapists check on her at home and take her to medical appointments, while a caseworker who takes her to weekly group therapy for the emotional trauma she suffered.

“We’re working with those problems as well as better housing,” Powers said. “We are really taking care of Bettie Mae, and I have just never seen anyone so appreciative as this lady is. We’re just so pleased to have her in our church congregation, and we’re so pleased to have her as a partner with our Fuller Center program. This will make all of ours a much merrier Christmas because Bettie Mae is so happy. “

Learn more about the Greenwood/Leflore Fuller Center

"Serve beyond Cincinnati" arrives in Americus

"Serve beyond Cincinnati" arrives in Americus

By Leah Gernetzke
Communications specialist

Restoring water pipes, tile, cabinets, fixing drywall and replacing windows – that’s what’s on the agenda this week for students from the University of Cincinnati’s volunteer group "Serve Beyond Cincinnati," who are rolling up their sleeves so Nelmile Walker and her granddaughter can move back home.

Ever since the pipes exploded in her house several months ago, flooding the kitchen and back rooms, Walker and her granddaughter have been living with Walker’s daughter in Americus.

Today was the first day of work on the home, and when I stopped by the site this morning, activity already abounded. The volunteers dragged out furniture and other personal items so they could start the renovation work. A roaring bonfire nearby served dual functions of keeping the volunteers warm in the chilly, damp December weather and consuming old pieces of unused furniture.

“I sure do appreciate y’all coming out here,” Walker said repeatedly, working side by side with the volunteers and with her daughter to renovate the home she’s lived in for more than a decade.

After a few months of vacancy, several critters took over the residence. A scream followed by a group of college girls running outside evidenced the presence of a rat, and a few cockroaches crawled around as well. A huge, sleepy-looking brown dog named Little Bear hovered outside by an old guitar, watching over the back-and-forth bustle.

Read More »

New Fuller Center covenant partnership forms in Joplin, Mo.

New Fuller Center covenant partnership forms in Joplin, Mo.

The Fuller Center for Housing has announced a new covenant partnership in Joplin, Mo., emphasizing a commitment to repairing the damage caused by a devastating tornado that ripped through the city just six months ago.

“There is an immediate need to help families,” Joplin Fuller Center director Bob Barker said. “Thousands of families have been disrupted … some are in FEMA temporary housing units, some are still living with families, and there was a time when there were a few identified folks living in their cars.”

An estimated 7,500 residential homes were damaged by the storm, leaving approximately 17,000 people affected. The Joplin tornado killed 161 people.

Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner said he thinks the new covenant partner will fulfill a crucial need for residents who are displaced or have damaged homes.

“When Fuller Center president David Snell and I visited along with Graham Houston, who heads up our Kansas City covenant partnership, we witnessed what we often see after a crisis – a compassion for the victims and a resolve to rebuild,” Lyman-Barner said. “What sets this community apart from many others is the quality of leadership and the spirit of cooperation among local officials, existing nonprofits and local churches. Bob has pulled together a fantastic local team and they will be there for the long haul.”

Barker, who grew up and has lived most of his life in small towns just outside of Joplin, saw firsthand the devastating effect tornadoes have had there. For him, the recovery efforts are personal.

“To see the devastation is just overwhelming and then when you know people whose homes have just been flattened and demolished, and their lives have been knocked down, it wasn’t a very big leap to identify with what the needs are in Joplin,” he said.

Many other Joplin residents shared his concerns, and will bring not only a shared sense of compassion, but also their own areas of expertise, to the organization.

“Everybody is just really excited about the possibilities,” Barker said. “We have a really good mix of board members … we all have different backgrounds.”

Barker said their initial goal is to focus on rehabbing homes, especially identifying families who are uninsured and underinsured. They hope to begin their first project soon after the first of the year.  

In the next three to five years, the group will focus on new home construction. Another long-term goal is to renovate specific neighborhoods.

“We are going to eventually branch out beyond the immediate catastrophic area of the tornado to other locations as well,” Barker said.

“We’re getting into phases that we hadn’t anticipated, but we see it as a challenge and an opportunity to use some of our resources to respond and make a difference.”

Aveda's holiday fashion show will benefit the Fuller Center in Nepal

Aveda's holiday fashion show will benefit the Fuller Center in Nepal

There are many ways to support The Fuller Center this holiday season, but few promise to be as fun-filled as Aveda’s Natural Alternatives Salon and Spa holiday fashion show this Sunday, December 4, in Knoxville, Tenn.

The fashion show will be inspired by Nepalese clothing, as the spa has been sourcing custom lokta bark gift-wrapping paper in Nepal since 2007. The paper, which is harvested from well-managed forests by local communities in the Himalayas, helps create jobs, particularly for women, and conserve the Nepalese forests through sustainable harvesting methods. Learn more about Aveda’s work in Nepal here.

Their work in Nepal highlights Aveda’s commitment to providing beauty and lifestyle products and services in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

Their recent partnership with The Fuller Center for Housing also highlights their awareness of social issues such as poverty housing.

Leslie O’Tool and her husband Erin, both of whom work for the local Aveda, have been particularly instrumental in creating a soon-to-be Fuller Center covenant partner in Knoxville.

“We got to meet Leslie when she joined The Fuller Center’s Global Builder trip to the Congo," The Fuller Center’s Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner said. "She also participated in the Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Webster Parish. Erin gave me a tour of one of their four incredible Aveda salons in Knoxville which employ about 100 very creative and talented people. They also shared with me the corporate social responsibility that’s part of Aveda’s passion.”

The O’Tools helped organize the fundraiser as a way to create awareness and funds for both The Fuller Center and Aveda’s local and international work.

“We want to tie the work that Aveda is doing in Nepal with the work we’re doing here and tie it in with The Fuller Center as well,” Erin O’Tool said.  “Our goal is to raise enough to build a house in Nepal, but we’re just trying to raise as much as we can, really … we’d like to raise enough to build a house here and build a house in Nepal.”

All of the funds raised at the fashion show will go toward The Fuller Center, specifically the Nepal covenant partner.

"The Fuller Center is fortunate to have such wonderful friends who can weave their work, which is perhaps better described as artistry, with a social cause that will help not only their own community of Knoxville but also in Nepal where The Fuller Center is building," Lyman-Barner said. "This event represents the synergy of fun and compassion and can serve as a model for all of our covenant partners across the country."

The local community has also rallied around the cause – the Hard Knox Roller Girls, a local roller derby league, has donated tickets to a show to give away at the event, and Mary’s Boutique and Tea at the Gallery, two local establishments, will co-host the event.

In addition to the fashion show, customers can purchase massages and facials and will save up to 20 percent if they purchase in bulk.

Other deals on the special day include a holiday gift card sale in which customers receive a $20 dollar Aveda product certificate with the purchase of a $100 gift card, complimentary mini-spa services, and personal shopping and gift solutions from the Aveda staff. A $5 donation will also enter customers into a drawing for an Aveda spa bathroom product makeover, which is valued at over $200, and a $10 donation will enter customers into a drawing for a makeover that will include a haircut, haircolor, makeup lesson and outfit from Mary’s Boutique.

Visit next week to view photos from the event.

Virginia high-schoolers build Fuller Center house and get life lessons

Virginia high-schoolers build Fuller Center house and get life lessons

After a year of hard work on a Fuller Center house, Carroll County High School students will soon roll their project out on Main Street for the entire town to see.

But the display is not just a matter of pride – the modular house was built in two halves at a work site just outside of the high school. Once the halves successfully arrive at their permanent location, they’ll be put together to make a home. 

“We would not have been able to accomplish what we’ve been able to accomplish if we had tried to do it on an actual building site because of the time involved with transporting students to and from the site,” explained Oliver McBride, director of The Fuller Center-Carroll County Greater Area. “This way, they just kind of walked out the shop doors and up behind the baseball field there was the house that they were working on.”

The unusual work site also served as a way to get the word out about the project.

“We put up a sign on the side of the road that told everybody what was going on,” McBride said.

The high school students, mainly those in the building trades class, did the bulk of the work on the project.    

In 2010, the building trades class was named an exemplary program in the state of Virginia by the Virginia Department of Education, partially because of this work. 

But students from a range of disciplines have also partaken in the project, though not necessarily providing manual labor.

“Folks in the drafting program have been involved, folks in the mass media class at the high school have been involved – they’ve actually helped to create a website for us,” McBride said.

“These students, it’s meant a whole lot to them,” he added. “One, they’ve learned a lot by being able to build a house. And two, they’ve learned what it means to be able to serve others by being able to participate in the building of the house. There have been a lot of practical lessons about construction but there have been a lot of life lessons about service to others that they have learned. “

Instructors: ‘Something we can’t replicate in a lab’

Rusty Warren and Vance Leggetts, building trades program instructors who are also members of the local Fuller Center board, initially established the partnership with the local high school.

“It proved to be a tremendous learning experience for the students because they were able to do hands-on building of a house. That’s something we can’t replicate in a lab,” Warren said. “While student labor is slower than a professional coming in, as far as being able to construct the house, they did a good quality job, and I was really impressed with the amount of work we were able to get done in that abbreviated time.”

Not to mention that the students will see their work make a tangible difference in a family’s life. 

“While schools do a lot with community service, it’s often through a faceless, nameless, impersonal organization,” Warren said. “That’s one of the great things about this – the students will be able to say, hey I helped so-and-so. I did this. They can say that with pride and that’s something that they can say every time they ride by the house.”

Once the house halves are put together, members of the community will have more of an opportunity to get involved as well.

“We’ve had tremendous support from the community– it’s really been a group effort,” Warren said. “Once the house is moved, we’ll have work days for the community so they can come in and get involved, to feel like they’re more a part of this project, and it’s not just a high school project. Then the community will start getting a little more ownership.”

This project is the second that the two-year-old Fuller Center covenant partner has undertaken. Their first project entailed raising money for a house in Haiti in the spring of 2010 – The students at the high school raised $3000 through Skills USA for a house in Haiti, which was matched by another $3,000 from a Fuller Center supporter.

“Our students were really excited about doing that,” McBride said. “That was kind of the initial trying to help build public awareness among the students, and then among the community, of what the Fuller Center was.”

And it’s likely that after rolling the house on wheels through Main Street later this month or early December, even more locals will know about the covenant partner.

Just who will live in the house has yet to be determined, however.

“That’s been the slow part of this … we’ve had some other applicants who didn’t quite pan out,” McBride said.

But once that third and most important piece is put into place, they’ll have reason to celebrate.

“We’re certainly excited,” McBride said. “This is something we’ve been working on for a good while and we’re excited to kind of see it beginning to take its final shape.”

Learn more about the Fuller Center for Housing-Carroll County Greater Area

View more photos of the project here

The Southwest Quarter Fuller Center begins its first project

The Southwest Quarter Fuller Center begins its first project

The small country town of Lumpkin, Georgia may not attract much attention on a map, but big plans are now in the works for the newly resurrected Southwest Quarter Fuller Center covenant partner there. 

At least, they’re big plans for local single mother Alethia Starling and her three children – LaParis (17), Tamara (12) and JaQuaivia (9) – who are the Southwest Quarter Fuller Center’s first partnering family. 

"I have been truly blessed to have this opportunity to be the recipient for this new home," Starling said. "I thank God for all He has done for me, and all He is going to do."

The land for the new home was recently donated by Jean Armour, president of the local Fuller Center.

“I am so pleased to see the Southwest Quarter FCH’s efforts and plans to build their first Fuller Center house,” Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner said. “Rural communities are a passion of The Fuller Center … We believe in changing the perspective on how we think about space. Some look at the rural communities and say they are in the middle of ‘nowhere.’ We look at rural communities and say God is ‘now here.’”

The Southwest Quarter Fuller Center, which was founded as a Habitat for Humanity affiliate before partnering with The Fuller Center in 2009, will begin construction on their first project by January.

“We recognized there was a need here,” treasurer of Southwest Quarter’s board Charles Ferguson said. “We’ve been hoping to get started before now, but with the economy haven’t been able to.” 

With Fort Benning, an army post, and Andrew College located nearby, the covenant partner also hopes volunteer resources will be abundant.

According to Lyman-Barner, these initial plans are a harbinger for what’s to come – not only in Lumpkin but also in rural communities all over the U.S.

“We encourage other communities to catch the vision and dream that’s unfolding in Lumpkin, Georgia, and in places like Pilot Mountain, North Carolina and Yalobusha County, Mississippi where we have Fuller Center covenant partners,” he said. “Already existing within each of these communities is the compassion, the knowledge and the resources to start and manage dynamic housing ministries.”

Read a blog by Kirk-Lyman Barner about his recent visit to Lumpkin

Georgia's FCH-Henry County to host 2012 Millard Fuller Legacy Build

Georgia's FCH-Henry County to host 2012 Millard Fuller Legacy Build

The Fuller Center for Housing of Henry County in McDonough, Ga., has officially been selected as the host for the fourth annual Millard Fuller Legacy Build.

Though the paint has barely had time to dry on the 15 houses dedicated at the 2011 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Minden, La., excitement is already building for the event, set to take place next fall. 

The Henry County covenant partner, which began in 2010 under the leadership of Shane Persaud, has been especially active in recovery efforts after a tornado ravaged the area in May. 

Click here to read an article about FCH-Henry County’s tornado recovery efforts

“We’re very impressed with how quickly they got started, and with their energy, initiative, and collaborative spirit with the Greater Atlanta Fuller Center,” Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner said. “We have full confidence in their ability to carry the torch for next year’s Legacy Build.”

Located just 28 miles outside of Atlanta, it will also be easily accessible for volunteers, he added. 

Although the Henry County covenant partner will host the event, Fuller Center covenant partners around the world also set a goal to participate in the event and help build or rehabilitate 100 homes during the week

The Millard Fuller Legacy Build, named in memory of The Fuller Center and Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller, is an annual, internationally recognized week of building that brings attention to the need for simple, decent and affordable housing. 

Millard Fuller worked tirelessly for 40 years to bring awareness to this need, and his efforts helped to house more than 300,000 people around the world before he passed away in February 2009. 

Check back at for further details on the 2012 build!