50 college students, 5 different communities and 1 amazing spring break

50 college students, 5 different communities and 1 amazing spring break

For the second straight year, a huge team of Wittenberg University students on spring break drove to the Southeast last week — not to hit the beaches but to hit nails … a whole lot of nails.

Fifty came from the Springfield, Ohio, school for alternative spring breaks last week — driving hundreds of miles before splitting into five groups working with Fuller Center for Housing covenant partners in Atlanta, Perry, Americus and Albany in Georgia and Tallahassee in Florida.

Here is a location-by-location glance at the students’ stops along with additional links to media reports and more:



atl-group-2Board member Jackie Goodman made sure that students got an overview of the many sights, sounds and tastes of the Atlanta area, while Director Mark Galey kept the students busy during the day, including a project for a Jewish family. At a time when anti-Semitic acts have been rising, Galey was glad that the students could express their Christian love for others while witnessing The Fuller Center’s commitment to ecumenicalism and service to all of God’s people.

“We had an incredibly great experience last week, working in partnership with students from Wittenberg University as our Christian ministry made needed repairs to the home of a Jewish family whom we had learned about through a member of their synagogue,” Goodman said. “The synagogue member was a member of NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) who knew Mark Galey through that organization, and brought the family’s needs to our attention.  Construction management students from Gwinnett Tech joined us to help supervise the project.”

“The homeowners (husband, wife, and two teenagers) worked alongside the volunteers all week,” Goodman added. “The husband, who has been employed in a low-wage job at Rite-Aid for more than 20 years, was able to take a week of vacation in order to be able to help, and the wife, who is a seamstress and works at home, also assisted with painting and repairs. I think I speak for the entire group when I say we did our very best to show God’s love in action, and I think the homeowners felt the love! The Atlanta Fuller Center appreciates the hard work of the Wittenberg students and looks forward to our future association with Wittenberg and other groups who are committed to helping improve living conditions for families in need.”

Click here to view Atlanta participant Jasmine Bryant’s
outstanding video about the group’s experience in Georgia.



perry-group-1In Perry, eight students worked with local President Warren Johnson and two local volunteers — Coy Goff and Michael Boden — to repair the roofs of two elderly women, including Velma Robinson, who has lived in the same house all of her life.

“There are some good people in the world,” Ms. Robinson said as the students scraped off old shingles a day before replacing them with CertainTeed shingles provided by World Vision. “It’s a blessing for these kids to give up their free time to come help somebody like this when they could be doing something else. And I do appreciate them, very much.”

“We built two roofs but I think the best part is just the community that we’ve been hanging out with in Perry,” student Becky Schmitthenner said. “It was a great way to spend our spring break instead of just partying on a beach. It was so meaningful.”

Jenn Downing also worked with the Perry Fuller Center during her 2016 spring break. She could have headed for the beach this year but instead chose to be a team leader and return to Perry.

“This is so much more rewarding,” she said. “You’re still with your friends, you get to meet amazing people in a new place and you know that someone benefits from what you’re doing. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Fuller Center Director of Communications Chris Johnson said the students’ visit helps the small-town covenant partner garner media attention (including this front-page centerpiece photo in the Macon Telegraph), renews the energy of local volunteers and enhances relationships with church partners, including First Baptist Church of Perry, which hosted the students in a vacant house on its property.

Perry’s Houston Home Journal newspaper published an
article about the students’ work that you can read at
this link.

High-resolution photo gallery.

Chris Johnson, a columnist for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer,
used the students’ visit as inspiration for his latest article.



americus-group-1In Americus — also home to The Fuller Center’s international headquarters — the students worked on a couple of different projects, including restoring a donated home to decent condition and helping transform a space above the Americus-Sumter Fuller Center’s headquarters into a transitional housing space.

“I got here thinking that we were just going to be painting and flooring, and then they showed us this place and told us we would be building an apartment,” Jessica Skoglund said. “Seeing this entire apartment come together has been the best experience I’ve ever had on a mission trip, honestly.”

Rachael Fink appreciated being able to work alongside people like Thad Harris, an Americus-Sumter Fuller Center homeowner partner who also has become a local board member and one of The Fuller Center’s most prolific volunteers, inspiring hundreds of people while rolling around job sites in his wheelchair.

“Ive learned so much about the community and I’ve absolutely loved hearing stories about the people who work with the Fuller Center,” she said. “It’s just been an incredible experience. You can’t make a difference without knowing the story and knowing other people’s backgrounds.”

You can view multiple slideshows of the students’
work on the Americus-Sumter Facebook page.



albany-group-2In Albany, students saw the widespread damage caused by two bouts with January storms, the second of which spawned a devastating tornado.

While helping Ricardo Miguel’s family repair damage to their storm-damaged mobile home, the Wittenberg students also helped put a major initiative on the map, sparking media coverage of Albany Twin Storms Relief. Also known as “A2,” it is an effort to help families affected by the storm who lack adequate housing insurance or who have been overlooked by FEMA efforts. The Albany Area Fuller Center is a primary partner in the effort.

“This is amazing,” Miguel told the Albany Herald newspaper. “It is amazing to know that there are people in your community willing to help out when things are bad. I am overwhelmed.”

Speaking to WFXL-TV, Metta Devine-Quin said, “It’s a lot of damage. I have seen it before, and I sympathize with all of the people down here. Anything that we can do to help them, I just want to be able to do anything I can.”

See the complete story in the Albany Herald newspaper.

View the WFXL=TV report.

Facebook photo gallery with more than 180 pictures.



tallahassee-group-1In Tallahassee, Florida, students worked on five homes in a low-income community. Though most had little to no construction experience, they learned that it’s the passion for helping others that makes a difference.

“What I learned was that regardless of your previous skills, anyone can contribute anything to any cause, so that was a really rewarding experience for me,” Alex Quillin said.

Their efforts not only improved homes in the area, but they provided inspiration and hope for the residents — including some of the youngest residents.

“I was not expecting it to be this amazing,” Lydia Newton said. “We met a little girl who was living in a trailer. She was helping me and she told me she wanted to be like me when she grew up. She wanted to wear the apron and the gloves and help out and make a difference. It was really amazing.”

View WCTV’s report on the students’ efforts.


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Following Two Kings while Kingdom Building in the Land of the Delta Blues

Following Two Kings while Kingdom Building in the Land of the Delta Blues

by Kirk Lyman-Barner, Director
US Field Operations

Part II – Memphis

After a great tour of Tupelo by the Pritchards’, Cori and I took the 83 mile journey north to Elvis’s other hometown of Memphis.  We had the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of Beale Street and taste some “Pork with an Attitude” from Pig on Beale.

Sunday morning we had the pleasure of meeting for the first time our new friends from Memphis that are exploring the possibility of starting a Fuller Center for Housing covenant partner.  Levi and Deborah Frazier and their good friend Bill Jones are involved with a nonprofit called  The Blues City Cultural Center , which is a thirty year old community arts/social service organization that promotes leadership and empowerment via the arts and communications. 

 Their group does many wonderful things with a philosophy similar to that of Community Renewal International in Shreveport, but they wanted to find a way to create a housing component of their work.  I shared with them the opportunity of the Save A House –Make A Home initiative and they are planning to visit Shreveport and Louisville to learn firsthand how their unique strategies have been successful and what they might incorporate in their efforts in Memphis. 

Bill Jones is a FedEx Express, Ramp Tower Controller and his tenure as Chairperson of the Blues City Cultural Center Board of Directors is concluding and he expressed interest in starting the Fuller Center covenant partner in Memphis.  He is also an HVAC contractor so he has a lot of friends in the construction business that he will be contacting to help create their new board.

Levi and Deborah drove us to the National Civil Rights Museum where their son used to be a docent – a highly trained guide that gives tours of the exhibits. The museum is located at the historic Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated.   It was very emotional to be overwhelmed by the Civil Rights displays and then to to find myself in the room Dr. King stayed in moments before his death. The square concrete with his blood stains was recently removed.  I looked out of the balcony of his room and could see the window from which his assassin took aim.

I didn’t see any references to or displays about Koinonia Farm and perhaps after the Clarence Jordan Symposium in September, I’ll ask the museum to recognize this important piece of Civil Rights history. There area couple of very interesting connections between Dr. King and Dr. Jordan.  Read this interesting and previously unrecorded story about the only time they ever met in this month’s edition of Baptists Today.  There is also the well documented story about one of the co-founders of Koinonia, Martin England, who was successful at selling Martin Luther King, Jr. a life insurance policy only months before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. England’s effort to protect King’s wife and children became the basis of the story of our Fuller Center friend Tony Campolo’s book, "Everything You Heard is Wrong."

It is very exciting The Fuller Center is building in the land of the King Elvis and perhaps soon where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life to help some poor city sanitation workers who undoubtedly were living in horrible housing.

Housing was important to Elvis’s career too.  We often conjure up images of Graceland when we think of Elvis’s home.  But he didn’t start there.   It is amazing that he began playing music in the little shotgun shack in Tupelo.  But what is even more amazing is that Elvis’s family lost that house in 1938 to foreclosure when his dad was arrested.  He and his mom lived with relatives in Tupelo for 10 years until they moved to Memphis where the bounced around from one rooming house to the next until finally being approved for public housing.  His shyness, perhaps low self-esteem from his family’s struggles combined with his fascination for mixing gospel and hillbilly music held him back from any performance success.   Yet his musical calling wouldn’t let go of him and he often soaked up the sights and sounds of Beale Street.

Finally a break.  According to Wikipedia, Elvis competed in Humes’s Annual "Minstrel" show in April 1953. Singing and playing guitar, he opened with "Till I Waltz Again with You", a recent hit for Teresa Brewer. Presley recalled that the performance did much for his reputation: "I wasn’t popular in school … I failed music—only thing I ever failed. And then they entered me in this talent show … when I came onstage I heard people kind of rumbling and whispering and so forth, ’cause nobody knew I even sang. It was amazing how popular I became after that."[28]

Millard Fuller said, "A house is the foundation stone on which human development occurs.  If a family does not have a good, decent place to live on terms they can afford, they are in trouble as a family."

Poor housing could have crushed the spirit of Elvis and he very easily might have never made it to a stage.  How many children in your community will fail to reach their potential because of a lack of decent housing?  These are the thoughts that keep us motivated.

Learn more about Fuller Center president and co-founder David Snell’s new Save A House-Make A Home inititive to address the foreclosure crisis in America.

Read Part I – Tupelo

Following Two Kings while Kingdom Building in the Land of the Delta Blues – Part I Tupelo

Following Two Kings while Kingdom Building in the Land of the Delta Blues – Part I Tupelo

by Kirk Lyman-Barner, Director
US Field Operations

Part I Tupelo, Mississippi

This past weekend, my wife Cori and I had the pleasure of being invited to visit Tupelo, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee.

Tupelo’s motto is “Our talent is hospitality.”  And indeed it is a very hospitable area.  In fact Councilwoman Netti Davis presented me with a key to the city.  The whole city!  That has never happened to me before.  I immediately had visions of running out and buying a shelved case to display my honor.  Then my friend reminded me that the key might look silly in the case all by itself. 

George Pritchard, president of the Lee Pontotoc Fuller Center for Housing invited me to a Church Rally to kick off their new housing effort.  The event was very well attended, with over 50 people who came out to learn about the new effort or to find out how they could apply for repair assistance.  George arranged for television and radio coverage of the event. George’s wife Betty led the audience in some amazing gospel hymns.

We were blessed by the presence and participation of Kevin Lee and Clayton Horton representing the leadership from the nearby Yalobusha County Fuller Center.  We are really onto something with these church rallies and I would encourage all of our covenant partners to download from our online Operations Manual the new Church Rally Guide and begin planning one for your area.

It turns out there are two very famous men named George in Tupelo. One named George H Booth sold Elvis a guitar and the other started a Fuller Center for Housing covenant partner.  The guitar story is interesting.  In 1946, Elvis was wanted his mom to buy a 22 caliber rifle but one of Booth’s employees convinced them that the gun was too dangerous for an eleven year old boy and talked them into buying a guitar for $7.90.  Elvis was a natural on the guitar and incorporated into his own music the sounds of the gospel music his family heard at an Assembly of God church. 

What Elvis did for the ecumenism of American pop music and rock and roll, Millard did for the ecumenism of church mission work.  We see this in the broad diversity of church volunteers who join us in the variety of places in which we work like Africa and the Asian Fuller Center projects Ryan recently visited.  Those locations are very different from the Midwestern cities such as Indianapolis, the urban areas such as San Diego and in the Appalachian mountains in Kentucky and western Virginia. Yet the harmony of the Economics of Jesus and the simplicity of the vision that God wants his people to have a decent place to live unify these very eclectic building efforts.

Read Part II Memphis

Solving the Leadership Gap-Cliques vs. Movements

Solving the Leadership Gap-Cliques vs. Movements



 A small group of people with shared interests, who spend time together and exclude others.


The Fuller Center is a fantastic program.  It represents the lineage of the founders of the modern affordable housing movement started by Millard and Linda Fuller almost four decades ago.  We are part of a social movement with a mission statement that reads as follows:

          The Fuller Center for Housing, faith-driven and Christ-centered, promotes collaborative and  innovative partnerships with individuals and organizations in an unrelenting quest to provide  adequate shelter for all people in need worldwide.

Our mission is a big one and in contrast to a clique a movement involves a lot of people.

Several years back I watched two housing programs in neighboring communities that were launched during the same year.  One in the mountains was located in a small rural community with a very poor economy.  Their housing program flourished and in a few years had completed over 100 projects. 

But in the adjacent valley that had a population of over 100,000 people and a robust economy, the housing program was stagnant building less than 20 homes during the same time frame. 

The economics of the two communities would have predicted the exact opposite result.  It made no sense to me until I observed the leadership of the two groups.

The more productive program developed a system for inviting and training volunteers, literally numbering in the thousands. 

The struggling one operated more like a local carpenters club.  The small group of mostly retirees loved to work together.  They were bonded to each other.  And if you asked them why they didn’t invite more volunteers, they would reply, “We can’t find any skilled volunteers.”

So there were two issues to overcome: 1) their exclusive friendship was limiting their outreach and 2) a missing commitment to ask skilled volunteers to help teach unskilled help.

When a challenge like this comes up for an organization, it’s always wise to look for a benchmark or a good model.  And since we are talking about a movement, let’s see how two leaders of movements offered good examples.

The first challenge of outreach was solved by the man from whom we take our religious identity.  Jesus didn’t organize a church, but his followers did and the Christian church collectively has become one of the largest institutions in human history.  Jesus began his ministry with a small group of students. He asked them to become fishers of people instead of fishers for fish.

And while Jesus never said to his disciples that they couldn’t remain friends he did tell them to go out and make more disciples. The lesson is that if his disciples stayed in the temple in worship, they never would have evangelized and invited the rest of the world to join their movement.  Likewise, if we just do construction, no matter how perfect a house we build, we will never expand our capacity to achieve our stated mission.  We have to work in our communities, in our churches in our schools, in our prisons and with our civic groups to grow our programs.

For the second challenge of lacking skilled help, I turn to Millard Fuller who was the entrepreneur behind our movement.  In all the years I knew him, I never once heard him say, “We can’t find any good help.”  But he was constantly inviting skilled contractors to join our builds as supervisors.  If they were skilled at teaching unskilled volunteers, they were invited back, year after year.  The skill set of teaching was actually more valuable to the movement than working on the product. 

Many have observed that Millard Fuller changed how the Christian church thought about mission work.  No longer would church members only sit in pews and write checks to some missionary in a far off land.  Instead, church members are becoming more involved.  They have more fun getting out in their communities to build a house or traveling as a team to build and to witness to the Gospel on an international project.  This is how a movement grows-through invitation to involvement.

So the entrepreneurial lesson from these two challenges to growth is to look beyond the immediate goal of finishing your project.  Look for teachers who can train others to complete your project and many others like it. “Go and make disciples,” a wise person once said.  I like Eugene Peterson’s translation of this commission:

         Matthew 28:18-20 The Message (MSG)

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: "God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age."

Notice that he says, “…train everyone you meet, far and near…” perhaps the polar opposite of starting a clique.  The practical wisdom in this great commandment is that disciples will learn skills and will be able to train new volunteers.  This isn’t rocket science, but it is Rock science.

Solving the Leadership Gap-Blessed are the Pie Makers for They Shall Serve Up Shelter for the Children of God

Solving the Leadership Gap-Blessed are the Pie Makers for They Shall Serve Up Shelter for the Children of God

The Fuller Center has made its storytelling its stock-in-trade.  Those of you on Facebook know that I’m studying digital photography so I can personally improve on my own storytelling.  I really enjoy the craft and have found an author and teacher named Chris Orwig who has a book called Visual Poetry-A Creative Guide for Making Engaging Digital Photographs.


One of his commentaries caught my eye.  In response to a student’s challenge about success simply requiring positive thinking, he took issue with her romanticism.    He shared the story of some surfer wannabes who found themselves in the mountains.  Lacking surf, they created what we now know as snowboarding which has become a huge industry, pastime and even an Olympic sport.  He commented that the story is reminiscent of the old parable that divides people into two categories.

Read More »

Solving the Leadership Gap-Giving Shy People The Strength To Get Up And Do What Needs To Be Done

Solving the Leadership Gap-Giving Shy People The Strength To Get Up And Do What Needs To Be Done
Recently, I had a phone conversation with the president of a nonprofit and he said, “Kirk we need a new board of directors.” 

I asked him to tell me about their current board. He said they were enthusiastic and supportive during their meetings, but they were not helping out with  development. He then explained that he asked them to go to a board training workshop sponsored by a leading nonprofit.   They all enjoyed it immensely and reported they learned a lot but they didn’t do anything different after the training.

This was a classic case of what we call in the sales industry of “call reluctance.” 

Fuller Center board members are charged with the task of recruiting donors, volunteers and filling board and committees who are the hands and feet of our housing ministry. As our President David Snell likes to say, “This is a righteous undertaking.” We represent the compassion of Christ for people in need of decent shelter.

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Solving the Leadership Gap-Look for a Passionate Smile

Solving the Leadership Gap-Look for a Passionate Smile

As I visit with our covenant partners around the country, recruiting and retaining good leadership is almost always listed near the top of their local ministry needs.  Recently, I started a series of blog articles called “Solving the Leadership Gap-" In the first article, I reminded folks that our Boomer generation is an excellent group to prospect for leadership.  Today’s topic is an important one… passion.

According to the Wikipedia article the word “Passion (from the Ancient Greek verb πάσχω (paskho) meaning to suffer) is a term applied to a very strong feeling about a person or thing. Passion is an intense emotion compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire for something. 

I know as a seminary graduate, I’m supposed to feel inspired by the original Greek, but I don’t like it in this particular case.  To suffer (as in pain) does not adequately explain the experience of a volunteer. Quite the opposite, emotion that drives the volunteer to work long hours on something that moves them from compassion to a joyful passion.  They enjoy working toward changes that will benefit people in need.   Fuller Center volunteers have a passion and drive for making a change for the better.  They work to transform suffering into deliverance and freedom from the hardships of poverty.  It is the kind of stuff that makes us shout, "Oyee!!" (which comes from the heart of Africa in the Congo and is Lingala for "Right On!).  Oyee!!! Now that is an expression of passion!

How do we find passionate leaders from our voulunteer base?  I can give you a clue.  Look for an infectiously radiant smile which I believe is the hallmark of a passionate person who has found meaning and enjoyment through their volunteerism. You don’t have to tell a happy passioinate person to “smile” when you are taking their photo.  It comes naturaly because their smile is an expression of their inner spirit according to the poet Rumi who wrote:

Don’t be fooled by my beauty – the light of my face comes from the candle of my spirit.

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Land Banks – Demystifying the concept and why they are needed

Land Banks – Demystifying the concept and why they are needed

In the sermon on the mount Jesus teaches us "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  

This is wise advice for our hearts, but it also points out that our stuff, our material things, are all subject to the forces of deterioation.  Houses and neighborhoods are no exception.   And while we are at our best when we value relationships with our neighbors and our Lord over things, we are still charged with care of the earth, our neighborhoods and the people and critters that live in them.  And the forces of decay which we call "blight" are hard at work in communities all across our country.  Sometimes blight is caused by decisions and choices that humans make, sometimes it is because of the forces of the nature and the lack of ability by the property owners to make needed repairs to a house to prevent it from becoming substandard or uninhabitable.  One tool for combating blight is called a "land bank."  

Although when I hear the term "land bank" my inner Pirate fantasy (
which you can read about here) conjures up an image of an ocean shore, this is not what the a land bank is.
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