VICE-PRESIDENT OF COMMUNICATIONS
Chris enjoyed a 20-year career as a newspaper journalist before joining The Fuller Center in 2011. He handles social media, website, video, photography, writing, publications and media relations as a 1-person communications department. He remains a multi-award-winning humor columnist for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and has published five books.
Many nonprofits say they offer a hand-up instead of a handout. The phrase been overused — and incorrectly used by many nonprofits who, justifiably or not, offer way more of a handout than a hand-up — to the point that it almost has become cliché.
That’s unfortunate for all of us in The Fuller Center for Housing family because not only is offering “a hand-up instead of a handout” hardly a cliché at The Fuller Center, but it’s the very essence of our we build homes and empower families!
We partner with families to help them build simple, decent homes or to help them repair existing homes to safe, decent condition. Families repay the costs of materials — over time, on terms they can afford, with zero-percent interest charged and no profit made — and those repayments go into a Fund for Humanity to help others in their local community get the very same hand-up. This way the funds are recycled to help time and time again, family after family.
It’s simplistic, yet genius from a financial standpoint, and it allows the homeowner partners to become givers themselves and retain their pride instead of being charity cases. So, the principle goes far beyond math.
If you are familiar with our work, you’ve likely heard the repayment concept enough … maybe even too many times. (“Um, can I just grab a hammer and get to work?”)
Another perhaps even more important aspect of the partnership between The Fuller Center and homeowners is “sweat equity,” in which families work alongside our volunteers to accomplish the work. That can be hundreds of hours with a new home build or perhaps even just one tiring weekend with a Greater Blessing repair job.
Sometimes these families include members with construction skills, such as in Nicaragua where hard-working, talented masons often have been the most efficient workers in building their own families’ homes. Other times, though, it may mean a grandmother who we’d much rather be sweeping than raising a wall. It’s not that homes can’t get built without the homeowner families’ efforts — it’s so that they have a true investment in their homes. People take more pride in things they help build — it’s just human nature.
In addition, working alongside the homeowners, getting to know the families and witnessing the gratitude is an integral part of our volunteers’ Fuller Center experience. Otherwise, the work begins to feel, well, like a handout.
(“Yeah, Chris, we know about sweat equity, too. We agree. Can we get to work now?”)
Not so fast! Although, your eagerness to build impresses me! But I’ve got one more thing to note.
Last week, we introduced our newest homeowner partner family in Nicaragua with this social media post:
I’m excited to announce that work has begun on their new home. It’s still in the early stages, but it won’t be long before they are living in a safe new sturdy home instead of the flimsy shack where they have to cover themselves in plastic when it rains to avoid getting wet.
I know that work has begun because our leader on the ground in the community of Zaragoza near León where we work, shared photos from the site. Not only was the family’s father, Alejandro, working hard with a shovel, but so were his sons — including 5-year-old Germana, seen here with a shovel in hand. Determined little fella!
I’ve seen many Fuller Center children like Germana make genuine efforts to help their families build a home. They are not just playing with a hammer or shovel. They want to be a part of the momentous event. They care about helping their parents and siblings build better lives. They believe in what they are doing. Few things are as reassuring as seeing a child who wants to build a better world!
Studies have repeatedly confirmed what we suspect about children who grow up in decent homes: They are happier, healthier and have better educational outcomes than those who do not. However, I am not aware of any studies that examine the outcomes of children who helped build those decent homes. I suspect, though, that they do quite well.
And, yes, I use the term “build” liberally. No one thinks, “If only we had a couple more kindergartners laying block, we could get done tomorrow!” It’s about children understanding the old adage that if you ask God to move mountains, don’t be surprised if He hands you a shovel. If they are willing to grab that shovel at such a young age, there’s no telling how many mountains they can move in the years ahead.
There’s something children can learn from watching volunteers and members of their family working together. Imagine, though, what more they learn when they collect a shovel-load of sand that helps form the simple, decent home in which they grow up and develop. They can look around and truly believe in their heart and soul that this is their home.
And when those seeds of self-sufficiency are sown, the future can be theirs, as well.
Here are some photos of Fuller Center children taking it upon themselves to build a better world with us. (Click any photo to enlarge)
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