By Kirk Lyman-Barner
Director of U.S. Field Operations
On Friday, October 5th, I set out on a 13-day “Listening Tour” to visit 13 of our Fuller Center covenant partners. With the successful completion of the Clarence Jordan Symposium, it is time to get back in the field and visit and learn from our teams who do the real ministry of The Fuller Center for Housing.
I headed out in a cool morning, the kind of morning where you can drive with the windows down. I passed by Plains where they are all decked out for Halloween and the fall activities. I saw cotton being baled, peanuts being turned and a beautiful red fox. Eufaula is simply gorgeous with its live oaks and Spanish moss.
My first stop was in Lumpkin, Georgia, where I met up with board members Jean Armour and Sarah Singer. They are in the process of completing their first Fuller Center house. Visiting them was a reminder of the saying “angels who have come before us” because the beautiful house had scriptures written on the framing walls. You can read more about this project here and here. Lumpkin has a population of about 1,400 people. It is also home of the Stewart Detention Center which houses about 1,500 undocumented immigrants. I encouraged Jean and Sarah to connect with our good friend Anton Flores who heads up a ministry to help families of those in the detention center with visitation and referrals to legal assistance when possible. Jean and Sarah shared with me that they want to grow their board and they were in need of skilled volunteers to help them complete the home.
When the odometer hit 500, I arrived at my second stop in Hammond, Louisiana, to visit with my friend Tamara Danel who heads up the Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing. Tamara is a fireball of energy and one of our most talented Fuller Center directors. When I arrived, she informed me that she would show me around in the morning, but that I had to go on a 30-mile bike ride with her first. I teased her about offering “conditional hospitality” but her offer was really a tremendous compliment as she knows my passion for cycling. We had a wonderful ride with her friend Donna Ford, daughter-in-law of Ginger Ford, the respected philanthropist and community leader for whom the local covenant partner is named. Let me tell you — Tamara, who is a spinning instructor, and Donna were hard to keep up with! While we were riding and touring the countryside around Hammond, we ran into about 500 cyclists who were raising money for medical research on the MS 150 tour. It was fun seeing all the beautiful bike jerseys. It was a reminder of all the good will that exists out there and the fact that there is no waning interest in cycling after years of scandals at the professional level.
Tamara took me out to dinner with some international students from a local university whom she and her husband, David, host in their home, and a wonderful friend Gary who spent many years in my childhood hometowns of Pennsylvania. We visited the establishment where Tamara and David first met and I had fun seeing pictures of him on the wall. Tamara chose a wonderful Mexican restaurant because the live music was being performed by a construction supervisor volunteer who helped her with her 23 home weatherization effort the day before. This is certainly a worthy model that needs to be replicated. You can read more about it here.
It is impossible not to fall in love with Hammond. It is a “railroad town” and has a beautiful historic district, one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. Perhaps this is why many filmmakers choose Hammond as their filming location. Tamara showed me a façade that was built on a large white post office became the backdrop for the police station for my favorite television series, "In the Heat of the Night."
Imagine the feelings I had walking with Tamara in the late evening in the town where they filmed my favorite show.
There are many lifetimes worth of work on bad housing around Hammond. The need is great and Tamara said her greatest challenge is getting additional skilled construction supervison.
She introduced me to Paul Alford who was recently hired to head up the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilder effort in response to Hurricane Isaac. Paul also said his greatest need was supervision. I shared with Paul a plan that I have to build a Fuller Center data base and eNewsletter specifically for our network of construction supervisors, RV Builders and Millard Fuller Legacy house captains. We will use these tools to spread the word about project opportunities at the covenant partners for student and church work team host sites and special efforts like disaster recovery.
We concluded our visit by visiting the Ginger Ford Hammond Fuller Center for Housing ReUse Store. I was so impressed that I encouraged Tamara to help share this story at our 2013 Covenant Partner Conference so others can benefit.
Well the odometer now reads 735 and I’m in New Iberia, Louisiana after a quick visit to New Orleans. It’s time for rest. But it is hard to shut my mind down with all of these experiences and because I’m thinking about what blessings tomorrow will bring.