(Photo: Fuller Center of Central Indiana board member Ron Fisher holds a tuckered-out Kamar’e during a September 2011 build in Fountain Square. Kamar’e lives in one of the homes built during the 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build. The 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build returns to Indianapolis June 18-23.)
When The Fuller Center for Housing of Central Indiana agreed to host the 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis, the new covenant partner had been around for just one year and built just one home. Hosting hundreds of volunteers to build seven new homes in a one-week blitz meant that the new covenant partner would gain instant visibility.
As Fuller Center of Central Indiana President Chuck Vogt recalled, there was just one problem with hosting such a major build: They could not find a place to put the homes.
“We needed some property,” he said. “We’d just about exhausted everything we could find looking for property in one neighborhood when all of the sudden we got a phone call from somebody who said there’s a street called St. Paul Street and it sits between Churchman Avenue and St. Peter. We figured that was a God sign.”
While the local group may have seen that as a God sign, many other people saw the area in the neighborhood known as Fountain Square as nothing less than godforsaken.
“City officials told us that St. Paul Street was the armpit of the city and that it had a bunch of boarded-up and dilapidated houses with drugs and prostitution and rodents,” Vogt said.
Vogt visited the site, along with Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell, and they found that everything the city told them was true — and then some.
“When I first saw St. Paul Street, it was a panorama of urban decay with derelict and vacant houses and weed-covered empty lots — a perfect place for The Fuller Center to get to work!” said Snell, who recognized opportunity where others saw hopelessness, just as founder and friend Millard Fuller had done in countless similar places across the United States and around the world.
“And get to work, we did!” Snell continued, noting that The Fuller Center also rehabbed 15 homes in the neighborhood that week. “The street was transformed. The first rehab we dedicated had been a crack house, but the new and restored homes drove out the bad element.”
“When I first saw St. Paul Street, it was a panorama of urban decay with derelict and vacant houses and weed-covered empty lots — a perfect place for The Fuller Center to get to work!” — Fuller Center President David Snell
During the week of June 18-23, The Fuller Center of Central Indiana will host the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build, looking to resurrect yet another Indianapolis neighborhood with a five-home, weeklong blitz. Volunteers from across the nation will build four homes on North Bradley Avenue and another on nearby Denny Street. The build will kick off an extensive effort to revitalize the entire area just east of downtown and a couple of miles from Fountain Square.
(Click here to volunteer or to learn more.)
“It’s exactly the same kind of neighborhood as Fountain Square,” Vogt said, setting the stage for a similar neighborhood rebirth.
FOUNTAIN SQUARE TODAY, SEVEN YEARS LATER
For too long, when residents stepped out of their Fountain Square homes, they heard the sounds of fighting and gunshots. Then came the sounds of hammers, saws and drills at the 2010 Legacy Build. Now, the neighborhood is filled with the sounds of laughter from children playing in front yards and along the sidewalks.
Tiffany Parker’s sons Kendrick and Kamar’e are among the children whose laughter has filled the neighborhood for the past seven years. Ages 12 and 10 respectively, they now have a 10-month-old brother, Tyrelle.
“The boys are doing great!” Parker said. “It’s pretty cool to have a house that you can call your own and can go back to. I’m the only one out of my five brothers and sisters to have a house.”
The homeowner partners from the 2010 Legacy Build and the 2011 Labor of Love Build are not just neighbors, Parker added.
“We all look out for each other, and our kids play with each other,” she said. “We take turns cooking dinners for each other. We take family trips together and go places together.”
“Everything is great, and all these great kids are growing up,” said Manuel Martinez, whose son Manny was just 2 years old at the time of the 2010 build and is now in third grade. “The kids are always out playing games and playing tag. We are so thankful for all the volunteers who helped all of these families.”
For all that a decent home has done for Parker, Martinez and their sons, the more than two dozen homes built or repaired by The Fuller Center has done perhaps even more for the surrounding community.
“Since the build, I have seen a steady growth of renovation and new builds in the area,” said Jennie Gibson, whose husband Chip spends most of his time in a wheelchair. “It definitely seems like it kind of kick-started a renewal in the area. There are more people around, more kids in the neighborhood. It seems to be growing.”
Though it has been seven years since the 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build, Gibson still gets choked up when she thinks about the volunteers who came to help build their St. Paul Street home.
“We’re just so thankful because we have been so blessed with the house,” she said. “When we built the house, my husband could still walk. Within months after we moved in, he started deteriorating and is not walking hardly at all anymore. The ramps on the house have been such a blessing. He’s been able to come and go in the wheelchair, and that’s been so helpful.”
Parker, who now works as a parent involvement educator at Charles W. Fairbanks Elementary School, also remains grateful.
“I still remember the house being built and when the walls went up — that was my favorite part as it began to look like a real house and I just remember crying,” she said. “I was just thinking about all those folks the other day because I have a collage of pictures of everybody who worked on our house.”
Martinez is thrilled that more Indianapolis families and another neighborhood are about to get a hand-up through the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build.
“We are so grateful, and I love The Fuller Center,” he said. “I’m always telling folks about it. I think it’s especially great that it provides an opportunity for people to volunteer to help each other. It’s a noble way to help, and it’s what America needs. I would encourage everyone to do it.”
Revisiting Fountain Square slideshow: