You only turn 50 years old once, so it is understandable if you want to mark that occasion with a huge party, a tropical beach getaway or a wild week in Vegas.
Karen “Toolie” Warkentien of Arlington, Virginia, has a multitude of friends and is known as a fun-loving character, but she had other ideas about celebrating her birthday. Warkentien is celebrating by helping a family become homeowners.
She is sponsoring Toolie’s 50th Birthday Blitz Build through The Fuller Center for Housing and will be volunteering with others the week of June 8-13, 2014, to extend a hand up to Americus, Georgia, residents Cassie and Damien Battle and their three children.
Why did she choose to mark the occasion by building a new Fuller Center home?
“No. 1, because I hate Vegas!” she said with a laugh. “And, No. 2, because I wanted to do something that’s not all about me — some way to give back and do something I love to do.”
Warkentien is a veteran volunteer with The Fuller Center and a frequent contributor. Last month, she accepted an invitation to join The Fuller Center for Housing’s Board of Directors. She also has participated multiple times as a cyclist/fundraiser on the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure. She got the nickname “Toolie” when she showed up with an overabundance of tools at her first Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Lanett, Alabama, in 2009.
Warkentien’s actual birthday is the Monday that begins the actual work of building the home, but volunteers will begin arriving and registering for the build on Sunday, June 8, which is also the day that Americus’ Spring Street is officially renamed Millard Fuller Boulevard during an afternoon celebration of Fuller’s life of service through the affordable housing ministries he founded in Habitat for Humanity and then The Fuller Center for Housing. Warkentien does not mind having Toolie Build’s start coincide with such a big event.
“I think it’s an honor, personally,” she said. “I was so thrilled when they asked if they could do that before the Toolie Build because we wouldn’t be doing all this if it weren’t for Millard and Clarence (Jordan) and their foresight to figure out a way we might be able to help some folks by giving them a hand-up and trying to eliminate poverty housing around the country and around the world.”
As for the Battle family, finally having a home of their own is just the latest blessing for the Battles since they partnered with The Fuller Center. Cassie and Damien longed for years to have a decent wedding but could not spare the money. They had resigned themselves to simply getting married at a courthouse until Fuller Center Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner, who also is pastor of Americus’ Praxis United Church of Christ, offered to marry them. Lyman-Barner united the couple in a beautiful ceremony at Americus’ Rees Park in March with their children and a bevy of family and friends in attendance. (See photos here.)
“I’m very excited,” Cassie Battle said. “I can’t wait. I’m ready to meet Toolie so I can give her a hug. I would just like to thank The Fuller Center for everything. It’s been a great experience.”
“I can’t think of a better, more deserving family for this house,” Warkentien said. “I’m honored that I can actually be a part of helping bring a home to their family.”
“We all want to work hard and get the job done because the sooner we can do that, the sooner we can get those folks moved into that house,” she added. “That’s the whole goal here — to help get them suitable housing and help them out. And, in turn, they will wind up helping other people through their mortgage payments and if they decide to keep volunteering with The Fuller Center. I think it’s a win-win.”
Warkentien said that anyone who is still shaking off the effects of a particularly harsh winter will be able to easily erase that from their memories after spending a few warm June days working in Americus.
“Come on out because it’s always a good time building with The Fuller Center, you get to meet some great people, and you get to do some good works,” she said in issuing a plea for volunteers. “And there’s just nothing better than being in South Georgia in June!”
The deadline for volunteers to register is May 22. If you cannot make the build as a volunteer, please consider making a financial gift to the build.