Kim Roberts’ name was the first that came to mind when East Alabama Medical Center’s charitable outreach arm, Cornerstone Foundation, was looking for someone to lead rebuilding efforts for families impacted by the devastating EF-4 tornado that struck Beauregard, Alabama, on March 3.
It wasn’t because Roberts is someone who knows a thing or two about rising from adversity after losing both of her legs in a lawnmower accident at age 4. And it wasn’t because Roberts is beloved by homeowners, volunteers and everyone whose lives she has touched while leading the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project based in Lanett, Alabama.
It is because Kim Roberts gets things done. They had witnessed that a little over a year earlier when they sponsored two Fuller Center homes for EAMC employees — one in Valley, Alabama, and the other in West Point, Georgia, two communities adjacent to Lanett.
“Kim is fantastic!” said Cornerstone manager Lisa Ruffin. “I can’t say enough about her. She has such a big heart for people. Her spirit just rubs off on you.”
“She brings a lot of love and energy, but you have to complete the task,” said Curt Johnson, CFCP’s board president. “You have to be successful. People don’t like being involved with things that are not successful, and Kim gets things done.”
And she gets it done even when a project seems overwhelming, such as building 18 homes in Beauregard, Alabama — including 11 that will be going up during the 2019 Millard Fuller Legacy Build the week of September 29 through October 4.
“Most people would be afraid to take it on,” Johnson said. “I know Kim gets nervous about things sometimes, but at the end of the day it takes a certain amount of fearlessness to take on something like this build in Beauregard. She’s not afraid to take on a big project, and she’s going to do everything that she can to make sure that it’s successful. As a consequence, people want to be involved. She’s inspiring and hard-working, yes, but none of that matters if at the end of the day you’re too afraid to take on the task.”
“Kim Roberts has an incredible passion for serving her community,” said Stacey Driggers, The Fuller Center’s Vice-President for U.S. Programs. “She and the board of the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project really stepped up after the March tornado, and they haven’t stopped. She is organized and enthusiastic, and working with her on a build is a fantastic experience.”
Driggers joined Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell on Tuesday as they traveled to Lanett, Alabama, to meet with Roberts and Johnson about preparations for the Legacy Build — as well as to deliver a $50,000 check from Fuller Center supporters to contribute to the build fund. Snell said the discussion confirmed what he already suspected after a decade of getting to know Roberts and the team around her — that the build is in very capable hands. He expected nothing less.
“Every now and again someone comes into your life that makes you marvel at their indomitable spirit, and Kim Roberts is one of those people,” he said. “She lost both of her lower legs in a horrible accident when she was a child — the type of injury that would make many curl up and retreat into a corner. Not so with Kim. She picked herself up — literally — and committed herself to living a full and active life, and has she ever! She now leads one of the most productive covenant partners in The Fuller Center family.
“She’s currently on a crusade to help as many families as possible recover from the devastating tornado that tore through Beauregard in March,” Snell added. “She’s tireless and puts those of us with two good legs to shame as she builds coalitions, raises money and gets houses built. She is an inspiration!”
An inspiration to many
After two decades of running her own business, Roberts decided to switch paths and pursue a career in nursing. But the stress on her legs caused further problems, and she had to have a few more inches removed from her right leg. While sitting in a wheelchair at the hospital, she prayed that if she were able to walk again she would find a way to serve others. In stepped Bill Scott.
Scott had brought The Fuller Center to the Chattahoochee Valley a few years earlier and was a friend of Fuller Center founder Millard Fuller. After Fuller died in 2009, Scott was instrumental in leading the very first Millard Fuller Legacy Build that same year in Lanett, Fuller’s hometown. He already knew Roberts as a volunteer for The Fuller Center and believed she would help take the organization to new heights as they worked to build upon the Legacy Build’s momentum.
“We had built about a dozen houses when Kim Roberts volunteered to help us with family selection,” Scott recalled. “We quickly learned that she had great business skills and an even greater passion for helping people. We soon asked her to be our Executive Director, and she’s been the heart and soul of the organization ever since. Kim’s personal story and her passion for helping people motivates everyone she comes in contact with.”
The people she motivates and inspires includes homeowner partners, volunteers, co-workers and even governmental leaders. Steve Tramell is one of those who has known and admired Roberts for years. He also has served as an expert leader on many Fuller Center builds — even after becoming West Point’s mayor when his predecessor Drew Ferguson was elected to Congress in 2016. Not only did Mayor Tramell continue to volunteer with The Fuller Center — including these days in Beauregard — but he also recognized the need for more of The Fuller Center’s work in West Point and paved the way for more projects in his community.
“Kim Roberts is an inspiration to me in so many ways,” Tramell said. “She genuinely cares for the people she helps and goes way beyond that extra mile we should all be willing to give. I so appreciate all she and The Fuller Center have done for the citizens of West Point. Building new houses, multiple Blocks of Blessings, individual repairs for homeowners in need of help, Kim has done it all and more. She has taught me so much about servant leadership, and she makes us all want to do more for this area. We are blessed to have her and The Fuller Center in our valley.”
Robin Pierre has gotten to know Roberts in several different ways over the past few years — while working in a convenience store, volunteering with The Fuller Center, becoming a Fuller Center homeowner partner and now working alongside Roberts with the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project. Through each phase of their relationship, Roberts has never changed.
“When my husband and I moved down here from Massachusetts in 2014, the only person I knew was my Dad,” Pierre recalled. “I got a job at Circle K, and that’s where I met Kim when she would come in for coffee every morning. She was working on an all-women’s build (the Lind-A-Hand Build), and I asked her how I could help. I didn’t know the first thing about building a house, but she told me to come on down. I enjoyed every minute of it, and that’s when the friendship between Kim and I started.
“I would volunteer at the ReUse Store on my days off, and then an opening came up at the store and Kim asked if I was interested,” she continued. “I was ecstatic and said absolutely. I could not ask for a better co-worker, and that’s what we are. She never makes me feel less than her and she always treats me as her equal. When she speaks, she always introduces me as her right hand.”
Perhaps the most important relationship to Roberts is the one she has with the families that she helps have simple, decent places to live. That may be why homeowners like Carla Ross see “Ms. Kim” as a family member.
“She and Robin and Mr. Steve have been a blessing to me, and it’s been a blessing to have a roof over our heads,” said Ross, an Army veteran who is raising a young son who suffers from sickle-cell anemia and who partnered to build a Fuller Center home in 2017. (See story: “How an ailing child’s Christmas wish became a home for the holidays”) “I’ve called her several times not knowing what to do or worried, and she just says, ‘Sweetie, it’s going to be OK — one day at a time, Sweetie.’ She’s definitely somebody you can call on as family.”
While many of the connections who help Roberts with the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project have known her for years, she also is a source of inspiration for those who have known her for only a week. That would include volunteers like Wittenberg University’s Danny Barren, who penned an extensive blog post featuring the alternative spring break service week he and schoolmates spent with the CFCP in March. In it, he writes of how they arrived a day ahead of the devastating tornado and the inspiration that Roberts provided in its wake. Kenzie Hill, a rising senior, also was on that spring break trip — her third such service week with Fuller Center covenant partners.
“Kim is an extraordinary woman who is filled with passion and excitement for not only The Fuller Center but everything she is involved with,” Hill said. “During the week we were with her, she greeted us with a smile each day and motivated us to complete each task efficiently but also with care. Kim constantly expressed her gratitude for us being there, but we were just as grateful for the opportunity to work with Kim and to get to know her!”
Can’t slow down
At the end of a long day on the job site, organizing an upcoming build, visiting with families or spreading the word about The Fuller Center’s affordable housing ministry — sometimes all of that on the same day — Roberts is understandably exhausted, both mentally and physically. That is usually something that only those closest to her can tell because Roberts will not let it show if she can help it.
“I’ve seen Kim push herself so hard that she nearly collapses from pain or exhaustion,” Fuller Center Vice President of Communications Chris Johnson said. “But she doesn’t want anybody to know unless they absolutely have to. You almost have to trick her into taking a break and resting for a moment. I’ve pulled her into the air-conditioning for video interviews I had no intention of using just to sit her down for a bit. She’s just that driven, and she has that much passion for helping families. Those tears she sheds at home dedications are not for show. They are real, and it’s because she invests so much personally in every home, every project, every family. And then it just restarts the next day.”
He added that it was fitting she runs The Fuller Center covenant partner based in founder Millard Fuller’s hometown of Lanett.
“She’s the only person I know who can be so inspiring and, yet, so tiring at the same time — tiring in a good way,” Johnson said. “Of course, folks described Millard Fuller that way, too, so maybe it’s something in the water around Lanett.”
Curt Johnson said that when people see the bundle of energy that is Kim Roberts, everyone’s rest breaks seem to run a little shorter.
“Kim has a big heart and doesn’t say no even when she should say no,” he said. “With Kim’s disability and as hard as she works at helping other people, I think that in itself is inspiring, as well. You’re sitting there thinking that you’re tired, and then you look at this person with no legs bouncing around and it’s kind of hard to not be inspired to work and to help.”
In addition to being a homeowner partner herself, Ross has friends in the Beauregard community. She was not surprised when they expressed their admiration for Roberts’ energetic work for families who are not even in the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project’s normal service area.
“She is always on the move to help somebody,” Ross said. “Some of my classmates went through that in Beauregard, and they’re like, ‘Man, she keeps moving around. She’s amazing!’ She has a disability of her own, and she’s still making people happy and making people smile, always looking forward to helping somebody else.”
She is one of the few who can recognize when Roberts has exhausted herself.
“I’ve seen her go to Beauregard and come back and do something at a church or another function, and I know she’s tired,” Ross said. “But she’s back up the next morning ready to rock and roll. I wish I had her cup of coffee!”
Afterward (the writer’s take)
You’ll notice one of the few people not quoted above talking about the greatness of Kim Roberts is, well, Kim Roberts herself. She is always a good sport and the kind of person who can crack jokes about her artificial legs and muster a smile even in the brutal hot sunshine of a June work site in Alabama. But she is not one who craves attention. I knew if I were going to do a feature story about Kim, I was going to have to go behind her back first. And then call her.
After talking to so many people about Kim, I called her on Thursday and warned her that she was not going to like what I was about to say:
“I’m doing a feature story on you,” I said.
Her response was simple and slightly exasperated: “Why?”
I explained that a lot of folks had a lot of nice things to say about her. I told her I’d try to think of something bad to say about her to balance it out before I posted it for all the world to see. (I failed at that, by the way.) I relayed some of the positive quotes to her and she again had little to say:
Then she began to talk about the upcoming Legacy Build, how she’s worried about not having enough volunteers. That has not been a problem getting the first five houses built, and I assured her there will be plenty of good-hearted volunteers — especially from the local area — as the Legacy Build nears. (If you would like to volunteer, please click here so that we don’t let her down!)
I only wanted to know one more thing. What keeps you going?
“The joy that I saw on the first few homes when I first started with Mr. Bill Scott, it made me realize how much a home could make a difference in a family,” she told me. “People ask me all the time how I stay excited and I just tell them that it’s because there’s another family that needs The Fuller Center.”
And then she returned to talking about the upcoming Legacy Build.
“We already have five homes up,” she noted about builds dedicated in May and July. “Seeing those and seeing the difference it made in their lives and to know that they are 13 more coming — quickly — that keeps me going.”
Check out this 90-second excerpt from a 2012 video in which Kim Roberts discusses how she first came to The Fuller Center, and a homeowner talks about why she loves “Ms. Kim”: