A group of industrious Lancaster Mennonite High School students have designed and constructed small wooden boxes to be distributed to homeowner partners in The Fuller Center for Housing’s Greater Blessing program.
A box of Greater Blessing boxes — each uniquely designed and constructed — arrived at Fuller Center headquarters in Americus, Ga., this week in a shipment from Fuller Center Advisory Council member Edgar Stoesz, also a former chairman of the board at Habitat for Humanity and a long-time friend of Millard Fuller, who founded Habitat and The Fuller Center.
“Our Greater Blessings program has been blessed!” Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell said. “Aden Stoltzfus’ IA students at Lancaster Mennonite School have given of their talents to make these Greater Blessing boxes. IA stands for industrial arts, and I now know why — these boxes are works of art, and the families who receive them will be able to display them with pride.”
Stoesz also is an author specializing in nonprofit effectiveness and features articles by Snell and Fuller Center co-founder Linda Fuller in his new book “Setting the Agenda: Meditations for the Organization’s Soul.” Stoesz’s grandson was a student in Aden Stoltzfus‘ industrial arts class at the high school last year, and Stoesz and Stoltzfus came up with the idea of making the Greater Blessing boxes as a class project.
“He just wondered if it was something I’d be interested in or could make,” Stoltzfus said of Stoesz. “So I incorporated it into my advanced wood class. I gave them just an initial assignment to make a box and let them design it.
“I just gave them sort of the basic dimensions and said they can make it any way they want,” added Stoltzfus, who sent the best of the best from the class that is comprised of juniors and seniors. “Some of the more advanced students, they really liked the challenge and they tried to make something pretty cool.”
Most people know that The Fuller Center for Housing builds new homes for families across the United States and with 17 international covenant partners. What is less well known is just how much of the Fuller Center’s work done in America is comprised of Greater Blessing projects.
Unlike the structured zero-interest loans upon which owners of newly built Fuller Center homes must make payments, Greater Blessing homeowner partners pay back the cost of repairs whenever they can. And, they are encouraged to continue adding to the Greater Blessing box in order to help others whose homes are in need of repair.
The program was the brainchild of the late Millard Fuller, who was looking for ways to help the very poor, elderly or disabled homeowners who could not afford to pay a professional to keep their home in good repair. Yet, just as Fuller believed that The Fuller Center’s new home partners must pay for their homes, the Greater Blessing projects also would have to be a hand up and not a handout.
“What the students have crafted is indeed an innovation designed by Millard to advance the goal of eliminating poverty housing,” Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner said. “The Greater Blessing program is not charity because we ask the homeowners to pay back the cost of the repairs and help their neighbors in need. We help them become donors.”
Fuller drew the Greater Blessing program’s parameters drawn from a single Bible verse: “I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35)
Lyman-Barner said that The Fuller Center is often asked why it does make small repairs for free. He says the answer lies in that Bible verse and in the following note from Millard Fuller that he continues to treasure today:
“My thought is that charity home repair programs are good, but they are deficient theologically because if you believe that giving is more blessed than receiving, the recipients in such programs are denied the greater blessing. In our work, we do not want to deny that greater blessing, and that is why we give the recipients the opportunity to give something back.”
Because Lancaster is a Mennonite school that incorporates Christ-centered learning, the students’ Greater Blessing Box project was a great opportunity to incorporate a Biblical lesson while supporting another Christ-centered organization, The Fuller Center for Housing.
“I tried to explain it to them,” Stoltzfus said of the Greater Blessing program. “Mr. Stoesz explained it to me, and it sounded like a good idea.”