Mark Bippes of Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, has long been a grateful man. But since battling cancer, gratitude permeates his life in everything that he does.
One thing Bippes has done for many years is help people have simple, decent places to live. It is an issue he became passionate about through his friendship with Millard Fuller — a friendship that dates back even before the Fullers launched Habitat for Humanity in 1976 and long before they founded The Fuller Center for Housing.
Bippes is especially grateful for the responsibility to serve as a house co-captain at this year’s Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis, where he is leading a build on Denney Street with a couple dozen volunteers, including a few regulars from his Morris Habitat for Humanity affiliate.
“Being here this week is extremely significant for me,” an emotional Bippes said Tuesday on the second day of the Legacy Build. “I was here seven years ago for the 2010 Legacy Build, and it was five and a half years ago that I came down with cancer and wasn’t able to do much of anything. I’ve been through an incredible amount. Just in the last year I’ve been able to get back out volunteering on site. This year I’m finally doing well enough that I decided to try something like this.”
Leading a house build — particularly during a one-week blitz — is an enormously stressful job but one that he relishes.
“I’m just trying to put my faith in Jesus into action,” he said. “I’ve been involved with Habitat since before the beginning, and my relationship with Millard Fuller is something that’s been extremely significant in my life. Having a Legacy Build is something that I am so grateful to be a part of. … The way Millard put faith into action, he was just so deeply committed.
“The bottom line is that we’re making a difference in the lives of the people who are going to be our homeowners,” added Bippes, whose homeowner partner is Paula White, a widow who will be living with her grandson. “I think that’s what really gives me the greatest amount of satisfaction and working along with the volunteers who are giving of their time and their resources and skills. Just being part of a team is so important.”
NEWLYWEDS “CAN’T GET A BETTER BLESSING”
A couple hundred yards away on North Bradley Avenue, Margaret and William McKeller are feeling doubly blessed. They were just married on May 27, and soon they will have a decent place to live. They look at the rapid progress on their new home with a mix of gratitude and disbelief.
“It’s a blessing to see all these people volunteering, coming from all over the country,” William said. “And they’re not getting paid to do it. You can’t get a better blessing than that. It’s amazing.”
Both Margaret and William were born and raised and have lived their entire lives in Indianapolis. They currently live in apartment about two miles from the Legacy Build site. Their adult children worry about their ability to safely get in and out of the apartment due to the knee problems each suffers.
“We got married and now we’re going to own our own home,” Margaret said. “It’s such a blessing.”
Of course, they know a little about blessing others. Margaret works for Dove Recovery House, a women’s shelter that works helps women with dependency problems get clean and back as productive members of society, while William works at a food pantry and does prison ministry work with his pastor.
VOLUNTEER HAPPY TO “GO WITH THE FLOW”
One of those volunteers who has given time and resources to help the McKellers have a good home is Al Harano of San Jose, California. Amid all the chaos and fervor surrounding him during a blitz week, he has maintained an almost constant smile and ease on the house co-captained by husband-and-wife team Mary Lou Bowman and Russ Cubbin.
Harano began volunteering on Habitat projects after Hurricane Katrina, but this is his first Fuller Center build. His friend Steve Lumpp (a house co-captain across the street) encouraged him to register for this week’s Legacy Build.
“Since I’ve been around to a lot of different affiliates across the country, I’ve learned everybody’s got their own way of doing things so you just kinda go with the flow,” he said with almost stereotypical West Coast cool. “But all of the workers we have are all pretty good. And Mary Lou and Russ have been great.”
He also has been impressed with the youthful contingent of volunteers associated with Nazarene churches in town for a conference.
“The young church people here are really good and really enthusiastic,” he said. “They get stuff done, and you don’t have to keep watching them. So, it’s been a really good build.”