Navy veteran grateful for new home, eager to repay costs to help others get same hand-up
SHREVEPORT, Louisiana — The Fuller Center for Housing of Northwest Louisiana’s newest homeowner loves to crochet — and the results of that hobby can be seen in dozens of blankets that have been donated to a local homeless shelter, women’s shelter and a veterans’ home, as well as tiny blankets for babies lost in utero.
As U.S. Navy veteran Charles Smith, 72, talks about the ups and downs of a life that included 20 years in the service and burying two wives, you might not picture him as a master of the crochet needle. Of course, his other hobbies include crafting wood miniatures and amateur ham radio.
He is a man who has amassed a world of experiences and developed an eclectic bunch of interests. But there’s one thing he’s never experienced — having a decent home that also was affordable.
The Fuller Center dedicated its 61st new home for Smith on Wednesday as its 2021 Millard Fuller Legacy Build project — one made possible by local volunteers and financial support, especially from the primary church partner in the project, First United Methodist Church of Shreveport.
“It’s not a handout — this is the best opportunity I’ve had to own something that’s affordable without having to pay a whole lot of ridiculous interest,” Smith said. Fuller Center for Housing homeowners repay building costs with no interest charged and no profit made into a local fund to help others in their community get the very same hand-up.
Not only is Smith happy to make the zero-percent-interest mortgage payments, but he also wants to do it as quickly as possible. In fact, he hopes to have the home paid off in seven years and already is so far ahead in his payments that he is paid up through January 2022.
“He wants to pay off his home early because the proceeds from his mortgage payments will help build homes for other deserving applicants,” said Lee Jeter, Executive Director of The Fuller Center of Northwest Louisiana, whose 61 home builds now include six (with Smith’s home being the latest) in the Veterans Village area of Shreveport’s Stoner Hill neighborhood. “In fact, plans are under way for the construction of two additional homes in the Stoner Hill community. His repayments will help build new homes for his future neighbors.”
Of course, Smith has another understandable reason for getting the home paid off as early as possible.
“I’ve had three homes in my life, and I’m interested in getting one paid off before I kick the bucket because I want to travel after I have this mortgage thing taken care of,” he said. “I realize I’m not gonna live another 196 months, you know.”
Wednesday’s celebration, unfortunately, was tempered. It was delayed because the day it was finished was the same day that his girlfriend’s son, a U.S. Marine, was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Wounded in Afghanistan, he later died of a stroke during recovery. Smith said that having a decent home now helps him “be her umbrella” for his girlfriend as she has faced numerous recent storms in her life.
“That was really, really hard on her,” he said, noting that even after the painful losses of previous wives, he has found a loving new relationship. “This wonderful lady has had so much thrown on her in a year.”
Jeter said it was fitting that First United Methodist Church was a key player in this project because they have embraced The Fuller Center’s ministry since 2006 when the first Fuller Center homes were going up in the Allendale community in response to an influx of residents who had fled the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina.
“Their contributions helped to restore the once-crime-ridden community of Allendale to a vibrant, proactive community where citizens are civically involved, and they have extended that support to our veteran community in Veterans Village in Stoner Hill,” Jeter said. “The First United Methodist Church of Shreveport family has shown their faith locally by contributing over $900,000 to the local housing ministry. They have truly lived up to Jesus’ teachings that you should love your neighbor as yourself.”
With the dedication behind him, Smith’s life is calm once again. He is free to crochet, make miniature wooden crafts, fire up his radio, and reflect on the events that have led him to this point in his life. Today, he is filled with gratitude.
“This has been a blessing from everyone,” Smith said. “To everybody who was involved, just an awesome job. Thanks from the bottom of my heart, and I appreciate it more than words can say.”