The Fuller Center for Housing of Northwest Louisiana recently announced two new partnerships—one with AmeriCorps and another with Centenary College of Louisiana. That’s great news to Executive Director Lee Jeter, but creating and maximizing partnerships is his specialty, so it’s not exactly surprising news.
Whether it’s teaming up with churches as he did with Bossier City’s Asbury United Methodist Church for the Katy Build or working with The Bob Woodruff Foundation to put a $300,000 donation from former Pink Floyd rocker Roger Waters to use in building four new Fuller Center homes for veterans at the Veterans Build, the next story in Shreveport always seems to be about a new partner or supporter.
He has even built great relationships with media partners in the area that helps him garner publicity when major events happen, such as when superstars like multi-Grammy-winner John Mayer shows up to volunteer as he did in April at the Veterans Build.
But, ultimately, the mission does not change: The mission is to help people have safe and decent houses — and the chain reaction of benefits that entails. The partnership with AmeriCorps will do that about as directly as any partnership Jeter has fostered.
Applications are being accepted through Sept. 15 (click here to apply or learn more) for the AmeriCorps group that will be hosted by Fuller Center for the term of Oct. 1 through July 2014. Since the program’s founding in 1994, more than 800,000 people have contributed more than 1 billion hours of service across America. The service positions allow young adults to learn valuable work skills, earn money for education and develop an appreciation for citizenship.
“The AmeriCorps team is going to allow us to be able to serve more clients,” Jeter said matter-of-factly. “Like most nonprofits, we’re at the mercy of our volunteers. Even though we have a strong volunteer database, not all of our volunteers have the same skill level. The AmeriCorps team is going to allow us to be able to train individual volunteers at a certain skill level to allow us to be able to engage even more volunteers and have the capacity to train those volunteers to do what we need to do. They going to be able to become an extension of the staff and serve more volunteers, engage more clients, get more houses built, do more rehabs and ultimately provide more services to our community.”
The Centernary partnership is more about developing future leaders than building houses. The school has created World Houses as common residences with a common purpose for first-year students — where students can explore through service and leadership the world’s greatest needs. Each World House partners with a community organization to make an immediate positive impact on one of three areas: environmental sustainability (Shreveport Green), peace (Community Renewal International) and social justice (Fuller Center).
“The World Houses concept at Centenary is going to allow us to partner with the college at a grass-roots level to take the incoming freshmen and let them really get in at the grass-roots level of the things that we need to do to change our community,” Jeter said. “Our part of the World Houses is social justice.
“We realize that as the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to widen, it’s not just a poverty issue,” he added. “The poverty issue leads to other issues — such as criminal issues and payday loans. So we can begin to get our future leaders and young college students to think about these things at the grass-roots level. They can set policies that deal with those other issues that we’re going to continue to face in our society with individuals who live in poverty — which is crime, high school dropouts, teen pregnancy. A lot of those issues are directly related to the socio-economic conditions of poverty.”
“Centernary leaders turn learning into action and personal growth into public good through World Houses,” Centenary President David Rowe said. “We are honored to partner with organizations that recognize the need to develop future leaders who actively work to better their communities.”
Meanwhile, Jeter is charging ahead on many fronts like the Marine Corps veteran he is—including raising money and support for Phase 2 of the Veterans Build, which will add another six houses to the neighborhood where four were dedicated June 1.
“We’re continuing screening veterans — not only male veterans but some some female veterans with children who are in the pipeline now,” he said. “We’re going to continue to raise money for that, but we’re still going to continue our commitment to Allendale and honor the commitment that Millard Fuller made to that community. We’re doing soil samples now for future development in the Allendale area, and we’re steady partnering with Asbury United Methodist Church in Bossier City to continue with Phase 2 of the Katy Build. We’re about two-thirds of the way to having that fully financed.”
Fundraising comes first for Jeter, allowing him to go full-steam-ahead each time a project begins.
“We believe that if we have the full sponsorship money ahead of time, then we can go ahead with the project in 64 or 71 days like we did with the four veterans houses that went up in 71 days,” he explained. “We want to continue to have a great relationship with all of our vendors and all of our subcontractors, and we know that if we have the money in the bank, then there’s no going to be a holdup in the project. We can move forward with the project and get the project on a timeline that’s going to be very, very beneficial to the recipients of our new homes and also benefits our subcontractors who know that they are going to get paid just as soon as they finish the project. It just creates good, positive working relationships with everyone we’re going to be involved with.”
Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner visited Jeter’s operation in the fall and was impressed with the scope of the work, though he was hardly surprised.
“When I think of Lee Jeter, I’m reminded of the comedian Larry the Cable Guy and his ‘Git-R-Done’ catch phrase,” Lyman-Barner said. “Lee is not only a compassionate leader but also a visionary. On a recent visit, he gave me a tour of his dreams. We visited a neighborhood near a Veterans Hospital where he wanted to build some homes for veterans —four of which were built this spring. He showed me progress on a grocery story in the Allentown neighborhood that doesn’t have access to healthy foods, a response to what city planners have often called a ‘food desert.’
“And we visited a new surplus thrift store along with offices and a very long board table,” Lyman-Barner added. “He told me, ‘When we have our morning planning meetings with our AmeriCorps volunteers, we will gather here.’ I smiled. At the time, he didn’t have an AmeriCorps volunteers group. But I knew he would.”
Meet Lee Jeter in this video from October 2011: