Sharon Tarver Evans reflects on 24 years of service to two ministry leaders

Sharon Tarver Evans reflects on 24 years of service to two ministry leaders

In 1994, she walked into the doors of Millard Fuller’s office at Habitat for Humanity as an impressionable young woman. She walked into the right doors as Fuller impressed upon her the values of kindness, generosity, service to others and putting faith into action. Those values would define her service for 15 years as Fuller’s executive assistant and for the past nine years in the same role with Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell.

After a luncheon honoring Sharon for her service and friendship today at The Fuller Center for Housing’s headquarters in Americus, Georgia, she sat down for a brief chat about her time in the affordable housing ministry and her bittersweet departure as she begins a new chapter in her life:

A few photos from today’s going-away luncheon:

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VIDEO: President David Snell chats about 2018 and the year ahead

VIDEO: President David Snell chats about 2018 and the year ahead

Join Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell as he sits down for a lively back-and-forth conversation with Director of Communications Chris Johnson about a productive 2018 and the year ahead.

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Millard Fuller’s law office, first Habitat headquarters, donated to Fuller Center

Millard Fuller’s law office, first Habitat headquarters, donated to Fuller Center

As Linda Fuller strolled through the building that once housed Millard Fuller’s law practice and the first headquarters of Habitat for Humanity on Church Street in Americus, Georgia, she reminisced about the simplest of times at the birth of the affordable housing movement.

She noted the dust that had settled on the desk where she once sat and tried to remember which landline phone was ringing — the one for Habitat or for the law practice. She was glad to see that the curtains she fashioned from bed sheets were still intact and that the cobweb-covered bell on the front door of the building still worked — well, every now and then, after a few tries.

That door — that blasted door! Literally, Linda Fuller blasted it with everything she had to remove layer after layer of paint as they spent three months getting the property ready to open for business. She ruined many of her work clothes in the process. Then, when it was ready to open, she realized she had another problem — she didn’t have anything to wear at the office.

“We had just come back from Africa, and I had left whatever clothes I had over there for people to have,” she said Wednesday of their 1973-76 stint building homes in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). “I had to go out and buy myself a dress. We didn’t have much money, so I wore the same dress every day.”

Habitat for Humanity International has donated the historical site at 417 W. Church St. to The Fuller Center for Housing.

Millard and Linda Fuller — co-founders of both Habitat and The Fuller Center — purchased the property for $4,000 in 1977 from the Rev. Jim Jackson to serve as Millard’s law office. A small section of the law office served as the headquarters for the then-fledgling Habitat for Humanity, just a year old at the time with its only paid staff a part-time typist. Volunteers, including Linda and the Fullers’ children, assisted with Habitat’s early correspondence and newsletters.

“Millard Fuller’s affordable housing ministries were born at Koinonia Farm,” said David Snell, President of The Fuller Center for Housing. “His law office on Church Street was their nursery. It was there that the partnership housing concept that Millard and Clarence Jordan were inspired with took form becoming Habitat for Humanity and later The Fuller Center for Housing.

“We’re delighted that Habitat has turned this property over to us to ‘keep it in the family’,” Snell added. “We’ll honor its history, preserving it as a museum of the affordable housing movement, a movement that began right here in Americus, right here on Church Street.”

From those humble beginnings, Habitat would grow and move its headquarters more than once — although all within walking distance of the original office. Despite the simple roots they were planting, Linda knew something was growing even before former President Jimmy Carter joined the ministry and gave it star power that would almost instantly make Habitat for Humanity a household name.

“It was great having it as a mom-and-pop operation,” she said of Habitat’s first year in the law office. “But I had an inkling with Millard’s vast success in business (in the 1960s before the Fullers turned from a life of wealth to a life of service) and the way he was pushing, pushing as he always did, that it was going to grow pretty fast.”

After being forced out of leadership at Habitat, they would go on to found The Fuller Center for Housing in 2005 as a return to the simple, grass-roots principles with which they started. Linda recalls Millard’s final years of leading The Fuller Center until his death in 2009 as some of the happiest years of his life.

Today, The Fuller Center’s work continues to grow and Millard’s dream of eliminating poverty housing remains alive — and The Fuller Center for Housing remains headquartered in a small building that was donated by John and Sue Wieland, just a couple miles from the simple law office in which the Fullers’ ministry began.

417 W. Church Street Slideshow:

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President David Snell sat down with Linda Fuller in the historic building on August 29, 2018, to talk about the early days of the affordable housing ministry. Check out their conversation below:

 

David Snell: Armenia’s 10th anniversary celebration truly a special occasion

David Snell: Armenia’s 10th anniversary celebration truly a special occasion

(Photo: From left: Sheilla Snell, Abie Alexander and David Snell)

Fuller Center President David Snell recently returned from Armenia, where he joined with Fuller Center supporters from the United States and in-country leadership to mark the 10-year anniversary of the covenant partner joining the ranks of The Fuller Center for Housing — a period that has seen more than 650 Armenian families helped into simple, decent homes. Below, President Snell chats with Director of Communications Chris Johnson about the celebration. Later, check out a galley of photos from the event provided by Fuller Center Armenia, and be sure to read this account of the celebration from Panorama>>AM.

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National Day of Prayer 2018: Unity is something we must make happen, David Snell says

National Day of Prayer 2018: Unity is something we must make happen, David Snell says

(Photos: Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell gives the keynote address at Thursday’s 2018 National Day of Prayer event in Americus, Georgia.)

The theme of this year’s National Day of Prayer is “Unity.” If you look around at all the divisiveness in America today — much of it bitter and hateful — unity sounds like a mighty tall order for a theme.

Yet, that was the theme Mr. David Snell was tasked with addressing as the keynote speaker at Thursday’s National Day of Prayer service right here in Americus, Georgia, home of The Fuller Center for Housing and the city where Millard and Linda Fuller launched the world’s affordable housing movement decades ago.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that David is not just the president of The Fuller Center for Housing. He also has a much tougher job — being my boss. That’s a job with the difficulty level only a handful of folks can understand (likely after years of therapy!).

“Unity isn’t something that just happens. It is the result of good-hearted people doing good things, coming together to make the world better for all of God’s children.” — David Snell, President, The Fuller Center for Housing

When it comes to issues like politics, sports or even whether it’s better to vacation in the mountains or at the beach, David and I don’t agree on much. But we do work well together in pursuing one passion — helping families have simple, decent places to live. On that issue, in this pursuit, we have unity. In fact, I believe diversity of thought in such pursuits is an asset, not an obstacle.

Too often in today’s America people let their differences on unrelated issues prevent them from working together for good. In the nearly seven years I’ve served with The Fuller Center, it still amazes me that so many people — left, right and center; religious and not; northerners and southerners — come together under this big umbrella pitched by The Fuller Center. It’s not only because folks from all backgrounds want families and children to have simple, decent places to live, but it’s also because no one is against helping people help themselves, and that’s exactly how The Fuller Center works.

This is never more visible than when dozens of Fuller Center volunteers come together at a single site for a build — something we witnessed just a couple of weeks ago right here in Americus at the weeklong Millard Fuller Legacy Build.

“I know that these folks hold a great variety of political and religious beliefs and we could have had some vibrant debate over whose were the right ones,” David said to the crowd Thursday. “But we didn’t. All of that was put aside in order to get the houses built. When you have a Baptist and a Lutheran shingling a roof on a 90-degree day they aren’t likely to spend time arguing the merits of dunking over sprinkling. They are united in their mission just as we were as we came together to get some houses built. That’s the kind of people you want to spend time with.”

It may not get much attention on the television news shows — or the punditry panels that have taken the place of news — but folks of different backgrounds and political persuasions unite quite often. I see it all the time at The Fuller Center, and I know volunteers work together every day to support the good work of other nonprofits.

“Unity isn’t something that just happens,” David noted. “It is the result of good-hearted people doing good things, coming together to make the world better for all of God’s children. We see this happen so touchingly after a natural disaster, when people rush to the aid of those in need. We need to commit ourselves to being this supportive when there isn’t a disaster to deal with. We need to do it every day, and encourage our friends, our families and our churches to join in. Together there is nothing that we can’t do. Divided there is little that we can.”

While the theme of National Day of Prayer might be unity, none of the prayers I heard specifically asked for unity. Maybe that’s because we’ve already been given the tools and instruction to achieve it. It reminds of this old adage: If you ask God to move mountains, don’t be surprised if He hands you a shovel.

“As we leave this place of prayer today may we carry in our hearts to do as Jesus commanded, to love God and love one another,” David said in closing. “Jesus promised joy to those who do so, and there’s no better weapon against fear and division than a joyful heart. May God bless us all and may He continue to bless America.”

You want unity? So do I. So does virtually everyone in this great country. I pray that every American gets to work on it, with work being the key word there. Unity begins with you, and it begins with me. But it requires work for it to take shape.

So, care for those in need, Show love to everyone, whether you agree with them on other issues or not. If all else fails, grab a shovel. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

We’ve got everything we need to achieve unity. Pray that everyone sees the light.


 

Scenes from the National Day of Prayer in Americus:

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Indianapolis’ Fountain Square thriving seven years after 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build

Indianapolis’ Fountain Square thriving seven years after 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build

(Photo: Fuller Center of Central Indiana board member Ron Fisher holds a tuckered-out Kamar’e during a September 2011 build in Fountain Square. Kamar’e lives in one of the homes built during the 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build. The 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build returns to Indianapolis June 18-23.)

When The Fuller Center for Housing of Central Indiana agreed to host the 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis, the new covenant partner had been around for just one year and built just one home. Hosting hundreds of volunteers to build seven new homes in a one-week blitz meant that the new covenant partner would gain instant visibility.

As Fuller Center of Central Indiana President Chuck Vogt recalled, there was just one problem with hosting such a major build: They could not find a place to put the homes.

“We needed some property,” he said. “We’d just about exhausted everything we could find looking for property in one neighborhood when all of the sudden we got a phone call from somebody who said there’s a street called St. Paul Street and it sits between Churchman Avenue and St. Peter. We figured that was a God sign.”

While the local group may have seen that as a God sign, many other people saw the area in the neighborhood known as Fountain Square as nothing less than godforsaken.

“City officials told us that St. Paul Street was the armpit of the city and that it had a bunch of boarded-up and dilapidated houses with drugs and prostitution and rodents,” Vogt said.

Chuck Vogt and then-Mayor Greg Ballard in Fountain Square, a year after the 2010 Legacy Build.

Vogt visited the site, along with Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell, and they found that everything the city told them was true — and then some.

“When I first saw St. Paul Street, it was a panorama of urban decay with derelict and vacant houses and weed-covered empty lots — a perfect place for The Fuller Center to get to work!” said Snell, who recognized opportunity where others saw hopelessness, just as founder and friend Millard Fuller had done in countless similar places across the United States and around the world.

“And get to work, we did!” Snell continued, noting that The Fuller Center also rehabbed 15 homes in the neighborhood that week. “The street was transformed. The first rehab we dedicated had been a crack house, but the new and restored homes drove out the bad element.”

“When I first saw St. Paul Street, it was a panorama of urban decay with derelict and vacant houses and weed-covered empty lots — a perfect place for The Fuller Center to get to work!” — Fuller Center President David Snell

During the week of June 18-23, The Fuller Center of Central Indiana will host the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build, looking to resurrect yet another Indianapolis neighborhood with a five-home, weeklong blitz. Volunteers from across the nation will build four homes on North Bradley Avenue and another on nearby Denny Street. The build will kick off an extensive effort to revitalize the entire area just east of downtown and a couple of miles from Fountain Square.
(Click here to volunteer or to learn more.)

“It’s exactly the same kind of neighborhood as Fountain Square,” Vogt said, setting the stage for a similar neighborhood rebirth.

Fuller Center President David Snell talks with a reporter in Fountain Square one year after the 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build.

FOUNTAIN SQUARE TODAY, SEVEN YEARS LATER

For too long, when residents stepped out of their Fountain Square homes, they heard the sounds of fighting and gunshots. Then came the sounds of hammers, saws and drills at the 2010 Legacy Build. Now, the neighborhood is filled with the sounds of laughter from children playing in front yards and along the sidewalks.

Tiffany Parker’s sons Kendrick and Kamar’e are among the children whose laughter has filled the neighborhood for the past seven years. Ages 12 and 10 respectively, they now have a 10-month-old brother, Tyrelle.

“The boys are doing great!” Parker said. “It’s pretty cool to have a house that you can call your own and can go back to. I’m the only one out of my five brothers and sisters to have a house.”

The homeowner partners from the 2010 Legacy Build and the 2011 Labor of Love Build are not just neighbors, Parker added.

The home dedication for Tiffany Parker and sons in 2010.

“We all look out for each other, and our kids play with each other,” she said. “We take turns cooking dinners for each other. We take family trips together and go places together.”

“Everything is great, and all these great kids are growing up,” said Manuel Martinez, whose son Manny was just 2 years old at the time of the 2010 build and is now in third grade. “The kids are always out playing games and playing tag. We are so thankful for all the volunteers who helped all of these families.”

For all that a decent home has done for Parker, Martinez and their sons, the more than two dozen homes built or repaired by The Fuller Center has done perhaps even more for the surrounding community.

“Since the build, I have seen a steady growth of renovation and new builds in the area,” said Jennie Gibson, whose husband Chip spends most of his time in a wheelchair. “It definitely seems like it kind of kick-started a renewal in the area. There are more people around, more kids in the neighborhood. It seems to be growing.”

Chip & Jennie Gibson

Though it has been seven years since the 2010 Millard Fuller Legacy Build, Gibson still gets choked up when she thinks about the volunteers who came to help build their St. Paul Street home.

“We’re just so thankful because we have been so blessed with the house,” she said. “When we built the house, my husband could still walk. Within months after we moved in, he started deteriorating and is not walking hardly at all anymore. The ramps on the house have been such a blessing. He’s been able to come and go in the wheelchair, and that’s been so helpful.”

Parker, who now works as a parent involvement educator at Charles W. Fairbanks Elementary School, also remains grateful.

“I still remember the house being built and when the walls went up — that was my favorite part as it began to look like a real house and I just remember crying,” she said. “I was just thinking about all those folks the other day because I have a collage of pictures of everybody who worked on our house.”

The Martinezes in 2010

Martinez is thrilled that more Indianapolis families and another neighborhood are about to get a hand-up through the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build.

“We are so grateful, and I love The Fuller Center,” he said. “I’m always telling folks about it. I think it’s especially great that it provides an opportunity for people to volunteer to help each other. It’s a noble way to help, and it’s what America needs. I would encourage everyone to do it.”

 

Revisiting Fountain Square slideshow:

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Below: 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build announcement

Fuller Center’s ministry featured in BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s Building Trust video

Fuller Center’s ministry featured in BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s Building Trust video

Art Taylor, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, recently chatted by Skype with Fuller Center President David Snell. In the three-minute video, they talk about The Fuller Center’s work around the world and how meeting all 20 standards measured by the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance helps the ministry enhance our credibility and trust with supporters.

 

 

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Low overhead, increasing support result in 86 percent of expenses going directly to building

Low overhead, increasing support result in 86 percent of expenses going directly to building

Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell reported today that the most updated financial audit shows that 86 percent of Fuller Center spending for fiscal year 2016 went directly to program expenses — specifically building new homes and repairing existing homes in partnership with families in need across the United States and in 20 countries around the world.

While The Fuller Center’s roster of U.S. and international building partners has been growing rapidly in recent years — as has its base of donors and supporters — administrative and fundraising expenses have nevertheless remained low. That, Snell said, is intentional as the mission always has been to serve as many families as possible with a little administrative cost as possible.

“Our overhead numbers are set, which means that every extra dollar that comes in can go directly to program.” — Fuller Center President David Snell

The Fuller Center is on track for its most productive building year in 2016, yet the affordable housing ministry’s headquarters remains efficiently housed in Americus, Georgia, in the same modest building — The Wieland House — that was donated to Millard and Linda Fuller when they co-founded The Fuller Center in 2005. The commitment to good stewardship remains just as strong today.

“One of the harsh realities of the nonprofit world is that delivering good programs requires a certain amount of administrative and fundraising expense,” Snell said. “Folks love to give to program, but to overhead? Not so much.”

He added that every donor should demand transparency from the nonprofits they support and judge for themselves whether the nonprofit’s heart is in the right place. He said that transparency rating services like GuideStar (which has awarded The Fuller Center its highest-level Platinum rating) and charity evaluators like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (which recognizes The Fuller Center’s success in meeting all 20 of its standards) are helpful, but nonprofits should reach out to donors themselves instead of simply relying on people to do their own investigative work.

“Donors rightfully watch the ratios between program and non-program expenses closely, and being able to devote 86 percent of our dollars to getting houses built is most respectable,” said Snell, adding that, of course, he wants to see that percentage continue to rise. “The fact is that The Fuller Center is positioned to improve on that ratio as our income increases. Our overhead numbers are set, which means that every extra dollar that comes in can go directly to program.  We are sincerely grateful to our many partners whose gifts allow our programs to grow and still provide us with the funds to keep the lights on.”

The Fuller Center’s latest expense and revenue numbers for fiscal year 2016 can be found on page 8 of the affordable housing ministry’s complete case statement, which can be downloaded or viewed online at the link below.

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