Volunteers raising two new houses near Millard Fuller’s hometown

Volunteers raising two new houses near Millard Fuller’s hometown

Fuller Center for Housing founder Millard Fuller was born and raised in Lanett, Alabama. Adjacent to that city are Valley, Alabama, and West Point, Georgia. Two new houses are going up in each of those communities with work having started this month and completion slated for next month. Dozens of volunteers in Valley from First Baptist Church of Valley and New Birth Ministries needed only two days to raise the walls and get Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project’s 41st new house dried in. Meanwhile, the slab is being poured today in West Point on the CFCP’s 42nd new home, with Mayor Steve Tramell serving as the house captain when he leads a crew of volunteers from Norboard and Knauf as they dry in that home later this week. For the complete report by the Valley Times-News, click below:

Valley Times-News report

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:

 

Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project’s 40th new home exemplifies ministry, partnerships

Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project’s 40th new home exemplifies ministry, partnerships

(Photo: Homeowners Rodney and Carmen Lott with the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project’s Kim Roberts and Robin Pierre at Friday’s dedication.)

Just as Rodney and Carmen Lott tried to explain on Friday afternoon how the nearly complete new home just a few steps away from them would change their lives, they were interrupted. A florist was there to deliver a housewarming plant — a gift from their new next-door neighbor, Rachael.

They were getting used to such interruptions. Since volunteers began raising the walls on their new home just a few days earlier on June 18, 2018, the project was hit with a slew of positive surprises and unexpected blessings on a daily basis — in addition to all of the hard work and blessings that paved the way for the project in the first place.

The entire build was a conglomeration of everything that makes the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project one of the most thriving in the United States. Another neighbor rode down the street to the work site along with his poodle on a zero-turn mower each morning to deliver waters for the dozens of volunteers, most of whom came from the Chattahoochee Valley, but a team of 10 came from Pennsylvania — including house leaders Barry and Amy Stuck. Several area churches supported the build and sent youth volunteers. Other volunteers included men from New Birth Ministries’ transitional program. Nearby West Point Mayor Steve Tramell also was a house leader. And Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart grilled burgers for all of the volunteers on Friday’s dedication day. Dozens more, too many to list, also worked on the home.

In-kind gifts such as OSB from Norbord, shingles from World Vision, insulation (and employee volunteers) from Knauf, HVAC from 4 Seasons Heating and Air, countertops from A&X Granite & Marble, paint from Behr and enough Hardie Board for this home — plus two more planned for September — means the house will be even more affordable as the Lotts repay the costs of building the home with a zero-percent interest mortgage that will go toward helping others in the community get the same hand-up. The Lotts cannot wait to make their first payment.

“We realize how special this is — how much love this is,” Carmen said. “Everybody’s here. It’s been amazing. We didn’t quite realize what The Fuller Center did until we got involved. Now we’re excited about the next house and that we get to help.”

“It’s a fresh start,” added Rodney, who said they had been renters for the past ten years.”It’s a place to call our own, and it’ll be paid for in 20 years. I can’t even describe how humbling it is. We love The Fuller Center and encourage everyone to get involved.”

Chattahoochee Fuller Center President Curt Johnson said the teamwork and community involvement seen this week is no coincidence but the result of years of cultivating relationships and producing results. He added that this project’s homeowner partners have many friends throughout the community, only increasing the volunteer interest and financial support.

“We had so many people come together, so many businesses and so many industries, and a lot of our individual donors came forward when they found out who the homeowners were,” Johnson said.

“We so blessed to live in the community of Valley-West Point-Lanett,” CFCP Executive Director Kim Roberts said. “We’re called The Greater Valley for a reason. There’s a lot of great people here, a lot of great businesses. … It’s just been amazing to see, even with the heat, what can be done when a little bit of love is spread.”

Indeed, the heat was oppressive all week long, yet the volunteers and leaders fought through it and have the home nearly ready for the Lotts to move in — something they will do in July. Even though he and his Pennsylvania crew are more used to milder summer temperatures, house captain Barry Stuck had no complaints.

Pennsylvania crew

“Yeah, you’re tired and you’re sweaty, but it’s a sense of accomplishment that you’re really helping somebody, and the homeowners really appreciate it,” Stuck said. “It’s just the satisfaction of being able to work with a homeowner and just to help them maybe start a better life. They have a need, and we have a gift to be able to work with our hands. It’s just nice to be able to come and help them get a fresh start.”

“Oh, it has been sooo hot,” said Roberts, a lifelong Southerner. “We have been spoiled by the air-conditioner. But you know what — when you see people continue to work in this kind of weather, they love what they do.”

Like the CFCP’s Roberts, Rodney Lott is a double-amputee. The amputations were necessary to stop the spread of a bone disease.

“We’re soul buddies because we’re amputees,” he said of his relationship with Roberts, whom he first met at the CFCP’s ReUse Store in Lanett, Alabama, where items from furniture to tools to clothes can be found at huge discounts with profits benefiting the CFCP’s work. “I’ve known Kim for several years. Everything in our house came from the ReUse Store, just about.”

Also like Roberts, he deals with his condition with a sense of humor and a never-ending drive to serve others and share the love he has for everyone he meets.

“‘I fought a bone disease for years, and they were taking off a little at a time,” he recalls “We prayed about it and were sad for a minute, but it’s been a blessing. It’s allowed me to talk with people who are going to lose their leg or have lost a leg and don’t want to wear the prosthetics. God opened a door for me to talk with them.”

Each day of the blitz build — as with almost every Fuller Center build across the nation and around the world — began with a devotion. Friday was Rodney’s turn to deliver the devotion. He focused on one word: wanted.

“God doesn’t need us — He wants us,” Rodney said. “God didn’t need anybody here — He wanted these people here to show up to work. What a powerful word. We’ve seen all these people come out because they wanted to, because they love God. … It’s awesome just to be a child of God and just to know that there are people who love you.”

RELATED LINK: Valley Times-News editorial — “Millard Fuller would be proud of the CFCP”

Friday dedication day photo gallery:

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National Spelling Bee winning word an easy one for us: k-o-i-n-o-n-i-a

National Spelling Bee winning word an easy one for us: k-o-i-n-o-n-i-a

I’ve always been a decent speller and utterly dominated our weekly class spelling bees in fifth grade. The reward for winning was five lollipops, which meant I made friends very easily back then. Hey, if you can can’t win friends with personality, just bribe them with candy.

But the kids who compete in the annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee are incredible. I’m not even sure most of these are real words they have to spell — more like somebody spilled their Scrabble tiles on the floor … all of the tiles.

Amazingly enough, last night’s winning word was a piece of cake for me. I’ve seen it over and over and over for the past seven years. It was “koinonia” — a word of Greek origin that means “Christian fellowship or communion, with God or, more commonly, with fellow Christians.” I know that word because Millard and Linda Fuller started the world’s affordable housing movement a few miles from here at Koinonia Farm, an intentional Christian community founded by theologian Clarence Jordan. And Spelling Bee champ Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas, had no problem spelling the word, either.

Granted, I might not have had much luck in the other rounds of the bee, including trying to spell the word — “Bewusstseinslage” (again, clearly a Scrabble accident) — that knocked out the runner-up. As soon as the pronouncer gave me the word, I’d probably just say “gesundheit” and walk off the stage.

Anyway, check out this fun little 2-minute clip from ESPN, which airs the Bee, including the moment when Nemmani correctly spelled the winning word:

John J. Staton: Five decades of supporting Fuller ministry is all about hands-on faith

John J. Staton: Five decades of supporting Fuller ministry is all about hands-on faith

(Photo: Millard Fuller’s early work in Africa inspired the Rev. John J. Staton, who continues to support The Fuller Center for Housing’s work decades later.)


 

Editor’s note: We published this story on May 17, 2017. The Rev. Staton died on April 14 of this year, and we are re-running this story about a man who was a wonderful friend to the Fullers and a dedicated supporter of our affordable housing ministry through the years. The Rev. Staton’s obituary asks for memorial contributions to be made to The Fuller Center for Housing, which you can do in the Rev. Staton’s memory at this link.


 

When Millard and Linda Fuller founded The Fuller Center for Housing in 2005, retired pastor John J. Staton was among the earliest supporters. Of course, when the Fullers went to Africa in the early 1970s to test the concept of partnership housing, he supported them then.

Today, at age 88, he continues to give every month. He is especially proud to support a ministry that gave Millard Fuller some of the happiest years of his life as The Fuller Center gave him an opportunity to return and recommit to the grass-roots, Christian principles that he and Linda began with decades ago.

“It’s incredible what The Fuller center has done and accomplished since 2005, and I’m glad I’ve been able to play a role” Staton says from his home in Carmel, Indiana. “I get a real sense of joy every time I write a check to The Fuller Center, and it will always be so. I’ll continue to give to The Fuller Center as long as I live.”

“What The Fuller Center is doing is based on faith. Millard built things squarely on the Gospel and on faith. It appealed to me as a hands-on example of following Jesus.” — John J. Staton

Staton, who grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, was Ivy League-educated at Dartmouth College, where he planned to become a doctor before going into ministry and attending Union Theological Seminary in New York City. It was that faith journey that would acquaint him with a young Millard Fuller, who also had experienced an abrupt change of direction in his life after giving up his millionaire lifestyle to serve others.

“He was deeply inspired by Clarence Jordan,” Staton says of Fuller’s relationship with mentor theologian Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farm. “I used to correspond with him even though I’d never met him, and I gave him some money for the work in Africa. That was long before they’d started Habitat or anything else.”

After the Fullers returned to the United States in 1976 and founded Habitat for Humanity, Staton’s correspondence with Millard continued. Eventually, Staton would bring Millard to speak at churches in Central Indiana and hosted the Fullers at the home he shared with wife Shirley. (Shirley Staton passed away in 2001.) After retiring from the pulpit, the Statons even came to Americus, Georgia, to volunteer with Habitat — John in development and Shirley as a guide at the Global Village and Discovery Center.

“The more I got to know Millard and Linda during those three months with Habitat, the more I admired what they were doing,” Staton says. Though he was frustrated by the Fullers’ dismissal by Habitat, he was eager to support them in their return to grass-roots, Christian principles with The Fuller Center.

“A lot of my connections to The Fuller Center are built on top of a friendship with him,” Staton says. “I believed in his mission. What The Fuller Center is doing is based on faith. Millard built things squarely on the Gospel and on faith. It appealed to me as a hands-on example of following Jesus.”

While spreading the Gospel through Millard’s “Theology of the Hammer” and by putting faith into action are what most appeals to him in supporting The Fuller Center, he also knows the importance of growing up in a decent home. He grew up in a solid middle-class home during the Great Depression, a home his parents purchased with a $10,000 inheritance from his great-grandmother.

“That was the only home I knew until I was out of college,” Staton says. “It’s still in good condition, although that lawn seemed to be huge when I had to mow it as a child. Now it looks like a postage stamp.

“But I have nothing but happy memories of that home,” he adds. “I fell in love as a senior in high school with a girl who lived just six blocks from me. I got to know every pebble in the street riding my bike back and forth between our two houses. I married that girl (Shirley, to whom he was married for 50 years) after college. I had a very happy childhood living in that house.”

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LEGACY BUILD 2018: Volunteers talk about why they’ve come to serve others this week

LEGACY BUILD 2018: Volunteers talk about why they’ve come to serve others this week

(Craig Threatt of Americus is helping the Wright family build their new home at the 2018 Millard Fuller Legacy Build.)

On Monday, we told you about some of the international volunteers who have come from places such as Nicaragua, Peru and Haiti to help Americans build homes at the 2018 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Americus, Georgia.

On Tuesday, we chatted via Facebook Live with the leaders of our newest partners from Maunabo, Puerto Rico. Fuller Center for Housing Global Builders teams are lined up to help the area hardest hit by Hurricane Maria, but Milagros Lebron and Eneida Santiago have been busy this week helping their fellow Americans build new homes here in Georgia.

Today, we’re visiting with some of the volunteers who have come from various states — as well as folks from right here in Americus — to find out the answer to one simple question that we put to each of them: “Why are you serving here in Americus this week at the Legacy Build?” Here are their responses:

Roger Theobald (Las Vegas, Nevada)

“Because I like the people who work for The Fuller Center — they’re good people who’ve got their heads in the right place to help the communities, and that’s hard to find these days. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s good work. You sleep good at night. Work is a good thing. I like to stay busy and do good work instead of just wandering around. It’s more important to be part of a solution than a problem.”

Wendy Peacock (Americus, Georgia)

“It’s a way to give back to our community and encourage families who live here locally that they are part of a larger community of love and concern.”

 

Diane Bies (Evansville, Indiana)

“I just love it. It’s amazing how good it makes you feel to be here with all of these fantastic people. This is truly a vacation to be able to do this. This recharges me for the rest of the year. I’m not a beach person. This is where my heart is, for sure, and I’m happiest when I’m here. I really am. I called home and told my mother’s friend that I was on a construction site building a house for the week. She said that didn’t make her very happy. But I said, oh, I am in Heaven! She said, ‘OK, then, I’m happy!'”

Craig Threatt (Americus, Georgia)

“I’m here to help build these houses, and I know the Wright family. It’s a good process. It’s coming along, and it’s going to look real nice. I have some construction experience, but I’m still learning as I go.”

Joel Palmquist (River Falls, Wisconsin)

“I had the pleasure of being able to meet with and work with Millard years ago, and this is the first Legacy Build that I’ve been on. It’s just a chance to honor his legacy. It’s my first Legacy Build, but I’d volunteered before in Americus, so it’s kind of neat to come back and see after 25 to 30 years the changes and maybe being able to see some of the folks from back then, too. This is the heart of it.”

Maryann Glass (Malvern, Pennsylvania)

“My motivation is for the people to have a good home to live in. I rented a house for many, many years, and I think it’s very important for you to have your own home. It gives you more of a sense of pride.”

Michael Oliphant (Hayesville, North Carolina)

“I wanted to join a blitz build because it’s something I’ve heard about forever, and I’ve never been involved in trying to build a house so quickly, so it’s a learning experience for me. I plan to help lead a trip to Nicaragua (with the Fuller Center Global Builders program), and have a good group forming for that. It’s all about having a good time while you’re building a house and helping a family have a good place to live.”

Roger Werner (St. Johns, Florida)

“I came to give back. I’ve been very blessed with everything that the Lord’s given me and the skill that He’s given me in being a carpenter. I get more out of this than I give.”

Annette Metz (Cumming, Georgia)

“Why are we here?! Because we love it! You get the satisfaction of knowing that you finished a project or got it as far as you could get it and that somebody will enjoy it.”

 

Peter Meyer (Plainview, Minnesota)

“Life’s been good to me. I’ve had good health, and I’ve worked and made quite a little money in my life, and I don’t need any more, and I’m retired. So, why not help somebody else?”

 

View photo galleries from the
2018 Millard Fuller Legacy Build here.

LEGACY BUILD 2018: Family sees love pour in from all corners during home build

LEGACY BUILD 2018: Family sees love pour in from all corners during home build

(Photo: Legacy Build homeowner partners James and Mildred Wright with their sons Joshua (left) and Jeremy)

Christian theologian Clarence Jordan — who inspired Millard and Linda Fuller with the partnership principles that drive The Fuller Center for Housing’s success — once wrote: “What the poor need is not charity, but capital; not case workers but co-workers.”

Fuller Center homeowner partners repay the costs of building simple, decent homes on terms they can afford, over time, with no interest charged and no profit made. So, it is an empowering hand-up but not a gift. It is not charity in the sense of a handout. It is enlightened charity that uplifts.

Fuller Center homeowner partners also must contribute hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” in the building of their homes. James and Mildred Wright — along with their teenage sons Joshua and Jeremy — are putting in plenty of sweat equity this week at the 2018 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Americus. Fortunately, they have plenty of co-workers in the process as volunteers from across the nation and a few other countries are working alongside them.

“It’s wonderful,” James said Tuesday morning as the second day of building got under way. “It’s a wonderful thing that people come from all over the world to help you, to help you improve your living conditions. If I need to go somewhere to help someone, that’s what I’ll do because it’s the right thing to do — to show love. There’s not enough love like they used to be. Love will get you a long way, and that’s all I see around here — love.”

James Wright digs where his family’s front porch will be.

That love is coming from co-workers like Sophie Luedi, Millard and Linda Fuller’s granddaughter, a Florida native who now is attending school in California. It comes from as far away from Peru with the help of volunteers like Zenon Colque and Vitaliano Enquiquez. It comes from Maunabo, Puerto Rico — in the area of the island hardest hit by Hurricane Maria — with volunteers Milagros Lebron and Eneida Santiago. More love comes from New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Virginia, Minnesota and other places, including locals from Americus, Georgia.

All that love means that the Wrights will no longer live at the mercy of landlords.

“Our current living situation is not a place that a person really wants to be,” James said. “We thank God for The Fuller Center helping us build a house. The place we were renting from other people, they weren’t keeping it up. It was raining in the house, with roaches in the house and mice. So the situation was real bad.”

As soon as the family gets settled into the home, they will concentrate on their next step upward — getting the boys enrolled in technical school to learn a trade. He credits all the love coming their way and the improvements in their lives to a renewed commitment to Jesus and living right.

“They’re very excited that we’ll have something new and different to live in,” he said of the two hard-working teens, who will continue to live with them until they are self-sufficient in their careers. “This is a real improvement. Once you get to know Jesus, you start living right. They say if you live better, you do better. And that’s our experience right now.”

LEGACY BUILD 2018: International leaders enhance perspective by volunteering in U.S.

LEGACY BUILD 2018: International leaders enhance perspective by volunteering in U.S.

(Photo: Haiti’s Geral Joseph with Peru’s Vitaliano Enriquez)

Volunteers with the Fuller Center’s Global Builders program have contributed greatly to the home-building efforts in countries around the world — including such places as Haiti, Peru and Nicaragua. Representatives of those three Fuller Center for Housing international partners are in Americus, Georgia, this week helping Americans build homes for a change.

Geral Joseph, who has done an outstanding job leading The Fuller Center’s work in Pigñon, Haiti, is enjoying a week of not being the boss as a volunteer at the 2018 Millard Fuller Legacy Build.

“I’m very happy to come and see how the volunteers feel when they come down to Haiti.” Joseph said. “It’s the first time that I’m volunteering to build a house. It’s like giving something back to the American people because mostly they are coming down to help the Haitians. I think it’s my time to come help build a house.

“It’s very different,” he added, “but I wanted to feel like someone who comes to help as a volunteer. I think this will help me change a lot things because I’m coming to learn, too.”

Jose Santos

One thing Joseph learned is that it can get cold in Americus in April as the workday started with temperatures around 40 degrees. Jose Santos Rodriguez, who helps lead The Fuller Center’s work in Nicaragua could feel Joseph’s pain and then some.

“I’m freezing to death,” said Santos, whose first visit to the United states, first plane ride and first trip out of Nicaragua was last April at the Higher Ground on the Bayou blitz build in Hammond, Louisiana. He was happy to return to the United States for another round of build — and he was even happier when the sun began to warm the job site by the time lunch rolled around.

“At the beginning, it was hard, but it’s getting nicer,” he said of the weather, adding that he is happy to return the favor after hundreds of Americans have come to help his homeland. “The Americans have helped a lot to build our community.”

It also is a practical learning experience.

“This is very different than building in Nicaragua because we build with blocks and concrete,” he said. “Here, you use a lot of wood, so I’m learning a lot. It’s also important because you learn how to work together, as brothers and friends. You show us how to work as friends and brothers and improve the community.”

Zenon Colque

Zenon Colque’s relationship with Millard and Linda Fuller goes back to the early 1980s, and he now leads The Fuller Center’s work in Peru. His last Legacy Build volunteer experience was in 2011 in Minden, Louisiana. This time, he brought along a Peruvian colleague, Vitaliano Enriquez, who handles accounting for the covenant partner in Peru.

“I came to work in the U.S. to understand the feeling when Americans go to other countries, what they need when they go to foreign countries and know whether we are prepared in Peru for them,” Colque said. “This is just the first day, but I’m sure that in a week I will understand better. When we receive groups from America and other countries, we will be much better prepared.”

Colque’s experience with Millard and Linda Fuller’s affordable housing ministry dates back to the early 1980s, and he has spent much time in the United States. While he speaks English well, Enriquez knows almost no English but is finding that it is not a huge barrier on the job site.

“It’s very satisfying for me to do this kind of work — it’s not my everyday job,” Enriquez said through Colque, who is serving as his interpreter for the week. “It may not be easy, but there are ways to communicate with others using the hands and the face.”

By the time these Legacy Build homes are dedicated at 4 p.m. Friday, they will be joined by leaders from The Fuller Center’s new partner in Puerto Rico and our leadership from El Salvador.

View a photo gallery from Monday’s action at the 2018 Millard Fuller Legacy Build.