SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “partnership”

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “partnership”

(Photo: Group shot from the first day of the 2017 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis.)

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about terms that define how The Fuller Center for Housing works to help families have simple, decent places to live. On Sunday, we’ll wrap up this series with a look at the meaning of “faith-based.”


Whom do you see in this group photo from June’s Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Indianapolis? If you’re well-acquainted and heavily involved with The Fuller Center for Housing, you can probably list a whole bunch of familiar names you see — David and Sheilla Snell, Chuck and Joyce Vogt, Jeff Cardwell, LeRoy Troyer, Chuck Lee, Bob Pack, Mary Lou Bowman, Doug Miller, and … well, if I listed every name I see in this picture I wouldn’t be able to write about today’s topic — “partnership.”

For those of you who might be less familiar with The Fuller Center, let me give you a general overview of who’s in that picture — a neighborhood association president, homeowners, volunteers, house captains, nonprofit executives, political leaders, city representatives, church members and youth from the Church of the Nazarene, whose General Assembly coincided with our Legacy Build.

All of these good folks came together in partnership to help five families have simple, decent places to live in the neighborhood of Tuxedo Park, a blitz build that marked a turning point for a once-thriving east Indy area that had been on the decline for decades. No more.

You can’t build five homes in a week without a lot of partners. You can’t build 200 homes in Haiti, El Salvador and Nigeria without partners. You can’t build and repair hundreds of homes in Louisiana, Kentucky and Georgia without partners. Building a single home takes partners.

The Fuller Center’s affordable housing ministry sprung from theologian Clarence Jordan’s teachings at Koinonia Farm in the 1960s, where his final days were spent sharpening the concepts of partnership economics, including partnership housing. One particular line from his writings is oft-cited by The Fuller Center:

Clarence Jordan

What the poor need is not charity, but capital; not case workers but co-workers.”

That directly explains our partnership with homeowners. They are not charity cases. They work alongside our volunteers and repay the costs of materials on terms they can afford, over time, with no interest charged or profit made. Their payments go to help others in their community get the same hand-up, and in the process they become givers themselves.

But we have a multitude of partners beyond homeowners. Because we do not accept government funds (and the strings attached) for building, we rely on the generous partnership of our donors. We partner with skilled and unskilled-but-willing volunteers to build and repair homes, thus keeping the costs as manageable as possible. We partner with like-minded organizations such as People Helping People in El Salvador and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in Texas. The local groups who do our work in the field in the United States and abroad are not called affiliates or chapters but are referred to as covenant partners. We do not dictate to them how to do their work. We see ourselves as partners with the same mission — to help families in need have simple, decent places to live.

Perhaps our most important partnership is with the church. The Fuller Center is not a church but is a servant of the church. We provide a vehicle for churches to put faith into action in a real, tangible, difference-making way. Churches also host teams of Fuller Center volunteers, host our fundraising Bicycle Adventure cyclists across the nation, send team on U.S. and Global Builders trips and often help feed our volunteers. We appreciate every way churches partner with us.

Church attendance and affiliation has been steadily declining in the United States for decades. We could debate ad infinitum the reasons for the decline. But at The Fuller Center we have seen time and time again a church become enthused and reinvigorated after tackling a Fuller Center project. Maybe it’s because Jesus was a carpenter, but there’s just something about swinging a hammer and pounding a nail that drives home the importance of loving thy neighbor. At the end of the day, you can look at the structure and enjoy the feeling of a job well done. More importantly, you can look on the faces of people to whom you’ve extended God’s love. That feeling is hard to beat, and it’s something you want to experience time and time again.

We are always seeking new partners who want to express God’s love by helping families have simple, decent places to live. If you want to know more about how you can partner with The Fuller Center for Housing, be sure to email us or call 229-924-2900.

Homeowner partners embrace opportunity to pay it forward after receiving hand-up

Homeowner partners embrace opportunity to pay it forward after receiving hand-up

(This is part of a regular series of blog posts related to The Fuller Center’s #MoreSmilesFewerShacks 2016 year-end campaign.)


Perhaps no word is more important in the lexicon of The Fuller Center for Housing than that word, partnership. It’s not just a word bandied about with no real meaning — it’s the very essence of how The Fuller Center helps families with an empowering hand-up.

Our homeowner partners work alongside our volunteers, contributing sweat equity in the building and repairing of houses. We’ve had wheelchair-bound, blind, deaf and elderly all put in more than their expected share of sweat equity on job sites. In instances where someone may be physically incapable of sweat equity, their family puts in the hours. By contributing sweat equity, our homeowner partners retain their pride and an enhanced feeling of ownership.

They also are expected to pay it forward, literally. Those who build new homes in partnership with us repay the costs of the work on terms they can afford, over time, with no interest charged and no profit made. Even with insurance and property taxes factored into their payments, it’s usually hundreds less than an amount for which they could rent a substandard apartment — or sometimes, even a room! And, those payments go into a Fund for Humanity to help others in their local community get the same kind of hand-up into decent housing. This recycles the generosity that begat the initial project, and it transforms the homeowner partners into givers themselves.

Those are the expectations. However, what we see from most Fuller Center homeowners is a commitment that goes above and beyond what is merely expected. They don’t pay it forward out of guilt — they do it out of the pure joy of giving back. They’ve seen both sides of giving and receiving and learned that the Greater Blessing as promised in the Bible — that it is more blessed to give — is absolutely true.

What we see from most Fuller Center homeowners is a commitment that goes above and beyond what is merely expected. They don’t pay it forward out of guilt — they do it out of the pure joy of giving back.

Our twice-yearly newsletter went out to many of you last month. Mainly, it’s simply a communications tool, a way to update folks on the good work going on across the U.S. and around the world. Naturally, for those so inclined, there is a response envelope for those wishing to donate to the cause. Over the years, we’ve received everything from a nickel to checks for thousands of dollars in those envelopes. Once again. we received a gift from Celeste Allen of Shreveport, La.

Celeste Allen

Celeste Allen

Ms. Allen was one of our first homeowners, partnering with us 10 years ago in Shreveport’s Allendale neighborhood, an area once so blighted that local authorities warned us not to work there. Dozens of Fuller Center homes later, it’s now an area of choice for families. Few are happier to see the neighborhood thrive than is Ms. Allen, who may not be rich but has a wealth of generosity and good will.

“Well, now, Allendale has one of the lowest crime rates in the city,” she said. “And our neighbors, we’re not just neighbors; we’re a family of people here. We look out for one another and we help one another.”

Some pay it forward with labor. When I first met Camilo Leal at the 2013 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Atlantic City, N.J., he didn’t know what to think of all the volunteers who traveled from all parts of the country to help his family — and more than 20 others — repair their homes after SuperStorm Sandy. As one of the many residents who had been completely overlooked and forgotten in disaster assistance of previous months, he wondered what the “catch” was. By the end of the week, he understood why they had come and was in tears.

At the last three Millard Fuller Legacy Builds in Louisville, Ky., Shreveport, La., and Valley, Ala., Camilo was there, using his precious vacation time and paying his own way to help others in the same way those volunteers had helped his family. He wears his emotions on his sleeve with a constantly beaming smile interrupted by occasional tears of joy and gratitude.

Camilo Leal

Camilo Leal

“I think the emotion is the same,” Camilo told me in Louisville of what he felt while receiving help and then what he felt in helping others. “It fills your chest, it fills your heart. It feels good to be with people who have a common goal that is helping, making sure that everyone has the opportunity to call a place home.”

Thad Harris, meanwhile, is an all-of-the-above kind of guy. He’s a Fuller Center homeowner partner, a supporter, a local board member, a spokesperson and a construction leader for teams of U.S. Builders who come to work with the Americus-Sumter Fuller Center for Housing. Requiring Thad to perform 350 sweat equity hours from his wheelchair might seem onerous to some, but Thad embraced the opportunity, which he says “woke something up” inside of him.

“Something inside of me thought I wasn’t good enough, that I was inadequate,” Thad once told me. “But after I got the house, it took me to another level in life. It gave me self-esteem. I’m just normal now. And I’m grateful. But it wouldn’t be achievable if not for The Fuller Center.”

We are thankful for everyone who supports this ministry, but we are especially thankful for those who accepted a hand-up in partnership, then paid it forward above and beyond expectations. At some point, Ms. Allen, Camilo and Thad were looked upon by others as charity cases. When we extended a hand in partnership, we discovered inspiring, giving people.

If those three folks are “charity cases,” the world could use a lot more of them.


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Thad Harris, with a group of U.S. Builders from The Ohio State University.

Thad Harris, with a group of U.S. Builders from The Ohio State University.



RELATED VIDEO: Camilo Leal talks about paying it forward at the 2014 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Louisville: