Alaskans Bob and Leslie Bell eager to lead first Global Builders trip to Papua New Guinea

Alaskans Bob and Leslie Bell eager to lead first Global Builders trip to Papua New Guinea

(Photo: Fuller Center for Housing Global Builders Coordinator Maegan Pierce, Registrar Stacey Goolsby, Bob and Leslie Bell and Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola during the Bells’ visit to Fuller Center headquarters in Americus on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017)

Bob and Leslie Bell ought to be the most famous folks from the small, coastal hamlet of Homer, Alaska — also known as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World” and “the end of the road” as the last stop on Alaska’s Sterling Highway.

Instead, that recognition probably goes to their neighbors, the Hillstrand family from The Discovery Channel reality TV show “Deadliest Catch” or to singer Jewel Kilcher (“Who Will Save Your Soul,” “You Were Meant for Me”), who rose to instant stardom in 1995 with her album “Pieces of You,” still one of the best-selling debut albums of all time, having gone 12-times platinum.

The Bells, though, have been volunteering in the affordable housing ministry for more than 20 years and have visited 75 countries and led 48 international volunteer build trips. These two former teachers, though, are more interested in service than stardom and in faith-building more than fame-building.

“We’ve got too many things to do to watch TV,” Bob said with a chuckle during a visit to The Fuller Center for Housing’s international headquarters in Americus, Georgia, on Thursday. “I’ve got more important things to do.”

“We don’t even have TV, for one,” added Leslie, who taught Jewel in middle school.

Among the important things the Bells have to do is to plan next month’s first-ever Fuller Center Global Builders trip to Papua New Guinea, one of this affordable housing ministry’s newest and most exotic international covenant partners. Fortunately, the Bells not only have loads of experience leading international volunteer trips with Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center, but also the 75 countries they have visited includes previous visits to Papua New Guinea. In fact, years ago they trained Petrus Martin, who now serves as the coordinator for The Fuller Center’s operations in Papua New Guinea.

“Martin is an intense person in that he is so committed to his community as a whole,” Leslie said. “He is going to make this a community that thrives. He’s very Christian, very compassionate, and he has a way of motivating other people in the community. He’s not a preacher, but he is like a New Guinea version of Millard Fuller. He doesn’t take no for an answer, and he doesn’t think anything is impossible.”

The Fuller Center Global Builders team led by Bob and Leslie Bell will be partnering next month with the Korong family from the Panapai Village of Kavieng District, New Ireland Province, to build a safe, new home.

The Bells will be leading a team of at least 16 volunteers on next month’s trip to build a home in partnership with the Korong family in the Panapai Village off Kavieng District in New Ireland Province. Sam, a woodworker and furniture maker, and Harriet, who sells produce and baked goods, have longed for a decent home in which to raise their daughters since their former house made of untreated logs and bamboo recently had to be torn down.

Bob and Leslie both said that based upon their previous trips to Papua New Guinea and the motivation provided by Martin they know the Korong family and others in the community will be heavily involved in working alongside Fuller Center volunteers.

“If you just mention anything, it will be done,” Leslie said. “They just jump right to it. They love to teach other people. They love to learn. Interaction is like in their DNA. They don’t stand back or watch. They’re not bystanders. They are a people that are involved in what they are doing. Everybody is involved. It’s not pushed onto them — it’s just what they do.”

Venturing to far-away places like Papua New Guinea may seem inconceivable to people used to the modern conveniences of bustling American cities with a Starbucks seemingly on every corner, but 50 years of Alaskan living on the shores of Kachemak Bay have the Bells prepared to handle all the ups and downs that come with international volunteering in impoverished villages.

“To live in Alaska, you have to be pretty independent,” Bob said. “There’s a lot of things you have to be able to overcome, so you’re used to problem-solving. You don’t wait for somebody else to figure it out for you. I think a lot of that transfers to going to other countries. If you’re in another country, you need to figure things out. And if you’re standing back and waiting for somebody to figure it out for you, you’re going to be waiting a long time.”

“To live in Alaska, you have to be pretty independent. There’s a lot of things you have to be able to overcome, so you’re used to problem-solving. You don’t wait for somebody else to figure it out for you.” — Bob Bell

One thing they have figured out, time and time again, is that these trips are part of a spiritual journey — their own and the volunteers who join them on these missions, something Leslie said she and Bob learned directly from Millard Fuller, who met the Bells while speaking to churches in Alaska and then encouraged them to come to Americus for a volunteer stint, where their love of international service was nurtured and flourished.

Leslie said that the volunteers on this trip are not just fulfilling needs in a community but are nourishing their own spiritual needs, adding that morning devotions before each work day are a crucial component of their trips. They also believe that by planning and organizing such trips that they are merely opening doors for other service-minded people to walk through.

“This one trip is part of their spiritual growth — it’s not a one-shot, been there, done that, got the t-shirt kind of thing,” Leslie said. “Our morning devotions is a really important time because that’s where we connect, where we share not just things that inspire us but share our questions, share why we’re doing what we’re doing and what draws us here. … I know that 100 percent of the people who go on our trips are going because of something that they need to grow and understand why they do what they do. If you give them an opportunity to learn that, it helps the teams be successful.”

“We want their experiences to be personal,” she added. “We’re not there to make their experience our experience. We want them to have the opportunity to build a relationship with the homeowner or be one-on-one with the community’s kids so that when they leave, it’s their place. .. It’s about setting up opportunities for them to grow and learn on their own.”

become a global builder

Harvey update: Disaster ReBuilders prepping to bring in Fuller Center volunteer teams

Harvey update: Disaster ReBuilders prepping to bring in Fuller Center volunteer teams

The waters are receding in east Texas, and the waterlogged area is beginning to transition from emergency mode to the dirty, extensive work of long-term recovery. Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders leader Bart Tucker said Tuesday that his group anticipates having a base camp established soon in the Texas City area, where they hope to host volunteer teams as soon as possible — perhaps by the end of September.

This work comes on top of the disaster work the ReBuilders and the Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing is doing in Louisiana, which was hit with historic flooding in 2016. For now, the ReBuilders are needing people willing to sweat and get dirty mucking out homes hit hardest by flooding from Hurricane Harvey but will need their most skilled volunteers headed to their base in Denham Springs, Louisiana, to deal with ongoing recovery efforts there.

Fuller Center President David Snell was updated on the situation Tuesday morning and said that The Fuller Center for Housing will set up registration for volunteer teams to head to Texas as soon as possible.

“The waters are receding and leaving more hardship behind,” said Snell, who has worked alongside Fuller Center volunteers in Atlantic City after SuperStorm Sandy and in Louisiana, as well as in Haiti, Armenia and other places impacted by natural disasters. “Thousands of houses in the Houston area were flooded and will require that those houses be emptied so that damaged drywall and insulation can be removed. There is urgency in this as dangerous mold will quickly set in.

“The Fuller Center will be a part of this effort,” he continued. “Volunteer teams are lining up to help.  We have folks on the ground who are helping assess where our work will be most helpful, especially with poorer families who have no one else to turn to.  Things are moving quickly — we’ll have more updates soon.”

Be sure to follow The Fuller Center’s Facebook page for updates and to bookmark for news about volunteer efforts in east Texas.

More on Harvey and other work in our September update:

Give to the disaster recovery fund

Global Builders program now seeking applications for trip coordinator position

Global Builders program now seeking applications for trip coordinator position

Each year The Fuller Center for Housing’s Global Builders program sends dozens of teams to countries around the world to build homes alongside local laborers and families in need.

From exotic Asian destinations like Nepal, Thailand and Sri Lanka to Africa to closer-to-home nations like Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia and Peru, our volunteers help families have simple, decent places to live — all while forming or strengthening teamwork skills and seeing the world off the well-trodden tourist paths.

Are you interested in coordinating these trips from our affordable housing ministry’s international headquarters in historic Americus, Georgia? The Fuller Center is accepting applications for a full-time trips coordinator to continue the strong growth of this important program.

The ideal candidate will have a passion for this housing ministry, an appreciation of different cultures, strong organizational skills and a willingness to travel. Trip coordinators get to experience world travel themselves, usually making 2-3 international trips per year. The position comes with a modest salary. The complete list of responsibilities and job description can be found at the link below, from which you also can apply.

trip coordinator posting and
application link at

50 college students, 5 different communities and 1 amazing spring break

50 college students, 5 different communities and 1 amazing spring break

For the second straight year, a huge team of Wittenberg University students on spring break drove to the Southeast last week — not to hit the beaches but to hit nails … a whole lot of nails.

Fifty came from the Springfield, Ohio, school for alternative spring breaks last week — driving hundreds of miles before splitting into five groups working with Fuller Center for Housing covenant partners in Atlanta, Perry, Americus and Albany in Georgia and Tallahassee in Florida.

Here is a location-by-location glance at the students’ stops along with additional links to media reports and more:



atl-group-2Board member Jackie Goodman made sure that students got an overview of the many sights, sounds and tastes of the Atlanta area, while Director Mark Galey kept the students busy during the day, including a project for a Jewish family. At a time when anti-Semitic acts have been rising, Galey was glad that the students could express their Christian love for others while witnessing The Fuller Center’s commitment to ecumenicalism and service to all of God’s people.

“We had an incredibly great experience last week, working in partnership with students from Wittenberg University as our Christian ministry made needed repairs to the home of a Jewish family whom we had learned about through a member of their synagogue,” Goodman said. “The synagogue member was a member of NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) who knew Mark Galey through that organization, and brought the family’s needs to our attention.  Construction management students from Gwinnett Tech joined us to help supervise the project.”

“The homeowners (husband, wife, and two teenagers) worked alongside the volunteers all week,” Goodman added. “The husband, who has been employed in a low-wage job at Rite-Aid for more than 20 years, was able to take a week of vacation in order to be able to help, and the wife, who is a seamstress and works at home, also assisted with painting and repairs. I think I speak for the entire group when I say we did our very best to show God’s love in action, and I think the homeowners felt the love! The Atlanta Fuller Center appreciates the hard work of the Wittenberg students and looks forward to our future association with Wittenberg and other groups who are committed to helping improve living conditions for families in need.”

Click here to view Atlanta participant Jasmine Bryant’s
outstanding video about the group’s experience in Georgia.



perry-group-1In Perry, eight students worked with local President Warren Johnson and two local volunteers — Coy Goff and Michael Boden — to repair the roofs of two elderly women, including Velma Robinson, who has lived in the same house all of her life.

“There are some good people in the world,” Ms. Robinson said as the students scraped off old shingles a day before replacing them with CertainTeed shingles provided by World Vision. “It’s a blessing for these kids to give up their free time to come help somebody like this when they could be doing something else. And I do appreciate them, very much.”

“We built two roofs but I think the best part is just the community that we’ve been hanging out with in Perry,” student Becky Schmitthenner said. “It was a great way to spend our spring break instead of just partying on a beach. It was so meaningful.”

Jenn Downing also worked with the Perry Fuller Center during her 2016 spring break. She could have headed for the beach this year but instead chose to be a team leader and return to Perry.

“This is so much more rewarding,” she said. “You’re still with your friends, you get to meet amazing people in a new place and you know that someone benefits from what you’re doing. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Fuller Center Director of Communications Chris Johnson said the students’ visit helps the small-town covenant partner garner media attention (including this front-page centerpiece photo in the Macon Telegraph), renews the energy of local volunteers and enhances relationships with church partners, including First Baptist Church of Perry, which hosted the students in a vacant house on its property.

Perry’s Houston Home Journal newspaper published an
article about the students’ work that you can read at
this link.

High-resolution photo gallery.

Chris Johnson, a columnist for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer,
used the students’ visit as inspiration for his latest article.



americus-group-1In Americus — also home to The Fuller Center’s international headquarters — the students worked on a couple of different projects, including restoring a donated home to decent condition and helping transform a space above the Americus-Sumter Fuller Center’s headquarters into a transitional housing space.

“I got here thinking that we were just going to be painting and flooring, and then they showed us this place and told us we would be building an apartment,” Jessica Skoglund said. “Seeing this entire apartment come together has been the best experience I’ve ever had on a mission trip, honestly.”

Rachael Fink appreciated being able to work alongside people like Thad Harris, an Americus-Sumter Fuller Center homeowner partner who also has become a local board member and one of The Fuller Center’s most prolific volunteers, inspiring hundreds of people while rolling around job sites in his wheelchair.

“Ive learned so much about the community and I’ve absolutely loved hearing stories about the people who work with the Fuller Center,” she said. “It’s just been an incredible experience. You can’t make a difference without knowing the story and knowing other people’s backgrounds.”

You can view multiple slideshows of the students’
work on the Americus-Sumter Facebook page.



albany-group-2In Albany, students saw the widespread damage caused by two bouts with January storms, the second of which spawned a devastating tornado.

While helping Ricardo Miguel’s family repair damage to their storm-damaged mobile home, the Wittenberg students also helped put a major initiative on the map, sparking media coverage of Albany Twin Storms Relief. Also known as “A2,” it is an effort to help families affected by the storm who lack adequate housing insurance or who have been overlooked by FEMA efforts. The Albany Area Fuller Center is a primary partner in the effort.

“This is amazing,” Miguel told the Albany Herald newspaper. “It is amazing to know that there are people in your community willing to help out when things are bad. I am overwhelmed.”

Speaking to WFXL-TV, Metta Devine-Quin said, “It’s a lot of damage. I have seen it before, and I sympathize with all of the people down here. Anything that we can do to help them, I just want to be able to do anything I can.”

See the complete story in the Albany Herald newspaper.

View the WFXL=TV report.

Facebook photo gallery with more than 180 pictures.



tallahassee-group-1In Tallahassee, Florida, students worked on five homes in a low-income community. Though most had little to no construction experience, they learned that it’s the passion for helping others that makes a difference.

“What I learned was that regardless of your previous skills, anyone can contribute anything to any cause, so that was a really rewarding experience for me,” Alex Quillin said.

Their efforts not only improved homes in the area, but they provided inspiration and hope for the residents — including some of the youngest residents.

“I was not expecting it to be this amazing,” Lydia Newton said. “We met a little girl who was living in a trailer. She was helping me and she told me she wanted to be like me when she grew up. She wanted to wear the apron and the gloves and help out and make a difference. It was really amazing.”

View WCTV’s report on the students’ efforts.


Your donations make
these projects possible

Experience team-building like
never before on a U.S. Builders trip




Volunteer writes of ‘gestaltism’ and ‘unending gratitude’ after Nicaragua trip

Volunteer writes of ‘gestaltism’ and ‘unending gratitude’ after Nicaragua trip

Roughly two weeks ago, 12 Americans, a Canadian, and a Brit arrived in a new country.  They represented different religions, world views, and occupations.  With ages spanning a range of 60 years, they would converge on a little-known village in Nicaragua called Las Peñitas.  Just over a week later, both the village and the 14 who were once strangers were changed in one way or another forever.

By Scott Brand

By Scott Brand

They say a true understanding of history requires time and context.  Meaning, it is nearly impossible to see or comprehend the impact of a change until there is enough distance from it to see it with a broader perspective.  This is our story from the perspective of one of those 14.

We all arrived with the best of intentions — aware of our differences, and wanting to ensure inclusion was evident.  At first it was overt, asking each for input and all willing to make concessions to show support for the new strangers in our lives.  We didn’t know that by the end, there would be no effort required.  That, in a way, 14 would become an extended family, with a common understanding and respect for the other.  Yet, when that first day of work began, it would have been difficult to predict that outcome with any confidence.

My journey began at the school, where the site was dirt, large boulders, and debris.  Our first task would be to remove the several hundred pound boulders.  We would try different techniques.  Dig with shovels, use pry bars, and get in each others way quite a bit.  About thirty minutes later, after several failures, we achieved our first goal and celebrated with high fives.  Though the celebration was short-lived as shovels and pick axes were distributed to build a trench that would be two feet wide, a foot and half deep, and roughly 35 linear feet.  No small task when considering the make up of the ground.  The minority of which was actual dirt, occupied primarily by dense clay and rock.  This would make up the majority of the remainder of our day.  Our first day.  The get to know each other day.  The light day.  It would end an hour and half later than expected, with just 20 minutes of daylight remaining and would finish with a fully poured concrete foundation.  While all of this was happening, the remainder of our team was laying block, mixing concrete and sifting in 90 degree heat to build a home roughly 100 yards away.  A humble description of the work our group wouldn’t come to understand until the following day.  

Each of the following days would have team members rotating to different sites, swapping for fresh legs and giving others an opportunity to share a moment in the shade.  Stories would be exchanged, sometimes one to one, others in small groups.  With each story, each collaborative task bringing us just a little closer.  In between the work, we would share meals with our extended Nicaraguan family who accepted us into their home.  We would learn about the Nicaraguan revolution.  Not as a historical event, but as personal accounts.  A boy pulled from school at 14 to fight against those he now calls friends.  A boy who would become a man through incredible adversity, tumble into despair only to emerge as a man who provides for his community every day with a smile and a Coke.  This was no longer some distant country on a map.  It was the home of Danilo, Alberto, Ricardo, Lorraina, Carlos, Santos, Benito, Veronique, Maria, Perla and so many more.  All who grow up in a different world than the 14 who arrived, but all shared the same common goal: Leave the world a little better than they found it.

This was no longer some distant country on a map.  It was the home of Danilo, Alberto, Ricardo, Lorraina, Carlos, Santos, Benito, Veronique, Maria, Perla and so many more.  All who grow up in a different world than the 14 who arrived, but all shared the same common goal: Leave the world a little better than they found it.

Which brings me to the key ingredient of any great team, a great leader.  There is a term that has begun to pick up popularity in the corporate world, and is quickly becoming the most recruited skill, but the most difficult to obtain.  The difficulty is that it is not only rare, but it cannot be seen on a resume.  That term is Servant Leadership.  A servant leader is one who serves the team first.  Not the boss, and not even the customer.  It is a working leader with no task being beneath him or her.  She leads with influence, and reserves her authority only for safety or moments of crisis.  She spends this authority wisely knowing that no one would challenge it when used so sparingly.  Instead, she removes obstacles, gives a heavy bucket a little extra lift, and casually breaks up a task with conversation when a member needs a break but won’t ask for it.  She has the unique ability to conduct the orchestra while playing percussion, setting the tempo, and allowing the orchestra to find the crescendo.  With each eloquent piece of music forming organically, and changing shape as it develops.  The actual outcome is undefined, unknown, and left to the symbiotic forces of the team.  And what few realize as they are developing the outcome, is that it can be terrifying at times for the leader.  The ambiguity, external forces, and knowing while the glory of success is shared by all, the risk of failure sits on the shoulders of one.  It is both courageous and selfless.  This team experienced the incredible good fortune of having that leader, and it will shape my own leadership for years to come.

A servant leader is one who serves the team first.  Not the boss, and not even the customer.  It is a working leader with no task being beneath him or her.

Back to 14 Nicas and one more term that received some attention this week.  Gestaltism, which means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  As I look back over the week, my belief in this phenomena is reinforced more than ever before.  Hundreds of buckets of gravel, sand, concrete and mortar were hoisted.  Blocks moved, staged, and placed in just the right place.  Scaffolding built, lumber transferred, and mortar filled.  Every single one of these tasks alone were essential.  Down to the last block, bucket and trowel.  But in the end, it was a home and a school annex.  In time, no one will focus on any of the parts.  They will see a family in a home, and children learning and enjoying a meal in school.  And through all of that, there was a third thing built.  It cannot be seen, it cannot be touched, but it is as real as any structure.  It is the 14 Nicas and the relationship we have developed.  The memories made, the lessons we’ve learned, the stories we shared.  There were tears, sweat, some blood, and so much laughter my greatest injury is probably in my abs.  

You each have my unending gratitude.  Each and every one of you has changed my perspective in some way or another, and together you have made a meaningful impact on my life.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

(Dedicated to Liz Bellantoni, a true servant leader, and to The Fuller Center for the great work they do around the world.)

Scott Brand is Senior Vice President in charge of North American Operations for Nielsen, an S&P 500 company.

Learn more about The Fuller Center
Global Builders program

VIDEO: The Fuller Center’s monthly update for February 2017

Join Fuller Center for Housing President David Snell, Bicycle Adventure leader Connor Ciment, Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola, U.S. Builders leader Sharon Tarver and Director of Communications Chris Johnson for a monthly update of news and opportunities in this affordable housing ministry.