As the office manager at The Fuller Center for Housing’s headquarters, Cathy Smith is a stickler for details and helps keep operations marching smoothly forward. That might not be such a difficult task for most offices of just a dozen or so people; but while Fuller Center headquarters has about a dozen people hard at work on a typical day, it’s definitely not your typical office.
When people are not emailing construction leaders in Armenia, they’re ordering T-shirts for a project in Peru. When they’re not calling covenant partners in New Jersey, they’re on Skype with an American who lives in El Salvador but is working in Haiti with a group from Brazil. When they’re not driving to visit a U.S. covenant partner in Indiana, they’re flying to visit a covenant partner in India. When they’re … well, you get the picture.
Amid the intercontinental flurry of activity required in running a Christian housing ministry determined to change the entire world one house at a time, Smith keeps everyone grounded in the simple headquarters building located in Americus, Ga., occasionally reminding people who just want to do God’s work by building homes for people in need that saving the world in today’s day and age often requires a little paperwork before they go off on some adventure in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Nepal. In short, she has to make sure the not-so-adventurous details are handled.
But Smith embarked upon an adventure of her own last week when she was convinced to tag along with Brenda Barton, The Fuller Center’s communications liaison for U.S. Operations, on a truck driving adventure from Texas to Georgia with a load of building materials donated by World Vision, a like-minded Christian organization dedicated to lifting children out of poverty.
In addition to the practical purposes of obtaining materials for Henry County, Southwest Quarter and the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project to help them complete projects, it was a chance for Smith to visit family in her native Texas, spend a lot of time with a colleague who also is a good friend and to finally do what so many around her at the office regularly get to do — see for herself what Fuller Center covenant partners have been able to accomplish beyond Americus.
“My adventure with Brenda to World Vision and the drive from Dallas to Georgia had more of an impact on me than I ever anticipated,” Smith said. “What started out to be just a trek across five states ended up for me with a newfound respect for our covenant partners and all the volunteers out in the field. I was able to see firsthand the results of all the hard work of these groups of fine individuals instead of just imagining it.”
Among the places she visited was the Allendale community of Shreveport, La., where The Fuller Center for Housing began building its first homes in 2005. With 43 new homes in the neighborhood, the formerly crime-ridden area of blight (which local law enforcement once encouraged The Fuller Center to avoid) is now a shining example of how a community can be lifted up and transformed by simple, decent housing. It also stands as a testament to the determination of two men — Millard Fuller, the Fuller Center president who died in 2009; and Glen Barton, the Fuller Center’s vice-president of U.S. Operations who died last year — who refused to believe that Allendale could not be saved.
“I met with several of the homeowners in Allendale and was amazed at the pride they have in their homes and the gratitude they still have and express so freely, even after almost seven years, for the hope and opportunities Millard and Glen brought to their community,” Smith said. “I saw the good results in Minden from last year’s Legacy Build and the continued growth of the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project. The drive and determination shown by CP directors, construction teams, volunteers — it was amazing beyond words to express.”
Partnering with World Vision
Though some at headquarters joked about visions of Smith and Barton chomping on cheeseburgers at truck stops and dodging “smokeys” on the highway, the reasoning behind the trip to World Vision’s warehouse in Dallas was purely practical — to collect a generous load of in-kind donations. The Fuller Center’s relationship with World Vision is something Glen Barton was cultivating last year before his untimely death and one that his wife Brenda is carrying to fruition.
“The trip was to help some of the CPs that needed some gifts-in-kind to finish homes, as well as to pick up some things for the Legacy Build and to have more of a relationship with World Vision for future possibilities since they have a large contingency of corporate donors for gift-in-kind materials,” Barton said. “And their mission aligns so much with ours as they focus on children and families, often in times of disaster. They see our mission as a compliment to their work.”
“World Vision is an awesome place!” Smith said. “I was like a kid in a candy store. It would be great if all our CPs checked into this wonderful partnership to see how they could benefit. If we are able to strengthen our relationship with World Vision, they will work toward obtaining more in-kind gifts that help Fuller Center covenant partners.”
Though he was left all week without Smith to keep him in line from the desk nearest him, Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner was wholly supportive of the journey — although he may have dished out a truck stop joke or two himself.
“We love to get away from our office and computers and visit folks in the field,” he said. “It was a great thing Brenda and Cathy did to go visit that warehouse full of God’s stuff and deliver it to our partners, who will in turn use the materials to help some families in need of a better place to live. Now that we have discovered this resource, I hope all our groups in the region take advantage of the in-kind donations and stretch their cash contributions.”
As for Smith, she may no longer be “East Bound and Down, loaded up and truckin’,” but the momentum from the journey has not subsided.
“This experience has rejuvenated and inspired me in a way that is so difficult to explain,” she said. “It has inspired me to want to think more ‘outside the office,’ to think of ways that I can help them reach their goals and insure continued success — not just with the paper end of it all, but how I can be someone they can freely call upon and ask for help or support.
“It reminds me just how important it is that The Fuller Center headquarters be here for them and be a part of their team,” she continued. “I want their confidence in us to strengthen by knowing that the home office is behind them all the way and will do everything in our power to assist in any areas needed.”
Fuller Center Director of Communications Chris Johnson said he was disappointed he could not flush out any wild and crazy stories from the road.
“I guess they were indeed all business,” he said before adding with a grin, “or what happens at the truck stop stays at the truck stop.”