People who have been supporters and friends of The Fuller Center for Housing over the past few years likely know who Thad Harris is.
The Americus, Georgia, resident was left paralyzed and wheelchair-bound after a 2001 vehicle accident. For years, he suffered from depression as he lived with his parents and had no sense of purpose. But when he applied to become a Fuller Center homeowner, things began to change.
Harris not only performed his required hours of sweat equity in building his home — he well exceeded it. A construction worker before his accident, he found that there were still plenty of ways he could help on the job site. In fact, three years after moving into his wheelchair-accessible home, he is now one of The Fuller Center’s most prolific volunteers.
“It was in there, but I thought that part of my life was over until you gave me that opportunity,” Harris said. “There’s something inside each and every one of us. You’ve just got to have someone to get it out.”
While some may wonder why someone confined to a wheelchair or suffering from any disability should be asked to perform sweat equity in the construction of their homes, Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner argues it is a key component of the partnership housing concept.
“Sweat equity does more than keep the cost of the project down, and it does more than give the homeowners ownership in the project,” Lyman-Barner said. “One of the most important features of sweat equity is that it creates the communal relationship aspect that occurs when we have a true partnership We shouldn’t deny our families this experience even if they are older or challenged with a disability.”
College and church groups who have come to work with The Fuller Center’s Americus-Sumter covenant partner always report that working with Harris and getting to know him is one of the highlights of their week. Not only does Harris bring inspiration to the work site, but he also delivers leadership as a construction supervisor.
“I encourage our covenant partner leaders to remember that open minds, willing hearts and positive attitudes create a good environment for teamwork to flourish,” he said.
Harris added that while someone with a disability might not be able to bring the same skills he brings to the construction site, there likely is some way they can help — be it in an office behind the scenes or coordinating and supporting other volunteers.
“We get overlooked, but all of us are here for a reason,” he said. “And all of us could be helping if we’re just given a chance. There are plenty of us out there, and we can assist you in some kind of way if we’re given the chance.”
View a video conversation between Thad Harris and Kirk Lyman-Barner: