Habitat for Humanity: What I learned today

UP EARLY for an Event that was ……

For me, an extra effort is required to arise before the sun appears. I do well to put my feet on the floor by 7am. But this morning, with intent, my feet touched the floor to get ready for a volunteer day with Habitat for Humanity. Rather than just financially supporting Habitat for Humanity, both of us had been wanting to physically support the cause. Unity of Gulfport provided an avenue by being one of the volunteer groups for the Pinellas County area.

The contractors hit a delay in receiving their supplies. Hence, they were unable to provide us, the volunteers, with tasks of which we were capable. So, we were released from duty for the day.

Under construction in Largo

Not to be thwarted, we decided to do something else that would be fun and supportive of a cause. Since we were already in the Largo area, we called Kathlena, a friend in Largo to determine how to unfold the day. She suggested meeting at the Florida Botanical Gardens to see their “Arts Annual Exhibition” and to participate in celebrating African American Heritage. See Deidre’s blog “African American Heritage Celebration” for today’s switched event.

As we left the Habitat for Humanity site, I started to think a little more about the organization.  Something Jimmy Carter supports must be great – right?  But I still wanted to research the background of the organization. 

Habitat for Humanity is a global US non-governmental, nonprofit Christian based housing organization founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller. They served in executive roles until 2005. Yes, review of the history of the organization indicates disputes and conflicts within the organization. However, overall, to me, Habitat remains a worthy nonprofit.

More about the Fullers: https://www.habitat.org/about/history/habitat-for-humanity-co-founders-fullers

Habitat’s timeline highlights:  https://www.habitat.org/about/history/timeline

To apply for a Habitat home: https://www.habitat.org/housing-help/apply Habitat’s homeowner selection is managed at the local level. For qualifications, requirements and volunteering, contact your local Habitat, or call 1-800-HABITAT (1-800-422-4828).

General requirements:  Lived and worked in area for one or more years, at least one year of steady reliable income, reasonable credit, attend 20 hours of home ownership classes, volunteer 350-450 hours of sweat equity and contribute $1,000 toward closing cost.

Completed home next door to the house we were to work on. This completed house belongs to a “sweat equity” individual that was in charge of organizing the on-site volunteers and provided us with alternative days and locations to assist.

Background history on the founder’s path to establishing Habitat: In 1965, the Fuller family stopped to visit friends at Koinonia Farm on a road trip from NYC. “After spending several hours with the intentional community’s founder, Clarence Jordan, Millard and Linda decided to stay and began a relationship with Jordan that ultimately led to the creation of Habitat for Humanity.”  Millard Fuller was a successful businessman and lawyer and was a self-made millionaire by the age of 29. In 1968, searching for a way to refocus their lives on Christian service, the Fullers gave up their wealth, moving with their children to the Koinonia Farm in southwest Georgia.

The Fuller’s move to the farm in 1968 brought renewed energy to Koinonia Farm which was suffering from the lingering effects of the 1950’s Jim Crow racial policies of Georgia.   Jordan and Fuller along with other members of the Koinonia community decided to change the Farm’s organizational structure to one of social services. Koinonia Farm became Koinonia Partners. Several programs associated with the construction of affordable houses for low-income families were initiated for families who had previously lived in dilapidated shacks.  Koinonia Partners built 194 homes from 1969 to 1992.

Believing the poor needed capital, not charity, the primary focus of Koinonia Partners was Partnership Housing and developing a revolving “Fund for Humanity.”  The Fund for Humanity would use donations to purchase building materials. Volunteer laborers along with the family that would eventually own the house would construct a simple, decent house. The homeowners would then repay the cost of the materials to the Fund for Humanity at 0% interest. In this way, the work was not a give-away program and the funds repaid were then used to begin work on additional houses.

The Fullers’ four years of guidance at Koinonia Partners was followed by three years of building “partnership housing” in Zaire/Belgian Congo (the Democratic Republic of Congo). These efforts helped model the structure of Habitat for Humanity and eventually lead, in 1976, to the creation of  Habitat for Humanity International  (commonly called Habitat for Humanity).  The international operational headquarters are located in Americus, Georgia and the administrative headquarters are located in Atlanta, Georgia. Habitat for Humanity operates in more than 92 nations.

Back to Jimmy Carter: In early 1984, Millard Fuller courted President Jimmy Carter. Carter’s hometown is Plains, Georgia, which is only a few miles from Habitat’s headquarters in Americus, Georgia. Carter gave not only his name and reputation to the new non-profit, but also his own resources – making financial contributions regularly and participating in an annual week-long effort of building Habitat homes all over the world. “The Carters’ involvement with Habitat for Humanity propelled the organization to even faster growth. By 2003, Habitat affiliates worldwide had built over 150,000 homes and were active in 92 nations.[8]

Jimmy and Roselyn Carter at Habitat site

A little information on Koinonia Farm:  Koinonia Farm was established in 1942 by Clarence and Florence Jordan and Martin and Mabel England.  Koinonia members divested their personal wealth and shared a “common purse” economic system. The practiced vision was an interracial community where blacks and whites lived and worked together in partnership, sharing resources, being wise responsible stewards of land and natural resources.  In 1993, the “common purse” structure and organization structure was modified.

During the early foundation era of Koinonia Farms, one can image the open hostility experienced due to Jim Crow politics and philosophy.  In the 1950’s, the Jordan family and Koinonia residents were excommunicated from Rehoboth Southern Baptist Church for their views on racial equality, the local Chamber of Commerce requested that Koinonia sell its property and disband, a boycott of the farm was implemented and the Ku Klux Klan performed acts of terrorism and intimidation such as dynamiting Koinonia’s roadside produce stand and firing shots into the compound. 

As a way to survive in the hostile surroundings, Koinonia members created a small mail-order catalog to sell their farm’s pecans and peanuts around the world. The business’s first slogan was “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia!” The business evolved to include treats made in the farm’s bakery.”

When I look back at the conflicts faced by African Americans as they sought racial equality and at the perseverance of Koinonia Farm to maintain their practice of equality. I love the Farm’s first slogan “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia!” The Koinonia Farm Store business continues today. Click here for a pdf copy of their 2019-2020 catalogue which provides a brief of the Farm Store.

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