His Work Will Go On

The vision, eliminating poverty housing, belonged to Millard Fuller, a man whose ideas and tireless work created Habitat for Humanity, the world’s largest nonprofit home-building organization. President Clinton once said: “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Millard Fuller has literally revolutionized the concept of philanthropy.”

An entrepreneur and attorney, Fuller earned his first million dollars before the age of 30. But his financial success came at the expense of his health and marriage. In a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, Fuller and his wife, Linda, decided to start anew. The couple sold all they owned, gave the money to the poor and moved to Koinonia Farms, a Christian community in rural southwest Georgia.

In 1976, the Fullers launched Habitat for Humanity International. By the organization’s 25th anniversary, tens of thousands of people were volunteering with Habitat and more than 500,000 people were living in Habitat homes. “Millard Fuller was a force of nature who turned a simple idea into an international organization that has helped more than 300,000 families move from deplorable housing into simple, decent homes,” said Jonathan Reckford, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International. Fuller received more than 50 honorary degrees and in 1996 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In presenting the medal, President Clinton said, “Millard Fuller has done as much to make the dream of home-ownership a reality in our country and throughout the world as any living person.”

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After separating from Habitat for Humanity in 2005, the Fullers remained committed to their mission to eradicate poverty housing by founding The Fuller Center for Housing. In addition to continuing the couple’s life-long mission of building simple, decent homes, the Fuller Center also raises funds for other nonprofit home-building organizations. In keeping with the model created for Habitat for Humanity, the Fuller Center utilizes volunteers from churches and other corporate and community organizations to help construct homes. Since 1976, millions of volunteer hours have been dedicated to building homes in every corner of the globe.

Hammering away on a house, one volunteer—a young man who had schizophrenia and wrestled with suicidal tendencies—once shared: “Every day I try to find one positive thought that will carry me over to the next day. Today has given me enough memories for the next two years!” This scene was from a typical Habitat site, but this wasn’t an everyday build—it was an ABILITY Build.

Although Fuller encountered barriers within the bureaucracy of Habitat for Humanity that prevented him from implementing strong mandates regarding visitability (one zero-step entrance and an accessible restroom on the main floor), he was a key figure supporting the launch of the ABILITY Build, which later became an award-winning program. It was during a 1999 interview with Chet Cooper, founder of ABILITY Magazine and ABILITY Awareness, that the idea of an ABILITY Build took root. Initially, constructed in partnership between Habitat for Humanity and ABILITY Awareness, an ABILITY Build would create an accessible and visitable home for a family where one or more members have disabilities. Fuller was quick to agree with Cooper that ABILITY Builds should also engage people with all levels of disability as volunteers.

“The ABILITY House will remove the barriers that keep people with disabilities from owning their own homes,” Fuller said later that year at the launch of the first ABILITY House, which welcomed more than 250 volunteers with disabilities. “This build will send a powerful message: People with disabilities can make a house into a home.”

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Since the initial home was constructed in Birmingham, AL, thousands of volunteers with physical and intellectual disabilities, as well as some with mental health issues, have participated on ABILITY Builds, demonstrating their skills and talents, while highlighting their employability and capacity as volunteers. “Millard’s hands-on role during the first ABILITY Build helped ensure the success of a program that has changed the lives of people with disabilities in communities all across the country,” shares Cooper, “and we will remember him for his dedication, his passion and his commitment to ensuring that all people, including those with disabilities, would have access to simple, decent housing.”

For their upcoming 50th wedding anniversary, the Fullers had planned to celebrate with a 100-home blitz build across the globe and, in the months before his passing, he was still helping to take the ABILITY Build program to new heights, orchestrating a collaboration between ABILITY Awareness and The Fuller Center for Housing. “We’ll probably go ahead with the blitz build. Millard would not want people to mourn his death,” said Linda Fuller. “He would be more interested in having people put on a tool belt and build a house for people in need.”

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And so, in memory and in honor of Millard Fuller, our friend the humanitarian and visionary, we encourage you to do just that: Put on a tool belt and help build a house.

by Romney Snyder

The Fuller family requests that any donations made in Millard’s honor be made through The Fuller Center for Housing

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