Today’s column in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer is about some young folks who give me hope for the future — those impassioned, articulate kids from Parkland, Fla.; a group of college kids from Ohio’s Wittenberg University who are working with my nonprofit this week; and my own kids. I take a couple of jabs at Georgia’s pandering politicians like Casey Cagle (who represents the worst in American politics), but mostly it’s about why you should quit worrying about kids eating Tide Pods and be optimistic. They haven’t been Cagle-ized yet. They still have integrity. So, check out the column. Also, you can see my interview with one of the kids in the Fuller Center for Housing video below, along with a gallery of their first day’s work Monday. Rain drove us off the roof today, but the group is helping another nonprofit here in Perry, Georgia, this morning.
I wasn’t exactly a world traveler when I joined The Fuller Center for Housing in June of 2011 — unless you count that one night in Windsor, Canada, when I nearly missed the last bus of the night back into Detroit. The bus went through a tunnel under the Detroit River, which I found a wee bit disturbing.
But one of my first tasks with The Fuller Center was to get myself a passport. The Fuller Center works all around the world — in faraway places like Nepal, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, India and a few African countries and a few relatively closer stops such as Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Peru. I didn’t get my passport to go to any of those countries at first. No, I needed to get a passport quickly because my first stop would be North Korea.
It’s hard to believe now, but The Fuller Center had developed an initiative to build 50 homes for families on a farm collective known as Osan-Ri, about 25 kilometers outside of Pyongyang. The plan was to send volunteer teams from the United States to work alongside the North Koreans to develop friendships and trust as much as simple, decent housing. It sprung from a dream Jubilee Partners’ Don Mosley pitched to Millard Fuller, the then-leader of The Fuller Center who saw nothing as impossible.
In the beginning, it seemed to be working. Even after Millard’s untimely passing in 2009, new President David Snell (still my boss today) carried on with the dream as best he could — making four trips to North Korea and bringing back a slew of images from the rogue nation. He was even there for the groundbreaking in 2009 alongside North Korean leaders and families in a festive, friendly atmosphere.
As The Fuller Center’s new director of communications, I was tapped to visit the communist nation and document the progress of this unique project. I wanted to do something different that would capture attention for the work or possibly even go viral on them interwebs. I decided that I would take my colorful acoustic guitar and film myself playing and singing Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” in North Korea. I’m pretty sure that’s never been done. Continue reading
When I left the newspaper business full-time 5 years ago, the business had gotten very tough. You were either unemployed or extremely employed — and I had gotten extremely employed. I was burned out, and so were many journalists I knew. Newspaper profits were declining if they existed at all, and the resources just weren’t there to get the job done anymore — yet the expectations of workers just became more onerous.
The whole do-more-with-less concept gets wearisome when it actually becomes do more, more, more with less, less, less. Newspaper executives who spent too much time in meetings even came up with ideas to improve the paper that actually made the jobs of myself and others — particularly copy editors and page designers — even more difficult and time-consuming. If they got any more “efficient,” we might never have gotten a paper out.
Like a lot of folks who had been in the newspaper business a long time, though, I felt stuck. I didn’t want to go into PR and sell stuff or spin stories for some corporation. My skills were pretty limited to telling stories or conveying information in one form or another — not a lot of use for that on the railroad or assembly line.
Thank goodness I had a motivating factor to keep me looking. I was way over on the left side of Georgia in Columbus but had fallen for a pretty lady back in Middle Georgia. So, I kept looking for employment opportunities closer to my old stomping grounds. After months of searching and months of increasing head-butting with newspaper bosses, I stumbled across The Fuller Center for Housing, which was looking for a director of communications. Continue reading
Linda Fuller might very well be one of the most important women leaders of the last 50 years. If you haven’t heard of her, that’s probably got a lot to do with the fact that she doesn’t seek attention for herself — only for issues about which she cares deeply.
One of those issues is simple, decent, affordable housing. You probably have heard of Habitat for Humanity and you should hear about The Fuller Center for Housing. But you wouldn’t have heard of either if it were not for Linda Fuller. They wouldn’t exist. And hundreds of thousands of families helped by their mission in life would never have gotten the helping hand-up into decent living conditions if it weren’t for Linda.
I’d explain it further, but my boss at The Fuller Center for Housing — President David Snell — does it better, so I decided to share his words here from his blog post today at FullerCenter.org. (I spoke with The Fuller Center’s communications department — myself … yes, I’m the entire website, PR, social media, photography, video and publications department — and they agreed to allow me to post it here.
Pay special attention to the highlighted quote. It speaks volumes.
By David Snell, President, The Fuller Center for Housing
For the better part of her life, Linda Fuller has been at the vanguard of the affordable housing movement — in fact, she gets the credit for starting it!
When Millard’s ambition to be a millionaire got in the way of his family obligations, it was Linda who said “Stop!” If she hadn’t put her foot down, the dream that became Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center for Housing might never have been born.
Linda has noted that the phrase, “Behind every good man is a good woman,” is incorrect. It should read, “Besideevery good man is a good woman.”
But it was. She and Millard gave away their wealth and listened to hear what God would have them do. He said, “Go and house the poor.” And, so, they did — first at Koinonia Farm, then in Mbandaka, Zaire, and then around the world with ministries that redefined volunteering and Christian charity.
Linda has noted that the phrase, “Behind every good man is a good woman,” is incorrect. It should read, “Besideevery good man is a good woman.” And that is where Linda stood through Millard’s 40-year ministry. Since his death, she has continued to hold the banner high — raising funds, inspiring volunteers and reminding us all that the goal of No More Shacks has not yet been met.
It is fitting that Linda wanted to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee Year by raising money and building houses. She’s set a goal of raising $75,000 in new funds and will be rehabbing a house with as many friends as she can muster in Macon, Georgia, on March 19. For Linda, being the First Lady of Affordable Housing is more than a title — it’s a calling.
So, on behalf of all of us here at The Fuller Center and, more, on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of families who have a decent place to call home because you said, “Stop!” those many years ago, Happy Birthday, Linda!
If you're the kind of person who has a sense of humor, is not easily offended, enjoys resurrecting memories of the good ol' days, misses your grandma's cooking and wants to make the world a little better while having a good time along the way, you're in the right place.
I'm a proud Southerner, even though I buck a lot of Southern stereotypes. Some might consider my perspective to be "out of the box," but I prefer to think of myself as the kind of guy who crushes the box and plays with the bubble wrap. In short, I like to toss rocks and make ripples in the pond. If unique perspectives rattle you or you don't have time to have a little fun in this crazy world, then you're probably in the wrong place.
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Chris Johnson is a multi-award-winning columnist for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, although his real job is in communications — writing, video, publishing, photography, social media, websites and all that jazz. A native of delightfully small Oglethorpe, Ga., he now lives in Perry, Ga., with his wife Shellie. They have three children.