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Interview with Linda Fuller, June 17, 2015

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:55 - Missionary Work in Zaire

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Partial Transcript: I want to kind of focus on some of the international aspects of what you were doing, beginning with your work in Zaire in 1973. How did that experience set the stage for everything that came after?

Segment Synopsis: Fuller describes her and her husband, Millard Fuller's work as Christian missionaries in Zaire which lead to the foundation of Habitat for Humanity's international work. She mentions the prevalence of poverty and inadequate housing in Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and she discusses how her and her husband introduced partnership housing to build durable houses. Potential homeowners had to clear their own land and dig their own latrines, but the Fullers employed locals to build the houses. Fuller mentions the difficulty of obtaining land from the government and fixing broken machinery which initially delayed the project. By the end of three years, the Fullers helped build 120 houses in Mbandaka, and they inspired a nearby village to use the same model of partnership housing. Fuller describes how their success in Americus, Georgia and Mbandaka, Zaire led her and her husband to found Habitat for Humanity.

Keywords: Bokotola; Christianity; Don Mosley; Koinonia Farm; Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Mission trip; Ntonda; The Democratic Republic of the Congo; The Disciples of Christ Church; racial discrimination; segregation

GPS: Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Map Coordinates: 0.047, 18.255
00:10:31 - Expansion of Habitat for Humanity International

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Partial Transcript: So, when we came back, we realized that the idea not only worked, but it worked really well, and we set ourselves a goal to eliminate poverty housing in the world.

Segment Synopsis: Fuller describes how her and her husband returned from their mission in Zaire with the goal of eliminating poverty housing across the world. She discusses how Millard Fuller's ambitious goals caused internal tensions in Habitat for Humanity; however, she says that her husband met all his goals by constantly inspiring others to help. Fuller talks about the expansion of Habitat for Humanity, starting in Guatemala before spreading across the world. Fuller describes how it became easier to start projects in new areas as the organization grew because they learned from early mistakes. She describes recruiting international partners to work with local people in each new location, using strict accounting procedures after discovering the misuse of funds, and only using local material and local people to build the houses. Fuller discusses how Habitat for Humanity operated differently oversees than in the United States, mentioning the importance of international fundraising.

Keywords: appropriate technology; donors; family; nonprofit management; photography; recruitment; regional management; volunteer labor

00:22:33 - The beginning and evolution of Habitat for Humanity

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Partial Transcript: I had a thought, just a few minutes ago, about the way we started in the beginning.

Segment Synopsis: Fuller describes organizational changes in Habitat for Humanity, discussing how the organization transitioned from volunteer labor to paid labor in order to manage its rapid growth. She talks about how initially, neither her or her husband received a salary, describing how the organization was managed by volunteers. Fuller talks about how Millard Fuller devoted his time to fundraising in order to support the growing number of employees needed to sustain the large organization. Fuller credits President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter for helping Habitat for Humanity grow. She talks about how the Carters continue to host an annual Carter Project where they spend a week building houses with Habitat for Humanity.

Keywords: Americus, GA; fundraising; international travel; management; oversight

00:33:18 - Decision making process and community resistance to volunteers

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Partial Transcript: Once work hit a global scale with Habitat--when things were being done. You have got to a point where things are really going on around the world.

Segment Synopsis: Fuller describes the difference between houses built by Habitat for Humanity around the world, discussing how the organization determines the size and style of each house by studying potential homeowners' former dwellings. She talks about how Habitat tries to build inexpensive and durable houses because new homeowners have to have an income in order to pay back to cost of materials in monthly installments. Fuller also discusses past tensions between the outside volunteers and local community members due to cultural differences.

Keywords: affordable housing; appropriate technology; counterculture; payment plans; volunteerism; workforce

00:42:20 - Leadership role as a woman

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Partial Transcript: I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about your leadership role with Habitat and with the Fuller Center as a woman?

Segment Synopsis: Fuller describes her changing role in Habitat for Humanity as she transitioned from secretarial work and bookkeeping to developing regional centers and starting new initiatives. Fuller talks about how Rosalynn Carter's involvement with Habitat for Humanity increased the number of female volunteers and lead to the development of women's builds. Fuller also discusses how she launched the Mental Health Partnership Program which helped people with mental health issues get Habitat houses.

Keywords: Lowe's; books; dictation; family; photography; small business; typing; working mother

00:51:53 - Split with Habitat for Humanity

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Partial Transcript: At the time, you and Millard throughout the controversy where you left--you're no longer with Habitat. Eventually you went on to form the Fuller Center.

Segment Synopsis: Fuller describes how she was forced to leave Habitat for Humanity due to a controversy involving sexual assault allegations against her husband. She talks about conflict between her husband and the board over the future of the organization, stating how Millard Fuller wanted to keep the headquarter's in Americus, Georgia and spend less money on administration while the governing board wanted to move the headquarters to Atlanta and raise salaries. Fuller describes pain of being forced out of Habitat for Humanity, but she states that the organization is still doing important work despite being distanced from its biblical roots.

Keywords: Christian organizations; conflict; ministry; resignation; sexual misconduct

01:00:48 - Founding the Fuller Center and retirement

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Partial Transcript: So Millard--he kind of saw the writing on the wall, and he began to talk to other people.

Segment Synopsis: Linda Fuller describes how she and her husband founded The Fuller Center for Housing in 2005 after being forced to leave Habitat for Humanity. She describes the Fuller Center as a housing ministry that is more focused on Christianity and less corporate than Habitat for Humanity. Fuller talks about her husband's unexpected death in 2009. She describes remarrying two years after her husband's death and retiring from the Fuller Center in order to focus more on her family.

Keywords: Christian organization; Christianity; Church; David Snell; grandchildren; poverty housing; retirement

01:08:30 - Increased need for housing ministries

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Partial Transcript: As we sort of start to draw things to a close, I want to just ask you, looking back at your life's work. You've really gotten to see the shape of what's happening with poverty housing over the course of several decades now.

Segment Synopsis: Fuller talks about new challenges in the fight to eliminate poverty housing including increased housing costs and a shrinking middle class. She describes the changing demographics of people who are homeless or in poverty housing, talking about the increased number of families and elderly people who need houses.She also discusses a new program by the Fuller Center called Greater Blessings that helps elderly homeowners with home repairs.

Keywords: Lind-A Hand build; Sumter County. GA; income inequality; poverty; sharecropping; tenant farmers