Fuller Center set for another legacy build in Opelika

Published 10:34 am Thursday, October 5, 2023

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OPELIKA — A Fuller Center Legacy Build will get underway in Opelika on Monday, October 9th. Three new homes should be ready to be dedicated on the following Friday. Two of the homes are located on Jeter Avenue with the third one going up on Raintree Street.

“We are already off to a great start,” said Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project (CFCP) Executive Director Kim Roberts. “All three houses are dried in, and the volunteers who are coming to town will be doing the finishing up work. Approximately 50 volunteers will be coming from as far away as Minnesota and Texas. We will have a kickoff event at the Greater Peace Baptist Church on Jeter Avenue at 6 p.m. CDT on Sunday, October 8th. We will have a prayer breakfast at 7 a.m. the next morning and get to work after that. Around 20 local volunteers will be helping us.”

Roberts said the City of Opelika has been great to work with on this project. There’s a personal connection involved. Mayor Gary Snell is a cousin of the late Millard Fuller, Lanett native and founder of Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing. The city is funding $250,000 for the build.

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This won’t be the Fuller Center’s first build in Opelika. In October 2019, three new homes were built on Dover Street, which is in the same neighborhood as Jeter Street.

“Having five new homes there will change the neighborhood,” Roberts said. “At the Fuller Center we are all about changing things for the better.”

Julia Finley, a 46-year employee with the East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC), will be living in one of the new houses. Volunteers from EAMC will be working all week on the home. Finley currently works in the hospital’s psych unit. The new Fuller Center home will help her out of a bad situation. Not long after she had purchased a home, it began to sink in the ground and became unlivable. Since moving out she has been staying temporarily in a home provided by her church.

Roberts said connections she and assistant Robin Pierre made while building 20 new homes in Lee County following the 2019 devastating tornado in Beauregard had been most helpful. One of the people they met was Eric Ward, a framing specialist. “He did the framing work for the three houses,” Roberts said. “Volunteers from the Church of the Highlands built three sets of walls. They are so good with what they do. I don’t know what we would do without them.”

With the three new houses dried in, the volunteers coming to town next week can concentrate on putting up the exterior Hardie board and painting it while the inside work crews can do the interior painting, do the flooring work, and putting in the cabinets and the counter tops. Sod will be put down in the yards on Friday. The home dedications will be taking place at 4 p.m. CDT.

“The City of Opelika has been great to work with,” said Roberts. “They treat us so good.”

Roberts is pleased with the way a first-ever senior duplex project went in June in Lanett’s Plant City neighborhood. It was done with profits made at the ReUse Store.

“That project went really, really well,” she said. “We have local people living in both units. Having decent, affordable places to live makes a big difference in people’s lives. It is such a blessing to be a part of making it happen. We appreciate Mayor Jamie Heard being supportive of what we have done in Lanett. He’s such a good cheerleader for what we are trying to do.”

Roberts said that Mayor Steve Tramell has been great to work with in West Point and Mayor Leonard Riley in Valley has been most welcoming of Fuller Center projects there.

The CFCP could be involved in a future project in Valley. The Chambers County Circle of Care Center for Families is seeking the construction of some new housing in the Rehobeth Heights area. It would provide temporary housing for single mothers with young children. They would live there while going through a training program that can lead to better-paying employment. They would move into more permanent housing when they have a better-paying job. Another young woman seeking to improve her life would then move in.

At the end of the calendar year, Roberts will be stepping down as the CFCP’s executive director, a position she has held for the past 15 years. Pierre will be succeeding her. Roberts won’t be leaving the Fuller Center altogether. She will stay on in a part-time basis, working with 47 local families living in local CFCP homes.

“I  have always felt that it’s not about housing, it’s about families,”  Roberts said. “Better housing does help them be better citizens, and I want to continue helping people do that.”

During the noon hour on Wednesday, Roberts took members of the West Point Lions Club down memory lane. “I talked to them about some really special people I had gotten to know while working with the Fuller Center in West Point. Knowing them changed my life,” she said. “I will never forget a woman named Miss Fannie. She was in her nineties when we started working with her to improve her living conditions. It was such a joy for her to take a shower in her own home. I will never forget standing outside the shower and hearing the way she giggled when that warm water was flowing over her body.”

The Fuller Center also made a Christmas wish come true for a small boy who lived nearby. When Roberts went to visit him and his mom to see if the Fuller Center could so something for them, Roberts asked the young boy what he wanted to Christmas. “He told me all he wanted was a better place to live,” Roberts said. “There was no way I would let him go without it.”

Sure enough, he and his mom were in a new Fuller Center home that Christmas.

Roberts said she’s always remember an elderly couple named Paul and Irene. They lived a short distance off 10th Street in a home with a badly leaking roof and rotten floors. Paul confided in Roberts that his worst fear was that his wife might fall though the floor one day after he was gone.

“He died two months ago,” Roberts said. “His wife won’t be falling through the floor. We added a new roof and new flooring in a Fuller Center project. It was such a blessing to flip their house.”

Roberts said the biggest challenge she has faced in her 15 years with the CFCP was the work done in Beauregard. In March 2019, the Lee County community was left devastated by a tornado outbreak. “We built 20 houses in seven months,” she said. “It put us on the map in Lee County.”

It was not easy to build new homes for people who had lost loved ones. The EF-4 tornado that touched down that day killed 23 people and injured 97.

“There are emotional highs and lows when you work with people who have gone through that kind of tragedy,” Roberts said. “The first house we built was for a man named Wayne. He had lost his sister in the tornado. Just as the tornado was coming through he went outside the home to check on his dog. He and his dog were in a shed that was not touched. His sister remained in their house and was killed.”

Wayne is a huge Alabama fan. During the new home dedication ceremony he was given a host of keepsake items that had been signed by Coach Nick Saban. “That made his day,” Roberts said.

“I am so blessed that Bill Scott saw something in me that I had not seen myself,” Roberts said. “I was overwhelmed when he asked me to be the executive director of the local Fuller Center chapter. I didn’t think I was prepared for it. It was such a big task.”

Scott was the CFCP’s first president.

“He also had the idea of a ReUse Store,” Roberts said. “When he took me to the old Knology building it was empty. I thought we’d never be able to fill it up, but in just a few years we’d done that and needed more room. In 2019 we moved next door to where we are now. W so much appreciate the way the community has supported us. Everything we made in our store covers overhead and goes to building projects.”

Roberts said it was not an easy decision for her to step down as executive director. It will give her more time to spend with her grandchildren. “Dennis, my husband of 38 years, has always been concerned for my health,” she said. “I have been a double amputee since I was four years old. I have gotten around on prosthetic legs since then. I used to hide them, but since I have been with the Fuller Center I have gotten away from that. I am glad my parents pushed me to do the best I could. At our work sites, when people see how I can get around it shows that people can overcome obstacles .”

Roberts said she would like to become involved in a youth mentoring program. “They are at a critical stage of their life,” she said. “It’s a chance to help them grow into responsible young men and ladies. I would love to work with them at the junior high level.”

Roberts said she was looking forward to meeting someone at the Opelika build. “It’s my understanding that Morris Dees is going to be there,” she said. “He was Millard Fuller’s best friend in college. I didn’t get to meet Millard before he died, but I would like to meet his long-ago friend.”

After college, Fuller and Dees had a marketing company that made them millionaires before they were 30. Fuller went on to found Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing. Dees went on to found the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nationally famous organization that tracks terrorist efforts.