Thursday, February 6, 2020

Sebago Lakes Region Fuller Center for Housing will help seniors stay in their homes

Board members of the Sebago Lakes Region Fuller
Center for Housing.
By Elizabeth Richards

A bucket list bike ride has inspired the creation of a local chapter of a global nonprofit organization, The Fuller Center for Housing. Sebago Lakes Fuller Center for Housing is a collaboration between six partner organizations, with 12 founding board members.

Several years ago, Bill Turner created a bucket list, which included riding across the US on a bicycle. Looking for possible rides, he came across the Fuller Center Bike Adventure, where participants ride long distances and build or repair houses along the way. His first year out, he rode from San Francisco to Santa Fe via Salt Lake City, Turner said.

The following year, he rode from Portland, OR to Portland, ME, having what he called a “great, uplifting experience” riding 4,000 miles in ten weeks, with six build days along the route. When he returned in the fall, Faith Lutheran Church was undergoing a process to determine what mission they wanted to take on. He suggested launching a Fuller Center, since there were none north of New York. and Lorraine Glowczak, another member of the congregation, began making presentations to other faith-based organizations to see if they could garner interest in becoming a local covenant partner. The result was six organizations coming together: North Windham United Church of Christ, Faith Lutheran Church, Windham Hill United Church of Christ, Raymond Village Community Church, Unity Center for Spiritual Growth, and St. Joseph’s College.

The next summer, before Turner left for another five-week ride, the founders had a meeting to discuss
the steps involved in becoming a covenant partner. By the time he returned, the group had elected board officers. By fall, the group was up and running, with regular meetings and committees in place.

Board president Diane Dunton Bruni said the group came together quickly, establishing the chapter, writing by-laws and articles of incorporation, and creating committees to reach out to families in need and to find volunteers, all within six months. Now, they’re ready to spread the word about what they’re doing to the community.“When Bill and Lorraine came and spoke at North Windham United Church of Christ, I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved,” Dunton Bruni said. She has a long history of non-profit
involvement, having worked with the Good Shepard Food Bank for many years. When she heard about the Fuller Center, she said, she knew that it was exactly what she’d been looking for.
Sebago Lakes Fuller Center for Housing will do repairs rather than building homes, at least initially, with a focus on helping older people remain in their homes.

“It is so important to have people be able to stay safely in their homes and to know that they don’t have to leave at a time that they just want to have the memories and feel comforted by what’s around them,” she said.

The Fuller Center for Housing was founded by Millard and Linda Fuller, who also founded Habitat for Humanity. “Millard Fuller talked a lot about hope and how hope is essential in life,” Dunton Bruni said. “What we are doing is we are giving hope.”

Founding members had a range of reasons for getting involved. Nancy Foran, Pastor of the Raymond Village Church, said she had led mission trips centered around housing rehabilitation in Tennessee and other parts of Maine. These experiences were one reason why she was interested in the Fuller Center, she said. “This is an opportunity to do something right in our neighborhood.”

The Lakes Region, she added, is a sort of “dead zone” when it comes to services. “To have an organization that is going to really focus on the Lakes Region, I think it will be great,” Foran said.
With many seniors living in old housing stock, there can be many problems with their homes. “I’m really hopeful that this organization can bridge some gaps there,” Foran said.

Reverend Pat Bessey of the Unity Center for Spiritual Growth said the group decided to focus in the
towns of Standish, Raymond and Windham because these areas don’t have the same level of support as other areas. “That’s where we felt that we could be the most effective,” she said.

Steve McFarland, Director of Career Development at St. Joseph’s College, said “The need is just incredibly obvious everywhere you go in the community.” There are many people unable to maintain their homes at the level they’d like to, he said. “We’ve got a lot of caring people in these communities that want to reach out and help neighbors in that way.”

The nonprofit aligns very well with the mission and values of St. Joseph’s College as well, McFarland said. “Community and compassion are the two values that I think it most closely connects to…I think it just very much aligns with who we are as an organization, and it gives us that opportunity to get out there and do it,” he said.
Gwen Rogers of the Windham Hill United Church of Christ said the church was excited when they were approached about the Fuller Center. “Giving back to the segment of the population, the seniors who are trying to remain in their homes, was an untapped segment that I think we thought we could help with,” she said. “If you just drive around the roads of Windham and Raymond you see homes that you know need a little sprucing up, and people just need some help doing that.”

Bessey said that she saw getting involved as an opportunity to broaden their cooperation with other faith-based organizations. “Also, part of our mission is service and creating community. This fit that
criteria so well, because not only are we going to have an opportunity to do service through volunteering, but we’re also going to be creating community because we’ll be interacting with people from other organizations.”

Dunton Bruni said the organization will partner with town offices, churches in the area, and any other organizations that can help them find people in need of help.

Initial funding for the nonprofit came from each partner organization contributing a set amount, a matching contribution from the Fuller Center for Housing, and $5,000 raised from Turner’s most recent Fuller Center Bike Adventure. The group is also discussing having their own one-day bike ride around Sebago Lake in September to raise funds.

margebarker173@gmail.comOne of the things that is different about the Fuller Center, Turner said, is that some smaller renovation projects are done through their “Greater Blessings Program,” where recipients of the work commit to
paying back what is spent on their project over a time period they can afford, with no interest. In this way, the initial money raised can become a revolving fund for future projects, Turner said.

“Our mission is going to be simple,” Dunton Bruni said. “It’s giving hope to others, and carrying on the legacy of Millard Fuller and being able to help others feel safe in their homes and giving them dignity. It is done with an opportunity to pay it forward in a way that they can. When you have hope, then you look to the future.”

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