As Independence Day approaches, we celebrate the work of our country’s founding fathers. At Habitat for Humanity, we celebrate the work and mission of our founder, Millard Fuller, every day.
A common myth about Habitat for Humanity is that former President Jimmy Carter founded our organization. In actuality, former President Carter did not become involved with Habitat until almost a decade after it was founded.
Millard Fuller, along with his wife Linda, founded Habitat for Humanity International in 1976. Fuller was a young entrepreneur who quickly saw success, becoming a self-made millionaire by age 29. But as his wealth increased, his quality of life declined in other important areas such as his health and marriage. This hard time in his life lead him to renew his commitment to the Christian faith. To fully commit, he sold all of his possessions and gave his wealth to the poor.
The Fullers started their new life by relocating to Koinonia Farms in southwest Georgia, where they started a ministry committed to building decent, not-for-profit houses for low-income families. They relied on volunteer labor and donations to keep the ministry going, only paying for the building materials. This laid the foundation for the process that we still use today at Habitat for Humanity.
In 1973, Fuller moved his family to Zaire, Africa to implement his model of affordable housing in cities of extreme poverty. In the three years that they were there, Fuller oversaw many housing development projects and was able to sell the homes to families in need. At this time, Fuller operated under the name Fund for Humanity, which was developed while he was in Georgia.
Upon returning to the United States in 1976, Fuller developed the same housing program in San Antonio, Texas, and Habitat for Humanity International was born. Habitat grew quickly from there, opening affiliates in several states and countries. In 1984, Fuller was able to recruit former President Jimmy Carter as Habitat’s biggest public supporter. President Carter’s involvement skyrocketed the growth of the organization by lending both his name and his own resources to the cause. Committing to his involvement, President Carter created the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, a week-long “blitz-building” event that still attracts thousands of volunteers each year.
Millard and Linda served in executive positions for Habitat International until 2005, when they founded the Fuller Center of Housing. He continued to travel and speak at Habitat affiliates and stayed committed to his mission of eradicating poverty with affordable housing, up until his death in February 2009.
Today, the Fuller’s mission is carried out through Habitat affiliates in nearly 70 countries around the world. Habitat still works toward the mission of providing simple, decent, affordable housing to those in need by relying on community volunteers and the generosity of donors.