GREENWOOD, Miss. (AP) — Glenda Cole says partnering with the Greenwood-Leflore Fuller Center for Housing has been a blessing.
When she recently made her final mortgage payment on her home, Cole said she felt a mixture of joyful emotions.
She was “feeling happy, just so excited. Grateful. Thankful.” But most of all, she said she felt “blessed. I was blessed.”
Cole partnered with the organization and moved into her home on Coleman Street in 1999. At that time, the nonprofit was known as the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity before its organizational name change to the Fuller Center in 2008.
The Fuller Center is based in Americus, Georgia, and is named after Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity.
Through the Greenwood-Leflore chapter of the Fuller Center, “We try to give people the opportunity to go into affordable housing,” said the Rev. Steve Fortenberry, who is in his third year serving as the Fuller Center’s board president and was a member of the board three years prior to that. “Most of the time, that’s to own their own home, and sometimes we do below-market rentals.”
For Cole, “Being a part of Fuller has been a rewarding experience for me,” she said.
Before she moved into her home 21 years ago, Cole lived in a second-floor apartment at the Delta Apartments complex on Browning Road. A single mother, Cole has a son, who is disabled, and a daughter, who were both elementary school-age children at the time.
“I was living upstairs and having to carry my son up and down the steps,” said Cole. “We came a long way. Having a disabled son and being a single parent, it was tough for me. Fuller made the road to homeownership so easy and affordable.”
Cole is a retired security guard at Amanda Elzy High School, where she worked for 25 years.
Her older child is her son, Eldridge “Phil” Cole, 33, and her younger child is her daughter, Phyadagren Sha Cole, 31. They are members of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, pastored by the Rev. Kenneth Milton Sr.
Throughout the years, Cole was always on time with her house payments, which was very important to her.
A military veteran, she served in Operation Desert Storm for six months in 1990 to 1991 as a member of the U.S. Army. In 2003, she was deployed for several months to a military base in Kentucky during the Iraq War. Not wanting to get behind on her mortgage, Cole left checks with the organization to make sure that each of her house payments were made on time.
“She has been very conscientious working with Habitat, now Fuller Center,” said Marshall Sutphen, a member of the Fuller Center’s board since 2001 and treasurer for the organization. “She’s been very diligent. She has been an excellent homeowner.”
Cole’s home is a special place for her family. It’s where they have made many happy memories. She said her favorite memories in her home include raising her children and hosting family gatherings.
“I raised my children in this house, and this is a place that they will always have to call home, even in the years to come,” she said.
Sutphen said Cole is one of the many Fuller Center successes.
“A number of these houses we’ve helped provide people with have a lot of stories like that, and we have a number of them who have gotten (their mortgages) paid off,” he said.
The Fuller Center currently has 30 homes with people in them who are paying mortgages and 16 rental units.
“We believe providing healthy, affordable housing is one of the foundations out of long-term poverty and into wealth-building,” said Fortenberry. “So we try to provide homes for people to purchase that are below market and offer interest-free loans for those who qualify.”
The Fuller Center, which is one of the United Way of Leflore County’s 13 agencies, is a volunteer-run organization, other than receiving a small amount of administrative help from Delta Design Build. It has a 10-member board and currently three active committees.
The Fuller Center also does rehabilitation projects through its Greater Blessing Box program. The home improvement projects are for low-income families who own existing homes in need of repair and have ranged in price from $350 to $5,000 and rely mostly on volunteer work.
The Fuller Center has recently taken a new direction. About six weeks ago, the nonprofit purchased a house on West Adams Avenue to renovate and eventually place one of its applicants in.
By buying an existing home and renovating it, the Fuller Center said in a recent Facebook post that it “will be able to provide homeownership opportunities that will be less expensive for buyers and more cost-efficient for donors.”
“What we’ve discovered is we could build a home from scratch, and maybe it cost $110,000 or $120,000, or we could purchase a home for $30,000, put $30,000 into it and provide the same quality home for almost half the price,” said Fortenberry
That’s the new model the Fuller Center has recently evolved into, he said.
“We don’t lack housing, so we feel like we can strategically focus on certain neighborhoods to revitalize neighborhoods,” he added.
Two weeks ago, the remodeling work on the West Adams house began. A group of volunteers mostly made up of college and high school students from First Presbyterian Church, which is where Fortenberry serves as associate pastor, along with a few adults and board members, started the process of rehabbing the home.
“Fixing things up, it just breathes new life into different parts of the community,” said Aimee Dunn, a Fuller Center board member who is also an applications committee member.
The organization’s new model, she said, is “a way to change or modify our vision to meet the community’s current needs.”
Cole said after her positive experience, she would encourage others seeking affordable housing to reach out to the Fuller Center. “I was raised to help others, and I support and stand behind organizations with the same values and vision as me,” she said.