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Millard Fuller: Habitat for Humanity International Founder

“I see life as both a gift and a responsibility. My responsibility is to use what God has given me to help his people in need.”
―Millard Fuller

 

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The late Millard Fuller


The founder of Habitat for Humanity International

Millard Fuller founded Habitat for Humanity International in 1976 and served in executive roles until 2005. His leadership helped forge Habitat into a worldwide Christian housing ministry.

In 1996, former U.S. President Bill Clinton awarded Fuller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, calling Habitat “…the most successful continuous community service project in the history of the United States.”

Mr. Fuller passed away in February, 2009 at the age of 74.

A Life Changed by God
From humble beginnings in Alabama, Millard Fuller rose to become a young, self-made millionaire. A graduate of Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and the University of Alabama Law School at Tuscaloosa, he and a college friend began a marketing firm while still in school. Fuller’s business expertise and entrepreneurial drive made him a millionaire at age 29. But as the business prospered, his health, integrity and marriage suffered.

 

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Millard Fuller studies house plans with a man in Zaire, circa 1974.

These crises prompted Fuller to re-evaluate his values and direction. His soul-searching led to reconciliation with his wife and to a renewal of his Christian commitment.

The Fullers then took a drastic step: They decided to sell all of their possessions, give the money to the poor and begin searching for a new focus for their lives. This search led them to Koinonia Farm, a Christian community located near Americus, Georgia, where people were looking for practical ways to apply Christ’s teachings.

The Seed Is Planted
With Koinonia founder Clarence Jordan and a few others, the Fullers initiated several partnership enterprises, including a ministry in housing. They built modest houses on a no-profit, no-interest basis, thus making homes affordable to families with low incomes. Homeowner families were expected to invest their own labor into the building of their home and the houses of other families. This reduced the cost of the house, increased the pride of ownership and fostered the development of positive relationships. Money for building was placed into a revolving fund, enabling the building of even more homes.

Testing the Model
In 1973, Fuller moved to Africa with his wife and four children to test their housing model. The housing project, which they began in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), was a success in that developing nation. Fuller became convinced that this model could be expanded and applied all over the world.

Upon his return to the United States in 1976, he met with a group of close associates. They decided to create a new independent organization: Habitat for Humanity International. From 1976 to 2005, the Fullers devoted their energies to the expansion of Habitat for Humanity throughout the world.

Public Recognition

  • In 2004, Fuller and Habitat for Humanity International received the World Methodist Peace Award from the World Methodist Council.
  • In 2003, “The NonProfit Times” named Fuller its Executive of the Year. Fuller also received the T.B. Maston Christian Ethics Award that year.
  • In 2002, Fuller and his wife were awarded the Bronze Medallion from the Points of Light Foundation in Washington, D.C., honoring their pioneering work in service.
  • Fuller was also awarded the Overcoming Obstacles award from the Community for Education Foundation in New York in 2002.
  • He was named Georgian of the Year and received the Auburn University Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation honored Fuller with the Frank Annunzio award in 2000 for his lifetime achievement in public service.
  • Fuller was also named one of the most influential people in homebuilding in the United States in the 20th century by “Builder” magazine and one of “20 Georgians Who Most Influenced the 20th Century” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • He was the recipient of a 1999 Jefferson Award from the American Institute of Public Service for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged.
  • “Professional Builder” magazine named Fuller Builder of the Year in 1995 and presented him with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.
  • In 1994 he and his wife were awarded the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award.
  • He also received the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award from both the state of Georgia and the King Center.
  • Fuller received more than 50 honorary doctorate degrees in fields such as law and public service for his leadership toward meeting the goal of eliminating poverty housing worldwide.

Fuller authored nine books about his life and work with Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat’s cofounder
See also our biography of Habitat cofounder, Linda Fuller.