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Mission more important than a man

Mission more important than a man

Following is our response to a column, “Habitat wrongs a good man,” written by Philip Gailey and published in the Feb. 20, 2005, St. Petersburg Times. Gailey declined to publish our response, so we publish it here in its entirety. Tom Jones, managing director of the Washington office of Habitat for Humanity International and a friend of Gailey’s, authored the piece.

If you wish to read Gailey’s column, please follow this link:

I was born in St. Petersburg and still think of it as home in many respects. I consider Phil Gailey a good friend.

I have worked for and closely with Millard Fuller for many, many years and admire him as one our generation’s most accomplished humanitarians. I consider him a close personal friend.But my passion is for Habitat for Humanity and the families who desperately need the hand up that Habitat for Humanity can provide.

Those were the lenses through which I read with profound sadness Mr. Gailey’s commentary in the Feb. 20, 2005, edition of The Times.

For me, St. Petersburg was a great place to live, to grow up. There I learned the lessons that throughout my life have served me well – principles that were instilled in me by family, friends and neighbors in Pinellas County. But that isn’t the case for everyone there. Not everyone was or is as fortunate.

I saw it then and I see it today – families who struggle mightily to find enough money at the end of the month to pay for food, for health care, for clothing, for a safe place to live. So I find it profoundly sad that Gailey, or anyone for that matter, would suggest doing anything that would deny anyone the opportunity to have their own American dream, to have a simple, decent place to live.

No question, this has been a difficult and sad time for the many people, myself included, who have been inspired by Millard’s vision and boundless energy. But, as Millard himself has said on many occasions, Habitat is bigger than any one person. Habitat is a mission, a ministry, a movement … and that movement must continue – more than one billion people around the world are counting on it.

In Pinellas County, for example, which has an economy fueled by sunscreen and tourists’ dollars, and a fast-growing technology component, amid all this success, all this wealth, there are still 68,000 households living at or below the poverty line.

These families are just as committed to their community and just as loving parents as any of us. They just haven’t had the hand up that many of us were fortunate enough to have. Habitat can be that hand up, that first step to building the life they want and deserve to build. But their success depends on the rest of us.

Habitat succeeds through the strength of volunteers, people who go above the call of their nine-to-five duties to ensure that everyone has the chance for a safe, simple, decent place to live. People who open their hearts, and their checkbooks, who give of their time, their talent, their energy to, as Millard himself proclaims, build hopes, lives and dreams.

As I said, I was born in St. Petersburg. My dad before me, woodcarver Jonathan Jones, moved to St Petersburg early in the last century when he was in the third grade. St. Petersburg still harkens of home. I consider Phil Gailey a good friend, and I respect him, but we disagree when it comes to Habitat for Humanity. A man can never be more important than a mission, not when the mission is God’s children in need. I give – my time, my support, my money. Won’t you?

Tom Jones is vice president of Habitat for Humanity International and managing director of the Washington, D.C., office for Habitat for Humanity International. The HFHI Washington Office is a part of the headquarters executive office.