When I think of volunteering, one of the first organizations that comes to mind is Habitat for Humanity. Founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller, Habitat for Humanity has become a world leader in volunteering. Nearly 2 billion people on planet Earth live in slum housing. Over 100 million people are homeless. Habitat’s focus is on providing safe, affordable, decent housing for these people around the world. They strive to be environmentally friendly whenever possible by using sustainable materials and energy-efficient construction. Their disaster response program is aimed at providing shelter and housing to help families in the wake of natural disasters like fires, floods or earthquakes, wherever they occur.
The history of one of the world’s most recognizable names in volunteering speaks to the inclusiveness and generosity of the organization today. Habitat for Humanity was inspired by ecumenical Christians at Koinonia Farm, a Christian community outside of Americus, Georgia. The Fullers visited the farm in 1965, after leaving an affluent life in Alabama with the goal of devoting themselves to Christian service. It was there, alongside other devotees, that they conceived of the idea of “partnership housing” in which those in need would work with volunteers to build homes.
They would make no profit on the building projects, and would charge no interest on their building loans. They would finance costs through “The Fund for Humanity,” comprised of funds from the loan payments of other Habitat homeowners, donations, and no-interest loans from supporters. Their first project was in Georgia. They set up 42 half-acre plots with four acres for a community park. With the help of former President Jimmy Carter and the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project in 1984, Habitat for Humanity gained international notoriety. The organization grew exponentially. Today, Habitat for Humanity has sheltered 2.5 million people in more than 500,000 homes around the world.
I never knew that Habitat for Humanity was a Christian organization, and this is one of the things that interests me most. Typically, Christian organizations promote Christianity. It makes sense—converting new members is part of many Christian faiths—but I don’t believe religious motives should be attached to humanitarian aid projects. I just don’t think it’s fair to use a position of power to promote a religious agenda to vulnerable people in need of services. Habitat doesn’t do this, and I find it inspiring. They epitomize the Christian spirit by helping altruistically. Their religious affiliation comes second. Helping people comes first.