Way back when it launched in 1976, Habitat for Humanity was a small, faith-based nonprofit that aimed to build a few homes for needy residents in San Antonio, Texas. It was started by a man named Millard Fuller and his wife, Linda. Fuller had been a successful businessman, a self-made millionaire, before giving up his wealth to focus on Christian service work. They began building low-cost housing for a community in Georgia and, after a five-year stint in Africa, started doing the same in Texas.
The need the Fullers tapped into was so great, though, that within just five years Habitat had bases in 14 states — and seven countries. More than 40 years later, it is acknowledged to be America’s largest private home builder.
Much of the nonprofit’s meteoric growth was due to the involvement of former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, who started volunteering to help build homes in the early 1980s. But the current CEO, Jonathan Reckford, is the one who has been credited with ushering Habitat into a new era.
The organization has increased its reach to all 50 states and 70 countries. Last year, it helped 7 million people with new or rehabilitated homes. Reckford has also adapted the organization to new challenges. When the housing crisis of 2008 led to millions of foreclosures, Habitat switched from building new structures to renovating existing houses. It has invested deeply in sustainability, using recyclable materials and renewable energy.
Habitat has also created a host of affiliated programs — providing nonprofit mortgages to qualified borrowers, opening ReStores to accept used building materials for rehabs and developing programs to strengthen local communities.
Through it all, Reckford, a Presbyterian pastor who has also worked as an executive for Best Buy and Disney, has drawn on his business experience as well as his religious training. His 2019 book, "Our Better Angels," tells stories about the power of people coming together in times of crisis. For Reckford, Habitat is a roadmap for stronger, more successful, societies in America and around the world.
Some video imagery courtesy of Habitat for Humanity International.