Clarksdale Organization Provides for Those in Need
By Jack Criss • Photos courtesy of The Fuller Center
Gramm Phillips, Affiliate/Covenant Partner Coordinator for the Clarksdale Area Fuller Center for Housing, is a man on a mission. Along with the Center’s Executive Director, JoAnn Blue, and a sixteen-member Board, the organization seeks to build affordable housing for area residents in need.
“We work primarily within the city limits of Clarksdale but also occasionally in surrounding areas,” says Phillips. “To this point, we have only built new houses, but we would like to expand into repair work. We also work to incorporate our construction work into a historical and community-oriented context by encouraging interactions with homeowners, board members, and other local allies.
The Fuller Center for Housing has basically taken up where other charitable, home building organizations left off,” he continues. “We incorporated here in Clarksdale with the national Fuller Center in 2020. I personally came on board in December of last year.”
Called “covenant partners” under the auspices of the national Fuller Center, Phillips says the organization is Christian-based and are currently building their first home in Clarksdale.
“We have, though, also helped a local family move into a pre-existing, rehabilitated home,” adds Phillips. “We also work with a local contractor here who formally was affiliated with Habitat for Humanity—he’s committed to our mission and prioritizes our work. Additionally, our Board is made up of business professionals such as loan officers, grant managers, bankers and other financial experts. Our Board President, Clarksdale resident Bill Sutton, also serves as our public relations expert.”
The Fuller Center fundraises to finance the organization’s mission, including cross-country cyclists involved in the Fuller Center Bike Adventure (see https://www.fullercenterbikeadventure.org for more information). “Additionally, we receive private donations and funding from various other non-profit organizations,” says Phillips, “as well as through grants.”
Other Fuller Centers will be opening in Mississippi, such in Oxford, as well as existing organizations making the transition to join the Fuller Center, says Phillips. “It’s very much a growing, international organization,” he notes.
A Clarksdale native and well-known Delta musician, Phillips says the love of his hometown kindles the passion for his current work at the Fuller Center.
“And, as a devout Christian, this job also resonates deeply within me,” he adds. “I want Clarksdale to become a better place for all of its citizens, across racial and economic lines and demographics. It’s being part of a bigger change to build and foster a better community for the entire area.”
And, those who wish to be beneficiaries of the local Fuller Center work can actually take part in (literally) building their own, new home and life through what the Center’s website calls “Sweat Equity.”
“Sweat equity is a term the Fuller Center uses when talking about the participation of future partners in the processes of house construction and homeownership,” explains Phillips. “It’s about doing the work—the hard work—to bring an idea to life. Sweat equity is the ownership interest, or increase in value, that is created as a direct result of hard work by the owner(s).
At the Fuller Center, sweat equity is a new homeowner investing in their home or one for another family. It is not a form of payment,” he adds, “but is, instead, an opportunity to work alongside volunteers who give their time to bring to life a family’s dream of owning a home.”
Phillips says a new project is in the works in Clarksdale based on The Cass Community Project in Detroit, a city which has a well-documented housing shortage among other housing problems.
“There, the city bulldozed a lot of dilapidated structures and cleared lots and a local non-profit started building smaller houses for people on fixed incomes and based on their incomes,” he says. “We would like to replicate that locally because there are so many empty lots here in Clarksdale. Economically-disadvantaged people would then have an opportunity to own what we’re calling ‘starter home.’ This is all being done through the assistance and generosity of several prominent Clarksdale residents and we think it will be successful on so many levels,” says Phillips.
“A local architect, ninty-year old John Barnes—who is still working!—donated the designs for these two-bedroom, one-bath homes,” continues Phillips. “With construction costs so high, the smaller size will be an effective way to keep expenses down for all parties involved—and easier for residents to pay off and own their own homes while building up equity and then being able to move on into bigger homes if they so desire.”
For more information on the Clarksdale Area Fuller Center For Housing, please call 662-645-4726 or email Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org.