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San Francisco State University to award honorary degree to Habitat for Humanity International founder



Christina Holmes
SFSU Office of Public Affairs

(415) 338-1665


NOTE TO EDITORS: For a photo of Fuller, contact Holmes at the phone numbers and e-mail address above.

Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs

Millard Fuller to receive degree
at May 25 commencement

SAN FRANCISCO, April 29, 2002 -- Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity International, which has fulfilled the dream of owning a home for more than half a million people across the world, will receive the honorary degree of doctor of humane letters from San Francisco State University during commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 25.

Early on in life, Fuller turned away from a life focused on the acquisition of material things, and launched a program ensuring that thousands of families would have safe and affordable shelter. Since he started the grass roots, volunteer organization in 1976, more than 500,000 people in about 2,000 communities worldwide now have a place to call home. There are about 1,900 active Habitat for Humanity affiliates in 83 countries, including every state in the nation. In the San Francisco Bay Area alone, Habitat for Humanity has built nearly 200 homes.

"Millard Fuller is truly an inspiration to us all. His selfless acts of providing a need as basic as shelter has benefited thousands of people. He was so committed to his mission of giving hope and homes to others that he willingly sacrificed his own personal luxuries to help those who were less fortunate," said SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan. "Years ago Millard was at the forefront of service to the community, a philosophy we deeply embrace here at the University. He continues to exemplify the admirable qualities of a humanitarian who continually gives to those around him."

Each campus in the California State University system nominates honorary degree recipients to recognize those individuals with meritorious and outstanding service to the CSU, the campuses, the state of California, the United States or to humanity at large. The recipients are also individuals whose lives and achievements should serve as examples for CSU's diverse student body. The CSU and each individual campus bestow the degrees during commencement ceremonies.

"I am incredibly honored to be receiving the honorary degree from San Francisco State University," said Fuller. "To be recognized in that way by such a prestigious university is a great encouragement to me to continue with our work of eliminating poverty housing and homelessness."

By many accounts Fuller achieved the pinnacle of success at the young age of 29 when the law school graduate became a millionaire after opening a mail-order business with a friend.

While material possessions were in abundance, his marriage, integrity and spirituality were faltering. In 1965 Fuller and his wife, Linda, gave up their home, sold their material possessions, gave their money to the poor and moved to a farming community in Americus, Ga. where they agreed to reestablish their lives based on Christian values. With the guidance from a biblical scholar, Fuller developed the concept of "partnership housing" - where those in need of shelter work with volunteers to build simple houses.

In 1973 the Fullers and their four children moved to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) to test pilot their idea outside the United States. Within a few years, the Fullers built 114 homes for more than 2,000 people. After returning to Georgia in 1976 the Fullers founded Habitat for Humanity International. Within the first 15 years 10,000 homes were built. Two years later another 10,000 homes were constructed. Less than two years later another 10,000 went up. That figure now stands at more than 100,000 homes.

The philosophy of Habitat for Humanity is simple: through volunteer labor and donations of materials and money, Habitat builds and rehabilitates houses with the help of the soon-to-be homeowner families. Each family receiving a house must put in 300 to 500 hours of work as "sweat equity." The houses are sold to the families at no profit, financed with affordable, no-interest loans. The homeowners' mortgage payments are then used to build more Habitat homes.

Though it's an ecumenical organization, homes are built for people of all ethnicities, races and religions. The organization gained national prominence in 1984 when former President Jimmy Carter, an avid carpenter, offered his talents and time and helped champion the cause.

Fuller, 67, has authored seven books focusing on Habitat for Humanity. He has received international recognition for advocating decent, affordable housing for all. In 1996 he received the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Former President Bill Clinton said of Fuller: "I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Millard Fuller has literally revolutionized the concept of philanthropy."

Fuller has also received the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award and the Common Cause Public Service Achievement Award.

Today, Fuller and his wife live in Americus in a modest house in a low-income neighborhood. They are active in fund-raising and publicity for Habitat for Humanity.

Fuller believes that life is both a gift and a responsibility, adding that his responsibility is to help those in need. As he mentioned in one speech, "It's not your blue blood, your pedigree or your college degree. It's what you do with your life."

Fuller joins a distinguished list of recipients to receive an honorary degree from San Francisco State University, including South African President Nelson Mandela, Bay Area philanthropist Richard N. Goldman, actor Danny Glover, Japanese American artist and teacher Ruth Asawa and labor journalist and historian David Selvin.

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Last modified April 24, 2007, by the Office of Public Affairs