He did it for two reasons: McCullum asked to be considered when a position opened, and O'Dekirk, who's known McCullum for years, said he has much respect for her – as a leader and as a former resident of the authority's recently demolished Des Plaines Garden Homes apartments.
“I think she’s looking at this from both sides,” O’Dekirk said. “Obviously in a managerial role, but she also can relate to what the residents are going through because she was one at one point.”
McCullum, pastor of Kingdom Builders International Worship & Training Center at 1120 Richards St. in Joliet, said the appointment is another opportunity to serve.
“I had a call from an individual just last week about a family member who had gotten burned out,” McCullum said. “She wanted to know if there was anything we could do to expedite the process in getting her relocated. And so I made contact with the executive director.”
McCullum hopes the new Water’s Edge mixed-income development will help change the perception of Housing Authority of Joliet units. People often consider them a step down. For McCullum and her family, they were a step up.
Even humbler beginnings
Up until the sixth grade, McCullum lived with her family in a single-family home at 1610 Fairmont Ave. in Lockport in an area known as “The Hill.” McCullum had two brothers and four sisters. Two of those sisters have since died from breast cancer, she said.
McCullum was the second youngest. Her parents divorced when she was 6. The home had no running water.
“We had an outside toilet,” McCullum said. “We washed clothes in the summertime outside with scrub boards and we hung clothes on the clothesline.”
Luxuries were few, but McCullum recalled when they obtained one: a washing machine – with a wringer. That meant the family could handle its own laundry in the winter as well as summer.
Before the washer, they relied on a man named “Pete.”
“He had a laundromat on this end of town,” McCullum said. “He’d get our clothes and take them to the laundry and bring them back in brown paper bags. We’d have to fold and iron them.”
The family moved to the authority’s Des Plaines Garden Homes apartments after McCullum’s mother lost the home. McCullum called the move “a blessing.”
“Now we had inside facilities. Now we had running water,” McCullum said. “Now we could take a bath.”
Previously, taking a bath meant fetching water from the neighbor’s pump, boiling it and then dumping it in a large round metal tub that sat in front of a heater.
“Everyone dried off with the same towel,” McCullum said, “so you wanted to get in first.”
But although the family was poor, McCullum said she never realized it. Thanks to her mother, Margaret Lively of Indianapolis, now 84, the family had an abundance of love, McCullum said.
Melding into a new culture
Life at the Housing Authority of Joliet brought new challenges. Although McCullum and her family lived in walking distance to conveniences, they weren’t initially close to their new neighbors.
In addition, the schools had higher educational requirements and McCullum said she went through a period where she was bullied. But over time, everyone adapted, made friends and moved out and on.
McCullum graduated, first from Washington Junior High School and then from Joliet Central High School. Lively bought a home on McDonough Street in Joliet and added a space for her beautician’s business – before moving to Harvey.
McCullum landed a job at the former Illinois Bell on Webster Street in Joliet. She moved into an apartment next to Range Funeral Home on Eastern Avenue. A year later, McCullum moved again, to an apartment on Lois Place.
For 18 months in the 1990s, before moving into ministry full-time, McCullum worked for the housing authority. After being ordained in 1993, she helped pastor New Life Christian Fellowship with her now former husband, the Rev. Victor McCullum. In 2003, she founded Kingdom Builders.
The philosophy of her ministry echoes her approach to leadership.
“We’re a small congregation. We’re under 50 people,” she said. “It’s not in the numbers. It’s in the quality of what we’re doing. God said he would deliver the city by few or by many. We know it doesn’t take a whole lot of people to do what he needs to do. We have a loving congregation. We’ve been faithful.”
For more information about Kingdom Builders International Worship & Training Center, visit main.kingdombuilderswtc.org or call 815-744-9886.