Cheers greet Carters at final stop to help Sandy victims

Jimmy Carter holds 1-year-old Alexa Burke, the daughter of a Habitat homeowner, on the final day of the 2013 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Union Beach, New Jersey. Union Beach, 40 miles south of New York City, suffered significant damage from Superstorm Sandy.  ©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra MillsteinJimmy Carter holds 1-year-old Alexa Burke, the daughter of a Habitat homeowner, on the final day of the 2013 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Union Beach, New Jersey. Union Beach, 40 miles south of New York City, suffered significant damage from Superstorm Sandy. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein

By Tracie Troha

Rosalynn Carter helps rehabilitate a home in Union Beach. More than 80 percent of the town's homes were affected by flooding after Sandy hit in 2012. More than 50 were completely washed away during the storm, 200 others were leveled in the months that followed. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra MillsteinRosalynn Carter helps rehabilitate a home in Union Beach. More than 80 percent of the town’s homes were affected by flooding after Sandy hit in 2012. More than 50 were completely washed away during the storm, and 200 others were leveled in the months that followed. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein

UNION BEACH, New Jersey — On the final day of the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, the anticipation and excitement were palpable.

The hundreds of volunteers who had gathered at a Union Beach firehouse Saturday for an early morning breakfast were craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the former president.

When Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, walked in, the crowd roared. Once the cheers died down, Carter told the volunteers that he was just as excited to see them.

“We have been trying to get here all week,” Carter told the volunteers. “We finally got to where we wanted to be.”

Carter praised the volunteers and Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth County for their work in restoring this close-knit, beachside community after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

Eighty percent of Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth County’s service area was affected by the hurricane. During the Carter Work Project, about 650 volunteers repaired 14 homes and began construction on two new homes.

“Rosalynn and I have been to a lot of places struck by natural disaster,” Carter said. “We’ve been to Thailand after a tsunami, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, and to Haiti after the earthquake. We’re looking forward to working side by side with you.” 

After breakfast, the Carters joined a team of volunteers — many of whom were Vietnam veterans — constructing walls for the second floor of Elmer Lamberson’s home.

Rigo Gutierrez, a volunteer from Highland Park, New Jersey, helps rehabilitate the Drybread family's home in Union Beach. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra MillsteinRigo Gutierrez, a volunteer from Highland Park, New Jersey, helps rehabilitate the Drybread family’s home in Union Beach. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein

Lamberson, whose house was destroyed by Sandy’s floodwaters, said he was grateful for the opportunity to shake Carter’s hand and work alongside him.

“I talked to a lot of reporters today,” Lamberson said. “I guess I got my 15 minutes of fame, but I’m ready for this to be over and be in my home.”

Some of the wood used to build Lamberson’s home was milled from the Christmas tree that stood in New York City’s Rockefeller Center last year. When the work is complete, Lamberson will be able to view New York City across the bay from his new home.

“I can tell you from personal experience that these Habitat homes measure very high in quality,” Carter said. “Habitat is going to make sure that these houses will withstand the next storm.”

Before the Carters left for their own home in Plains, Georgia, on Saturday, they gave no indication they would be slowing down their volunteer efforts anytime soon.

“Habitat is addictive,” Rosalynn Carter said. “To meet the people and see how they live — it does something for you.”