By Scot Ninnemann
BEREA, Ky. (June 19, 1997) -- Hillary Rodham Clinton spent her morning today installing vinyl siding.
The first lady of the United States came to Pikeville, Ky., to volunteer with "Hammering in the Hills," Habitat for Humanity's 1997 Jimmy Carter Work Project. She joined former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, along with present and former first ladies of three U.S. states, as part of an all-female construction team building the appropriately named "First Ladies' House" at the Pikeville Habitat construction site.
Charlene Stone, a volunteer at the Madison County Habitat affiliate, believes all-female builds give women an opportunity to realize their own potential. "To me, a women's house helps women who maybe aren't confident enough of their skills in carpentry to have an opportunity to come out and realize, 'yeah, I can do this.'"
During her visit to Berea on Tuesday, Rosalynn Carter emphasized the power women have to alleviate substandard housing. "The reason we want to emphasize women's houses," she said, "is because there are so many women's groups that could be out there building houses"
Judy Halstead is a member of a group that has accepted that challenge, the Younger Woman's Club of Berea. "About five years ago, we wanted as a group to get involved," she remembers. The group volunteered to work on one of the local affiliate's first houses, doing much of the interior painting. Since then, this small club of 12 people has participated in the construction of many Habitat houses in Madison County. "When I see they're putting one up, I try to get involved," says Halstead.
Area churches also have been key supporters from the beginning, says Guy Patrick, executive director of the Madison County affiliate. "We've been very fortunate to have good church support."
The church Jim Morgan attends even advertises this partnership in its Sunday bulletin. "It says, 'The Church of Christ, Union is a covenant church with Habitat for Humanity,'" notes Morgan. Many church members are active with the local affiliate or are volunteers at this week's build. "We're going to feed lunch tomorrow, and my pastor's hammering over there," he says, pointing to one of the houses under construction.
Dozens of area churches are represented among the blitz build's volunteers. "It's interesting for me seeing the different denominations that are coming together," says Ashley Miller. Denominations that normally wouldn't have much interaction "are providing a meal for these people, and that's very humbling," she adds.
A student at Berea College, Miller is involved with the Madison County Habitat affiliate through a unique college work study program. "All (Berea) students are required to work 10 hours a week," she explains. "I'm going into my senior year next year, and I wanted to do something different."
Through her school's campus ministries department, Miller learned about new positions the college was developing with service-based organizations. "I was hired to maintain a relationship between the affiliate office in Richmond and the college to get our students more involved in Habitat," she says.
Miller is excited about working with Habitat. "I've been really wanting to do it for a long time on my own, but with school it was just too much," she says. "This was a huge opportunity for me to incorporate my work with what I wanted to do as a volunteer." Miller will be working alongside the active Habitat Campus Chapter at Berea College, one of over 450 such chapters around the world.
A variety of local organizations have contributed in many different ways to this year's Jimmy Carter Work Project. Berea Rotarians sponsored the welcome dinner for Madison County's "Hammering in the Hills" volunteers. A nearby theater company provided entertainment for the build's participants on Tuesday night.
"The Richmond Area Theater came to us before this all started and said that they'd like to do a production of Godspell as a fund-raiser for Habitat," said Charlene Stone. "It's scheduled to be done in September. They came out Tuesday and did vignettes of most of the major songs, and it was wonderful, they did a fantastic job."
Companies large and small also have provided support for the build. A local bank has donated office space for the Madison County affiliate. Many subcontractors have donated their services outright during the build. A fast food restaurant donated 180 sausage biscuits, and a grocery store is providing six gallons of milk a day.
At the peak of today's hot afternoon sun, an unknown person arrived with dozens of Popsicles, and then left before anyone could identify him. Some suspect a local ice cream vendor seen earlier down the street from the work site.
Laura Robie, a volunteer coordinating the food at the Berea site, said she wasn't surprised so much that people gave -- she was surprised by the abundance of the gifts.
"All the stores have been giving us something," she said. "They give what they can, and it's interesting, because when they give a little bit, it fills a niche. It's pretty exciting."
All of the small contributions have added up to an unforgettable experience for thousands of volunteers -- and new Habitat houses for 52 families in Appalachia. The homes, which have been built at nine sites in Kentucky and Tennessee this week, will be dedicated Friday.
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