By Scot Ninnemann
BEREA, Ky. (June 17, 1997)-- "There's only one thing I'm concerned about here in Berea, and that is that nobody seems to be working," joked former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. "But I can tell from your houses that you have been working."
Indeed, blue insulation board is now in place around the exteriors of each of the three houses being built here as part of "Hammering in the Hills," the 1997 Jimmy Carter Work Project. Volunteers are halfway through shingling the roofs, while others have begun nailing up vinyl siding.
The Carters didn't see any work being done here because five minutes before their arrival today, everyone had gathered in the cafeteria tent and on surrounding sidewalks to see them.
This is a big production, this Carter tour of the JCWP work sites, with Secret Service agents, a crowd of camera tripods and patrol cars in evidence at each stop. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are flying by helicopter from site to site, landing a short distance from the actual houses and traveling the rest of the way by motorcade. Between this morning and noon tomorrow, they'll have visited work sites run by each of the seven affiliates coordinating this year's JCWP.
Usually, the Carters prefer to spend every day of the blitz build week with hammers in hand, concentrating on building their teams' houses. However, due to this JCWP's uniquely spread-out work sites, most of the event's participants would have been unable to see them if the Carters had stayed in Pikeville -- where they are building -- all week. The day-and-a-half, fly-around tour is giving homeowners and volunteers at the other build sites that opportunity.
Last summer, during the JCWP in Hungary, Jimmy Carter remembers being skeptical upon hearing plans for this year's scattered-site build. "They were going to build 52 houses in one week, in eight different places, and they were going to have more volunteers than they could handle, and Rosalynn and I looked at each other and said, 'No way!' But we've come here, and all of the dreams ... are true."
In fact, when you include the 24 other Appalachian Habitat affiliates conducting blitz builds, as well as houses being built in partnership with the Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises, a total of 150 homes are being constructed this summer as part of "Hammering in the Hills."
"As was the case with the Kentucky delegation who came over to tell us about their glorious predictions," said Carter, "Millard Fuller's longtime prediction that everyone in the world will have a decent home is not an idle dream. Dreaming about it is the thing that makes it all come true."
Fuller, founder and president of Habitat for Humanity International, is accompanying the Carters on their tour, sharing news of Habitat's activities around the world and his vision of simple, decent housing for all people.
"We're going to make shelter a matter of conscience," he told the crowd, "because everybody who can sleep at night ought to have a decent place to sleep. That's the vision of Habitat for Humanity."
Rain started and stopped through the speeches as it has for most of the past 24 hours. "Somebody told me this morning that God was blessing us with the rain over and over and over again," joked Rosalynn Carter.
Despite the somewhat uncooperative weather, construction has continued on schedule. Bales of straw have been scattered over the mud around the houses, and plywood put down over the heavily trafficked paths between the stacks of building materials and the houses under construction.
Neither has the rain discouraged the Carters from continuing their tour of the other JCWP work sites.
"I'm very proud of what you're doing and I feel a sense of brotherhood with all of you," Jimmy Carter told the homeowners and volunteers in Berea. "Let me express my thanks to all of you for letting us be a part of a project that we share."
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