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Wednesday, 1997 Jimmy Carter Work Project

By Scot Ninnemann

BEREA, Ky. (June 18, 1997) -- It's hard to miss the enthusiasm of Don and Pat Steinert: They're the ones singing on the Habitat shuttle bus at 6 in the morning.

"We celebrated our 27th anniversary the first day of the work project," says Don, "and we couldn't think of a better way of celebrating."

The Steinerts flew from Oregon to volunteer with "Hammering in the Hills," Habitat for Humanity's 1997 Jimmy Carter Work Project. "This is our third one," Don explains. "We were at Eagle Butte, and we were down in L.A., and this is the best one so far. We've got a couple of really great house leaders, and as a result there's a real feeling of camaraderie."

Pat Steinert agrees. "Our house leaders are so incredible, they're so patient, and really give you the opportunity to do things."

A group of college students are working on the same crew, which the Steinerts have greatly enjoyed. "We've had nothing but fun," says Don.

Judging by the matching paint splotches on the Steinerts' noses, they're not lying. "This has been by far the most fun," Pat says. "The kids are incredible! We've been having fun, we've just been silly."

There's a wide age diversity among Jimmy Carter Work Project volunteers. At the Richmond work site 15 miles north of Berea, six of the volunteers are 75 or older.

The Richmond site is also the home to the Madison County affiliate's "Carters' Kids Camp." Christy Brock has organized the camp as an internship, helping her earn a master's degree in public administration. Homeowner and volunteer kids, ages 7-16, are constructing picnic tables this week for each homeowner family.

"They put together the tables from scratch, from the start up," says Brock. Today the kids are applying the first two coats of paint to each of the tables -- except the one future Habitat homeowner Rossetta Trammel's granddaughter helped build.

"She helped build that table that the Carters ate their lunch off of," Trammel says proudly. "And then they signed it."

After her family's table was autographed Tuesday when Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter visited the site, Trammel asked that it be shellacked rather than painted so the signatures could stay visible.

Not only is there a wide diversity of ages among the volunteers here, but they accomplish a wide variety of tasks to help the project flow smoothly. Many people contribute to the project without ever lifting a hammer. Some volunteers organize meals for the crowds of workers, while others serve as guides for the local media or staff the checkpoints at each of the site entrances.

Ron Wolfe is organizing the video teleconferencing which allows participants to communicate with those at the other work sites.

"The idea is to update all the other six sites and to share in what everybody else is doing," he says. Each night, volunteers can go to an interactive classroom to view and talk with people at other sites, including the Carters and visiting dignitaries.

At the Berea site, Anita Milman is coordinating recycling efforts during this week's blitz build. "It's unbelievable how much waste it would usually produce," she says, "and how much we've cut it down here."

A dozen kinds of recyclable materials are being sorted into piles. Untreated wood will be used for handcrafts. Scraps of blue insulation board have been picked up by the manufacturer for recycling, while insulation scraps provide extra coverage in the attic. "We're recycling the vinyl, the PVC piping, the aluminum fascia, and the drywall is getting all ground up and mixed in with the soil," says Milman.

The build has produced over 90 percent less waste as a result. "It's amazing. We've got about a third of a Dumpster full for three houses right now, whereas usually for one house you'd have two Dumpsters full if you weren't recycling."

Many volunteers are become increasingly excited about the recycling program's results, she notes. "People are leaving here saying, 'When I go back to my Habitat affiliate, we're going to have to start a program like this.'"

Milman then teases me for having brought an umbrella to the work site. Nobody here seems to mind getting soggy on this rainy afternoon, even though locals say we've had twice as much rain as normal. As I duck into the cafeteria tent to avoid drowning my digital camera, it's clear that the weather hasn't dampened the Steinerts' spirits, either.

"I'm constantly telling people, 'Go to a blitz,'" Don Steinert tells me. "It's a life-changing experience. It helps people recognize the possibilities. When you know that it can be done, it's just so energizing."


Scot Ninnemann is webmaster at Habitat for Humanity International in Americus, Ga. He is on special assignment this week, based in Berea, Ky., to provide daily web updates from the Jimmy Carter Work Project.



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