"I think all you have to do is be involved once and then you catch the fever," says Cathy Keating, First Lady of the state of Oklahoma. "It's everything that's right about America -- people are volunteering their time and expertise to give everybody a chance at the American dream."

Janet Huckabee, First Lady of Arkansas, agrees. "It's amazing to see this many people working together hand in hand. They've never met, and yet they're doing something good for somebody."

The two women are hard at work today on one of the 100 houses being built during this year's Jimmy Carter Work Project. "This is therapy for me," says Huckabee. "We do so many things: receptions, banquets, speeches, photos... and this is good old-fashioned hard work."

"She can hit one mean sledgehammer," laughs Keating. "She can out-sledgehammer any man on this job!"

Dubbed the "First Ladies for Habitat" house, this all-women build is part of a series of houses being built in partnership with first ladies and former first ladies of several U.S. states. The first such house was built during last year's JCWP in Pikeville, Ky., and included participation by Rosalynn Carter and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Huckabee plans to lead a First Ladies build in Fayetteville, Ark., later this month.

Keating led one in Oklahoma last year. "She invited us all to the governor's mansion for a barbecue after a build one night," says Cathy Belatti, who is involved in organizing First Ladies for Habitat builds across the country. Several of the younger participants were thrilled by the experience, she says. "They came the next day and said, 'I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be in the governor's mansion!'"

"Looking like this!" adds Keating, pointing to her T-shirt and shorts. "That was the criteria, no one could go home and shower. We were just too tired at the end of the day, who wanted to go do that?"

Belatti believes that by working with Habitat, these first ladies are helping women recognize their ability to positively impact their communities.

"There's a place for everybody," says Keating. "Whether you're young or old, skilled or unskilled, there's something for everybody to do to be part of the team."

Other Stories from the 1998 JCWP
JCWP Homeowners:
Nancy Rosas

"I'm overwhelmed," says Rosas of her volunteer crew. "There's no way I could ever pay these people back."

More stories:
John and Belvin Richard
Olga Martinez
Betty and Seff Polk
Wade and Shalina Gibson
JCWP Volunteers:
Always and Forever Hammering

Habitat volunteer Eunita Shields has worked long and hard to help her cousin find decent, affordable housing.

More stories:
Joanne and Greg Janson
Campus Chapters
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter
JCWP Behind the Scenes:
All Smiles

The registration and hospitality crew can help you get cooled off or fired up.

More stories:
The Green Team
Security Volunteers
First Aid
Food Service
Day-By-Day Photo Journal | 1998 JCWP Home Page

JCWP Overviews: 1984-96 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000

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