In 1984, President Jimmy Carter was on a trip to New York City and stopped by a Habitat project on the Lower East Side during a morning jog. The project was struggling. Not even realizing he was talking out loud, he thought to himself, 'Rosalynn and I should come up and give them a hand.'
Someone heard him and told Millard Fuller. Fuller called him, and before he knew it, they were on a bus with about 40 other volunteers to help with the rehab project.
That was the story President Carter shared with more than 2,000 volunteers who turned out for the 2000 Jimmy Carter Work Project in New York to build 22 homes - the renovation of a 10-unit building on West 134th Street in Harlem and the construction of 12 new row houses in Brooklyn's Bedford Stuyvesant.
"That first year we didn't know if we could get any volunteers to pay their own way to go with us," says Jimmy Carter. "We loaded on a Trailways bus and drove 24 hours from southwest Georgia to New York. We all slept on a church floor in Lower Manhattan."
"We came in 1984 because we felt so sorry for the volunteers on the Lower East Side," President Carter said. "It's heartwarming to be back. We go to the original site and the whole area is transformed."
When they first came to New York in 1984, it never occurred to the First
Family that the Jimmy Carter Work Project would become the international
phenomenon it is today.
"I didn't think I'd come a second year," President Carter said. "I never had any concept it would ever expand."
Sixteen years later, the former U.S. president is continuing the pattern of partnership with Habitat for Humanity that began years ago. The times have changed and the Jimmy Carter Work Project has expanded dramatically. In fact, last year's JCWP in the Philippines involved 14,000 volunteers building 293 houses.
After years of traveling throughout the US and around the world, President Carter said it was particularly satisfying to be back in New York, the only city to which the Jimmy Carter Work Project has been more than once. This year, volunteers are coming from all over the world to participate in this tradition of service as the JCWP returns to New York City, where Habitat for Humanity will build its 100,000th house.
"All of it started in New York City," he said. "I thought I knew what
southern hospitality was. You've taught me a few things here."