One of the most interesting volunteer groups in Sumter County this week is a group of six homeowners from former Jimmy Carter Work Projects.
They are the original Carter partner families from JCWPs dating back to the first one, New York City in 1984/1985. For each of the homeowners interviewed, the experience of building side by side with President Carter is a memory that has not faded with time.
"I'll never forget the birthday party the Carters held for my two daughters," said Cheryl Morgaridge, whose house was built during the 1994 JCWP at Eagle Butte, South Dakota. "Their birthdays are July 16 and 20 -- one was just before the build and other during it. It was just too busy to do anything."
Hearing of the missed birthdays, the Carters threw a party for the girls that was held in their just-completed house.
Morgaridge remains active with Okiciyapi Tipi HFH in Eagle Butte and serves as vice president of the homeowner's association.
Sonia Streets also remembers details from the day she built with Carter in Sandtown, a neighborhood of Baltimore, Md. But in case she forgets, she also keeps a thick, well-worn album filled with photographs and news clippings about the JCWP 1992.
"I remember everything," Streets said. "All the Secret Service were around me, and Jimmy Carter showed me how to hold a hammer!"
Pulling out her album, Streets points out her three little girls from newspaper articles during the build. Now teenagers in prom dresses, these girls have grown up very differently from their mother.
"I wanted a house for my kids and their kids," Streets emphasized. "I never wanted it for me. I came up through the foster program, living from pillar to post, and I wanted my children to have a real home."
When the Jimmy Carter Work Project rolled into Milwaukee, Wisc., in 1989, it was to build a house with Cecelia Dukuly, who had only recently emigrated to the United States from Liberia.
"Jimmy built my house from start to finish," she said proudly. "At the end, he and Rosalynn signed their names on the [concrete] steps. When people come to my house, I always show them the steps!"
One of the greatest gifts of homeownership is being able to offer shelter to others. Several of Dukuly's family members have left Liberia, which has been in a bloody civil war for years. Dukuly now shares her home with her sister Elizabeth, who came to live with her in 1997.
Francisco and Gloria Argueta emigrated from El Salvador to Canada in 1986. They enjoyed the safety and peace of their new country, but it wasn't until the JCWP in 1993 that it finally felt like "home." Their house was built as part of a 28-house blitz in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Waterloo, Ontario.
"Our house is in Kitchener, which is outside Waterloo," explained the Arguetas. "The build was a wonderful experience, but it went so fast, there was no time to talk to the Carters!"
Gloria said she is thankful to be able to have her own home daycare, so she can be a stay-at-home mom for their two sons and still earn some money.