Leigh Powell, a writer and editor for Habitat for Humanity International, scrapes paint from the windows of house #949 as the Jimmy Carter Work Project 2002 winds down.
Photo by George Hipple

Diary of House 949: Day Five
By Leigh Powell

Today was a long, busy and emotional day. There was a definite sense of pressure this morning, as the house had to be finished. There was a lot of spackling, caulking, painting, landscaping and clean up to be done. The sense of teamwork that has been building all week was plain to see.

Most everyone grabbed brushes and worked on painting throughout the early afternoon. Clive, Ashley, Birgit and Maviti took care of the landscaping—levelling the yard, planting trees and making a little bench and a front porch from some extra concrete blocks. With paint on the walls and the yard in shape, it was amazing how quickly this house started looking like a “home.”

Though everyone worked diligently, we took several breaks to make sure we had each other’s correct addresses. A couple of the guys brought t-shirts and permanent markers so we could all sign our names (a great idea to remember for my next JCWP). We also wrote messages to Richard and his family on the back of the sign that had been standing in the yard in front of a mere foundation five days earlier.

Happily, Richard’s wife Phindile was able to take Friday off from work to be at the site. It was fun to watch her excitement as she helped wrap up the construction of her new house.

A little after 4 p.m., David called us all together in front of the house for the dedication. Howard led us in prayer and read a chapter from the Bible about building your house—and your life—on a rock, a firm foundation. David congratulated and thanked us for being a great crew, and then Richard, the homeowner, spoke briefly. Then he made his way around the group, shaking hands and hugging us, saying “God bless you.”

Phindile followed, hugging us and crying. I can’t speak for everyone else, but that’s also when I started crying, and I saw a few other folks wiping their eyes, too. Is it possible to be unmoved by such a display of joy?

When Phindile’s parents arrived, her mother, Noreen, sang a blessing in each room of the house. Hearing her call of “Amen” mingling with the other sounds of song, praise and laughter across the build site, as others dedicated their homes, was enough to bring tears to my eyes again.

After the tears, it was time to celebrate with the rest of the house crews, homeowners and staff. Everyone gathered for the closing ceremony, followed by a “braai”—a South African barbecue “with all the fixin’s” (as we’d say in my home state of Tennessee).

It was bittersweet to board the bus and leave the site for the last time. A little part of myself lives in that neighborhood; a little part of everyone who volunteered there this week lives there. It is a community built of blocks and mortar, stipplecrete and tile, spackle and paint—but it is ultimately a community built of love in its purest form.

God bless Richard, Phindile and their daughters. God bless all 100 families who have a new house of their own. God bless all of the people who made the 2002 Jimmy Carter Work Project possible.

—Leigh Powell is an HFHI writer and editor on special assignment for the JCWP


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