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Jimmy Carter Work Project Weblog

Habitat’s writers and editors were on site in Detroit and Benton Harbor, Mich., watching the events of the week unfold and recording the stories of excited homeowners and eager volunteers. The JCWP Weblog is the place for “snapshots”—some of our thoughts and our favorite moments as we watched houses and futures being built.

Never Saw It Coming

Monday, June 28
5:00 p.m.

For those on the JCWP sites last week, the feeling of accomplishment at the end of building was not unlike winning the Superbowl. Mike Green, Executive Director of Harbor Habitat for Humanity in Benton Harbor, Mich., knew it could be done. But he never suspected that excited staff and volunteers would celebrate by dousing him with a cooler full of ice water!

Congratulations to the staff, volunteers and homeowners across Michigan and in Canada who made this year’s JCWP a success!


Friday, June 24
10:45 p.m.

Many themes have woven through this week’s work: community revitalization, pride of ownership, gratefulness…even sunburn. As a first-time JCWPer, I was expecting all this because I encounter these concepts each day in my work (except for the sunburn). Harbor Habitat for Humanity’s staff talks about “Habititis.” It’s the sense of being hooked on what Habitat does and on being able to participate in it. But I learned this week that the JCWP is Habititis to the hundredth power. Some of the volunteers we met this week have been to fifteen or more JCWPs—almost as many as the Carters themselves. They truly have become addicted to this blitz. They have become addicted to the feeling of stepping onto an empty build site on Monday morning and leaving behind completed houses on Friday. How could this not be habit forming?

Emily Koon
Web Writer/Editor

A Joy Beyond Words

Friday, June 24
3:05 p.m.

One of things I love about my job as a writer for Habitat for Humanity International is that I am not a detached observer. On a daily basis, I record and recount the commitment of the human spirit to goodness and justice. I feel grateful to have a job in which I bear witness to the steadfast determination of human beings from all walks of life to make better lives for themselves, their families, their communities and the human race to which we all belong.

At the same time, I have been constantly humbled by all that I have seen at this year’s Jimmy Carter Work Project, experiences which do not lend themselves to easy explanations or worn-out clich�s. The fervent emotion and unapologetic joy sometimes defy my skills as a wordsmith, and that is okay.

This afternoon, I watched 11-year-old Brian slip a lanyard holding a key to the front door of his family’s new home around his neck. His face lit up with a smile that needed no words, no elaboration.

Courtney E. Cole, Writer/Editor

The Grass is Greener
Friday, June 24
10:30 a.m.

Yesterday afternoon, sod, plants and small trees replaced building materials and construction tools as the dominant features on the JCWP landscape. All week long I have been impressed with how quickly construction sites turned into houses.

But, yesterday, when the vibrant, soft grass was placed around the foundation of nearly-completed houses, I saw something magical. I saw a house transform into a home—a keeper of laughter, tears and memories.

I saw the homes, surrounded by these lovely coverings of grass, like a leaven made of hope and determination that will uplift these neighborhoods. The grass is greener when it surrounds a Habitat home built by a family helping itself.

Courtney E. Cole, Writer/Editor

The Senses of JCWP
Thursday, June 23
11:30 p.m.

Today, a volunteer commented that JCWP “hits all the senses.” I’d never thought about the project exactly in this way before. The building does engage all five senses: the smell of sawdust and paint; the sight of walls being raised and roofs being completed; the sound of hammers hitting nails; the refreshing taste of cold water and warm food; the feel of sunshine and rain lingering on the skin as volunteers and homeowners labor to build a house in five days.

But a Habitat build centers on more than just the five senses. It also engages one’s sense of justice, compassion and fairness—that all people deserve a clean, decent place to live and that those who cannot afford homes should have the opportunity to put their sweat and earnings into buying one.

Habitat’s model of sweat equity and no-interest loans, coupled with volunteer labor and generous donors, incorporates these many senses to build homes in partnership with families around the world. The physical and moral senses that Habitat engages are apparent everywhere here at the Jimmy Carter Work Project.

Courtney E. Cole, Writer/Editor

What I Know About Detroit
Thursday, June 23
8:45 p.m.

Here's what I know about the people of Detroit: That if you're lost downtown and you stop a Detroiter on the street to ask for directions, she will walk you to where you need to go—even if she was headed the opposite way. That a Detroiter will make sure a clueless writer (yours truly) wandering around the JCWP build site wears a hardhat so that she doesn't get hurt. That Detroiters adore their Pistons (Go Pistons!)—but also have the utmost respect for the "other team" (my words) and are gracious enough to express that. That Detroiters are proud of their city—as demonstrated by the 30 houses built just west of the downtown area this week. That they have hopes, dreams and plans for their city—as seen in the faces of the partner families, HFH Detroit staff and JCWP volunteers. That they love their great city—as do I—and wouldn't choose to live anywhere else.

Heather Wilkinson, Writer/Editor

Building Brand While Building Houses

Thursday, June 23
6:30 p.m.

In bold support of Habitat’s new logo, HFHI Art Director Stefan Peterson was spotted on site today, stylishly sporting a newly branded JCWP 2005 hat. He is also sporting some newly branded JCWP dirt.

Stefan, modeling his JCWP hat
Photo: Gregg Pachkowski

Stefan has been building all week on House #7, soon to be the home of Josephine and Rynold Collins.

Stefan designed this year’s JCWP logo. He is also one of the many HFHI staff members willing to give up a week of their time to help make Habitat events like the JCWP a success. And if he worked on the Collinses’ house as hard as he worked developing Habitat’s new visual identity, this family will have one solid house to call their own.

Emily Koon
Web Writer/Editor

A Message Regarding the Crew of House #24, Benton Harbor

Thursday, June 23
3:30 p.m.

Angela Doyle has asked us to publish the following information about the crew helping her build her house:

“These volunteers are the BOMB!”

It’s the Berries

Thursday, June 23
7 a.m.

It was a chilly morning and the sun was still low in the sky as I hurried to the “Habichat” trailer. As I walked between House #7 and House #8, I noticed a carpet of dark berries beneath my feet. I stopped and looked up: a mulberry tree. JCWP is a week of constant activity, but for a moment I stood rooted, looking at the arms of an enormous mulberry tree stretched out overhead.

This huge tree has stood watch as people gave up on the neighborhood and the neighborhood lost hope. It now stands tall above a neighborhood picking itself up, dusting itself off and rebuilding, with the help of Habitat and many other community organizations committed to revitalization and development. The tree’s purple, pungent berries have been silent witnesses of decay and rebirth in this urban environment.

And this summer, the branches of this mulberry tree will provide shade for homeowner families who live in safe, decent homes.

Courtney Cole, Writer/Editor

Day 4: Are We Really Almost There?!
Thursday, June 23
6:30 a.m.

I can’t wait to get out to the build site this morning. Are we really on Day 4 already? It seems like we talked about and planned for this forever—and now the building is almost complete. This is my first time “in the field” at a Jimmy Carter Work Project. As Habitat staff, I hear stories of this special blitz all the time, but I wasn’t prepared for how quickly things are coming together or how enjoyable the week has been. Last night as volunteers were piling onto buses for the beach party, I wanted to call them back. A lull in building occurred as the elf crews trickled in. It was peaceful—like the neighborhood will be once these families move in—but I wasn’t ready to shut down for the night. Where was the laughter, the hammers’ happy staccato voices, the cheerful bustle of good people rushing around, helping? I will miss these people—most of whom I haven’t even met yet—when we leave the site for good Friday afternoon.

Emily Koon
Web Writer/Editor

Whistle While You Work

Wednesday, June 22
7:30 p.m.

Detroit is known for its music, and the JCWP build site has been no exception. In addition to the music of hammers and saws, you could hear a merengue beat coming from House #6 and live music under the food tent. If you wandered into the photo/video trailer on Tuesday, you would have heard gospel recording artist Tracy Worth treating us to a rendition of her song “What He Does Best.” Even the family partners and volunteers were breaking into spontaneous singing. Family partner Joy Clark couldn’t resist teasing her house leader, Jack: “This is ‘The House That Jack Built,’” she laughed. Jack then led the volunteers in a spirited version of “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart.” Although the volunteers and family partners have been working very hard this week they still take a moment here and there to have fun.

Heather Wilkinson, Writer/Editor

Once-in-a-lifetime Opportunities

Wednesday, June 22
7:25 p.m.

Getting to know the homeowners is one of the privileges of participating in the Jimmy Carter Work Project. Before the excitement of build week, I had a special opportunity to spend some time with family partner Audrey Hardwell and her 8-year-old son, Antonio. As we worked side by side preparing materials for registration, I learned that Audrey was both excited and nervous about blitz building her house. Antonio told me about his summer plans—namely, playing and going to Chuck E. Cheese’s—and made us laugh, taking rides on the dolly that we were using to transport boxes. Before leaving, Antonio asked his mom if he could show us one of his kung fu moves. Audrey hesitantly agreed. With a look of great determination on his face, Antonio spun around 360 degrees, ending up on the floor. “I’m still working on it,” he said with a grin. Having spent some time with this special family, I know that Antonio will do anything he sets his mind to.

Heather Wilkinson, Writer/Editor

Passing the Midpoint

Wednesday, June 22
5:15 p.m.

A lot happened today. The projects on site in Benton Harbor are starting to take on the feel of general home improvement, and this excites the homeowners. There is a feeling of having passed some kind of halfway point: Shutters are on, painting is nearly done and the people who will call these empty buildings home are starting to fantasize about arranging furniture and assigning bedrooms.

We also found a home for our pal Rosy, who was kindly adopted by a local human friend of one of our media volunteers. We will miss her, but we are happy that she—like these partner families—is on her way to a simple, decent, loving home.

Emily Koon
Web Writer/Editor

Overheard from a Local Detroit Volunteer

Wednesday, June 22
12:15 p.m.

“I was so excited about the building this week, I couldn’t even watch the Pistons’ game!”

A Different Breed of Volunteer

Tuesday, June 21
9:40 p.m.

Many friendships have been made and strengthened on the Benton Harbor build site—perhaps none more cherished than those we’ve made with our four-legged pals.

Lydia, making her
rounds with Chuck

Photo: Gregg Pachkowski

Rosy, aka “Media Mutt”

Lydia, an Australian cattle dog, is the construction assistant of her human, Construction Supervisor Chuck Watkins. She can be seen roaming the site by foot and golf cart, ready to pep up the volunteers and give everyone some much-needed moral support.

According to Lydia, a three-time JCWP volunteer, the toughest part of being a canine volunteer here is all the walking around in the sun. Naps must be grabbed wherever possible, and pilferings of the food tent must be performed in stealth.

We have also gotten to know Rosy, a Labrador mix puppy named after fellow volunteer Rosalynn Carter. She was found abandoned on the build site Monday, and a few volunteers are already interested in adopting her! Rosy has made serious business out of the regular romp sessions she has been holding on the grass between the Media house and the Video/Photo/Habichat trailer.

Rosy is excited about getting her very own human at the end of the week. She is grateful for the generous and kind treatment she has received over the last few days. Several people have either donated food or offered to help pay for her vet visit, and Marlene from Media has given her a comfy home for the week. Rosy’s learned something the rest of us already knew: Habitat people are good people.

Emily Koon, Web Writer/Editor

Conquering Fears

Monday, June 20
8:15 p.m.

I didn’t think Mary was serious when she invited me up on the roof where she was laying shingles to interview her for our daily newsletter, “Habichat.” I’m not sure what compelled me to climb the scaffolding and make my way up the ladder onto the roof, but once I was there I felt proud to have conquered a fear. When I mentioned that it was my first time on a roof Mary grabbed her camera and snapped a picture to capture the moment. That’s one of the things I love about the Jimmy Carter Work Project: caring, patient volunteers like Mary who encourage you to learn and experience new things.

Heather Wilkinson, Writer/Editor

Everyday Magic

Tuesday, June 21
7:35 p.m.

Some people think the JCWP is about constructing houses. Looking at the build site in Benton Harbor, the average passer-by could be convinced of this; it’s taken only two days for whole houses with windows and doors, roofs and siding to sprout from dust. But I think there’s something more.

So far I’ve talked with black people, white people, sunburned people, old people, young people, tired people, overwhelmed people, giddy people, dirty people. I have yet to find anyone who is not awed by the simple magic of people—of all types—helping other people.

So why does it take such a huge event to remind us all of such a basic concept? I’m not sure. But it’s worth it.

Rebekah Daniel
Assistant Editor, Habitat World

No Idle Hammers
Monday, June 20
5:00 p.m.

Building has begun! Walls are going up, and the sound of hammers is loud throughout the neighborhood. The volunteers arrived this weekend, ready to build some houses, and now they are finally able to put their expectant energy to work driving nails and raising walls. They refresh my memory as to the real muscle behind Habitat’s mission: Their simple enthusiasm, bare of any need for recognition or thanks, is what gets the job done over and over on build sites around the world. Without these helping hands, these homeowners would remain in their cramped and poorly insulated homes in unsafe neighborhoods. Without these helping hands, a Habitat build site would be little more than a box of idle hammers.

Emily Koon, Web Writer/Editor

Napkin Poetry
Saturday, June 18

Alabama, Mexico, and now Michigan,
I hear the crickets laughing.
Like ants, they scurry about, toolmen and women,
tradesmen and tending toward tort-reformers.
The real work done daily was performed by a group
Of persistently foolish performers who wanted
To be recognized for good works.
Thousands of volunteers, swinging hammers
Making a difference in the community they serve.
Chaos, confusion and exhaustion, harnessed to build hope,
And Jessica, waited anxiously for the triumphant phone call
As the carousel horses danced through the streets of St. Joe.

Written by a group of Habitat staff and contractors as they awaited their meal in a restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan, less than 24 hours from the start of JCWP 2005.

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