A Brush With Kindness Extends Impact of JCWP 2007 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A Brush With Kindness Extends Impact of JCWP 2007

Former President Jimmy Carter visits A Brush With Kindness homeowner Joyce Minners. House Leader Mike O'Brien is shown in the gray shirt.


All week, Lucille Wright has had to keep asking her daughter Marilyn if she is just dreaming.

The 81-year-old sits inside her South Central Los Angeles home with her dog Poco, conserving her energy to walk outside every so often to check in on Brush With Kindness house leader Katie McKenna and her band of volunteers. The group of JCWP participants has spent this week cleaning and landscaping Wright’s yard, repairing her roof, and painting the exterior of her house.

“I don’t believe it,” Wright said. “I keep asking my daughter, ‘Is this real?’

The mother of eight is one of dozens of homeowners benefitting from a special extension of this year’s Jimmy Carter Work Project, a program called A Brush With Kindness. ABWK aims to help preserve Los Angeles’ housing stock by partnering with low-income families whose homes are in need of exterior repairs.

Homeowner eligibility was determined based on several factors, including condition of the home, homeowner income and a demonstration of challenging circumstances such as disability, illness or age that might prevent them from doing the work themselves. ABWK homes were selected in the neighborhoods surrounding the JCWP build sites in South Central Los Angeles and San Pedro, and each morning an army of ABWK volunteers boarded buses and fanned out to their assigned locations.

“I tell Katie,” Wright said, “that if my knees would let me, I’d be out there with her. Someone would have to help me a little, but I’d be there.” Some of Wright’s children and grandchildren have taken turns helping the ABWK team assigned to her home rehabilitation, and Wright herself has been involved in directing the volunteers from a perch on the front porch.

House leader McKenna said she specifically wanted to be a part of ABWK this year. Director of family services and volunteer coordination for Flatirons Habitat in Boulder, Colo., McKenna was interested in seeing how ABWK worked -- and seeing if the program could be translated to her home affiliate. “Building houses is important,” she said. “But we don’t always necessarily have to build a new house. We can patch a roof. When part of the need for housing is a leaky roof, which we hear so often, that’s no small thing.

“I’ve done the ‘build a house in a week’ thing,” she added. “So it was important to me to get this experience to see if we can maybe get this started in Boulder. We are building five to 10 houses a year consistently, but we’re not at a place where we can build 50 to 100 houses. A program like this could help us help more people -- and get more people involved as volunteers.”

Volunteer Susan Chamberlain of Brookline, N.H., has built wood-frame and adobe Habitat houses before on a Global Village trip to Taos, N.M, but spent this week repairing stucco on the Wright house walls and priming and painting. She said she loves both kinds of Habitat projects equally. “The work -- the teamwork -- and the people that you meet? They’re the same,” she said.”

Sisters volunteering from Corona, Calif. Maria (in hat) and Amira Brewart.

On another South Central street on another sunny afternoon, sisters Maria and Amira Brewart of Corona, Calif., stood next to homeowner Ophelia Menses, all three painting doors and windows. The ABWK crew had just enjoyed a feast of taquitos, rice and beans prepared by Menses and were now back to work.

“I really enjoy this,” said Amira. “I love building new houses, but you sometimes can forget that 10, 15, 20 years down the road, you have to help the house out again. This program remembers that.”

Early on Wednesday afternoon, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, stopped by to see for themselves the results of the ABWK volunteers’ hard work on Joyce Minners’ house. When Carter stepped out of the van in front of Minners’ house, the volunteers -- lined up in the front yard for a once-in-a-lifetime photo op -- burst into applause. Carter beamed that famous smile, raised both hands in the air and complained, “Nobody’s working!”

He shook every volunteer’s hand and then took a quick tour around the house to check out the exterior sprucing-up that had been done so far. Under the shade of a skinny tree in the back yard, both Carters asked questions of the homeowner and City Councilman Eric Garcetti about the neighborhood and exorbitant housing costs in general.

After the 10-minute visit, Minners stood at the edge of her front lawn, waving with one hand and clutching a Bible given to her by the Carters with her other. “That was awesome,” said Minners, 55. A kindergarten teacher and poet, she bought her small stucco house on the clean, quiet street 33 years ago.

Asked to put a dollar amount on the painting, caulking and other work done this week by A Brush With Kindness volunteers, Minners could only guess, “Thousands of dollars I did not have,” she said. And now that everything’s in good shape on her home, she added, “I’ll be staying here maybe 33 more years.”