Daily Diary – Day 2

Construction begins

As the first day of building and rehab got underway, walls were raised, windows and doors were replaced, and Habitat houses started to take shape. In Pascagoula, President and Mrs. Carter built alongside senators, musicians — and, as a special surprise, even a few members of their Secret Service detail got in on the action. Photo by Gregg Pachkowski
Daily Diary – Day 2 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Not-so-secret service

— Just before work crews took a break for lunch Monday, the Secret Service agents assigned to President and Mrs. Carter decided to get into the build. The men with earpieces helped lift trusses to Habitat CEO Jonathan Reckford and former Habitat CEO Paul Leonard, who stood on a platform side by side and, together, shepherded them up to volunteers waiting on the roof. It’s rare for Secret Service agents to build. Their job is to stand guard and watch. But they wanted to do something special for the Carters for the 25th project. — Shala Carlson

Closer to home
— A pair of future homeowners watched the walls rise for their houses-to-be Monday morning. As the first wall at her house was being raised, Brenda Bolden shouted to her grandson, Michael Brumfield, among the volunteers: “Come on, Michael! Lift my wall for me!”

One street over on Huff Alley, Angel Lewis’ house was going up, as well. And even though the work had already begun, she couldn’t quite believe it. “I still can’t grasp it yet,” she said quietly. “It’s just so overwhelming that everybody’s here doing this with me.” — Phillip Jordan

Paying it forward
— The Gulf Coast is block leader Bill Lifsey’s sixth Carter Work Project. The retired airline pilot works as a contractor in his hometown of Denver, North Carolina, but “Habitat is what I do,” he said. “It’s my life.” Lifsey was directing as house leaders and volunteers raised the walls of three neighboring houses on School Avenue.

Lifsey, joined this week by his wife Jane, said he learned construction skills from his father, and he enjoys passing on his knowledge. “I just love helping people to help themselves,” he said. “In my life, that’s how it’s been for me. People gave me a chance, and I built on it. I needed to pay that back.” — Shala Carlson

Bounding enthusiasm
— Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta’s Chris McEntee bounded down the steps early Monday morning to proclaim, “I am a fanatic.” In November 2006, McEntee and his peers at the bank, an institution that has a long history of involvement with Habitat, helped raise the roof over the 500th hurricane recovery house, a building project located in Mobile, Ala., and “we decided we were coming back for more.”

McEntee added: “This is the mission in action. And getting people out here makes it more than just a blip on the screen; it makes it about getting people connected.” — Shala Carlson

Whirlpool takes Citi challenge
— Thirteen-year Whirlpool employee Gwen Covington knows well how much help Mississippi and other hurricane-affected areas of the Gulf Coast still need. The first-time Habitat volunteer is a native of Mississippi, now living and working in the Oxford area. “Seeing the devastation, know that at first people were gung ho but that so much was still needed after all this time, I saw this as my opportunity to just jump in and go to work,” she said.

Covington and her fellow Whirlpool employees had been issued a friendly challenge by the Citi workers at the Habitat house going up next door. “They think they’re going to finish before we do,” she said, laughing and handing out water. “But they’re going to tire out by lunch time, and we’re going to catch up with them.” — Shala Carlson

Strolling supervisor
—The houses going up on Huff Alley had a mascot by mid-morning. A orange feline came out to inspect the project, generously allowing volunteers to pet and fuss over her. Strolling back and forth while supervising, this Habicat was wise enough to stay across the street from the hammers. — Susan Stevenson

Moved to build
— Last summer, Renae Haney, 49, and her daughter, Lindsey, 23, traveled from Kansas City, Missouri, to Americus, Georgia, and visited Habitat for Humanity International’s headquarters.

“We did one of the tours at the Global Village there and watched a video about what Habitat does,” Renae said. “The kids and the families in that video — it was a life-changing experience. I’ve never even worn work boots before, but I knew I had to be a part of that.” This week, they are helping build a house for the first time during the Carter Work Project. — Phillip Jordan

Gold star hydration
— Jillian Gross is an experienced Habitat builder. A co-house leader for the Carla Bunch family house with Joe Newland Jr. in Biloxi, she also knows how the Gulf Coast heat can affect volunteers. Thus the pack of gold star stickers she keeps on hand: “Drink plenty of water,” she told her crew Monday morning. “And remember, you’re not dehydrated if you have to pee! So when you go, you get a gold star!” — Phillip Jordan

Back at it tomorrow
— Crystal Thomas, 21, an elementary education major from Athens State University in Athens, Ala., is working Habitat this week for the first time. She came to Mobile with a team of nine, and while her first day turned a little rocky with a twisted ankle, she said she’s enjoying the experience and hopes to be building again tomorrow. — Shawn Reeves

Third time’s the Habitat charm
— Allison Blake, 23, from Ridgewood, N.J., and her AmeriCorps team member Cameron Perrier, 19, from northern Virginia, are working on their third service project in their 10-month program, having already helped rebuild homes in St. Bernard Parish. La., and tutored kids at a charter school in Hollywood, Calif. — Shawn Reeves

Not laboring in vain
— David Wait, area commander for The Salvation Army, addressed the volunteers, urging them to consider how their efforts and their work this week are building so much more than simply houses. Basing his remarks on Psalm 127 — “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain,” he told the assembled volunteers. “You’re building homes, you’re building futures, you’re giving opportunities to families.” — Shawn Reeves

Nothing like home
— Forest Heights homeowner Johnny Jefferson, dressed in a “Scarface” T-shirt, assisted with the rehab of his house on Holly Circle by removing the old windows. He stacked them neatly in the side yard, intending to recycle them for scrap aluminum. Nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed his house, Jefferson is eager to get back in his house with his family.

“Ain’t nothin’ like home,” he said. The house rehab, along with many others in the neighborhood, is being sponsored by the Weaver Family Foundation, based in Jacksonville, Fla. — Sandy Weaver, a volunteer from Suwanee, Georgia, is working with her sister senior writer/editor Teresa Weaver this week.

— Just before lunchtime, volunteer Julia Dennis — Julz, to her friends — was in search of a roll of duct tape. Apparently, her work day started by leaning over to pick up materials and splitting her pants. No duct tape was found. She made do with blue painter’s tape. — Sandy Weaver, a volunteer from Suwanee, Georgia

Meet the writers
who are covering this year’s Carter Work Project. See their bios at the bottom of this page.