Overview – Day 1

Friendship and celebration

Volunteers poured into Biloxi, Miss., for the official opening of the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project 2008. During the day, old friends met and new friends were made as volunteers registered and received their house assignments. A gala opening ceremony welcomed the Carters, homeowners, volunteers and supporters and kicked off the week of rebuilding and recovery.
Overview – Day 1 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Headlines and heart greet Carters, volunteers

Biloxi woke up Sunday morning to a front-page reminder that the 2008 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project had come to town. “Thousands come out for Habitat,” trumpeted the Biloxi Sun-Herald, just above a companion story detailing the immense and lingering need for affordable housing in one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Those Habitat thousands gathered in the Beau Rivage and Isle of Capri hotels and Yankie Stadium in Biloxi to register on Saturday and Sunday. During the coming week, they will fan out to build sites and neighborhoods in Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula and will participate in new construction as well as house repair and refurbishing projects.

During registration, volunteers gathered for cookies and lemonade — and, for many returning Habitat supporters, a chance to reconnect with old friends. New Jersey residents Wally and Dot French made the Carter Work Project trip for the 10th time this year.

“Without even trying to, without being in the midst of activities just yet, we’ve seen familiar faces,” said Dot French.

Soon, the two found themselves in the midst of plenty of activity, as buses transported the gathered volunteers to nearby Yankie Stadium for the opening ceremonies of the 25th annual Carter Work Project.

The bright afternoon sun gave way to a pleasant evening breeze, as participants were greeted by the lively Mississippi Mass Choir. The opening ceremonies included remarks by Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford, host affiliate Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast CEO Chris Monforton and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker. Habitat volunteers Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood introduced a video celebrating the 25 years of Habitat service by former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter. President Carter then spoke and introduced his “favorite Habitat volunteer”: his wife, Rosalynn, who said how pleased she was that the 25th Carter Project will take place on the Gulf Coast, where so many have suffered and so many still need decent housing.

Spoken words of inspiration weren’t the evening’s only high notes. Nashville singer-songwriter Anna Wilson performed her song “A House a Home” and then returned later to join the Mississippi Mass Choir to sing “Heart of America,” written by Habitat supporter Tim Blixseth.

“Let’s get to building,” said Reckford as the ceremonies came to a close. And volunteers prepared to do just that, breaking up into small groups to meet with house leaders and go over their schedules for Monday, the first day of building.
— Shala Carlson