Overview – Day 6

Shelter from the storm

Rain and tears of joy mixed together on the final day of building during the 2008 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. Volunteer crews battled the elements once again. Partner families received Bibles from the Carters. And everyone paused for house dedications commemorating a week spent laboring together to create new homes such as this one in Pascagoula. Photo by Gregg Pachkowski
Overview – Day 6 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

The final day: Equal parts inspiration, perspiration

One of the most memorable experiences of each Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project is on the final day when each volunteer crew is able to dedicate a house with their partner family. On another rainy day in the Gulf, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between the rain and the tears on faces.

The Carters also visited with each house crew and partner family in Biloxi and Pascagoula Friday. The Carters presented Bibles to homeowners, sharing hugs and memories with the families who will soon move into their very own homes.

Volunteers cheered the Carters’ arrival at each house, eager to have their picture taken with the most visible supporters of Habitat for Humanity. “We should be applauding you,” Mrs. Carter told volunteers after an ovation in Biloxi.

Of course, after all the ceremonies and dedications, there was still plenty to do. With another series of thunderstorms washing out much of the early morning’s work, volunteers had to wait several hours to get back outside. By the time the Carters visited the last few houses in Biloxi, the rain had slackened enough for exterior work to resume.

“What have you been waiting for all morning?” President Carter asked volunteers gathered at one of those final houses.

“You!” several shouted in response.

“No, no,” Carter said with a laugh. “I hope not. You’ve been waiting for the rain to clear, and I’m glad to report that we’ve brought some relief for you. So let’s get back to work!”

‘Couldn’t be happier’

“In a perfect world, it takes about six and a half weeks for us to build a house,” said Victor Alfsen, senior construction manager for Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “And that’s a perfect world, which doesn’t usually exist. Usually it takes about 12, or probably even 16 weeks.

“Here, we got the bulk of the work done in one week. What does that tell you about how much this helped us?”

Alfsen said he estimated it would only take the affiliate about two or three weeks to finish the rest of the work on the houses constructed during the Carter Work Project. “I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “All I hope now is that every last volunteer here had a good enough experience that they want to come back at some point and do it again. Because we’re going to continue to need the extra help.”

The final tally

  • In Pascagoula, site manager Bracky Cooper estimated crews had houses 80 percent finished as of Friday afternoon. The day’s final activities included laying sod outside and finishing flooring inside. “For what we had to work with considering the weather the last couple days, I think we’ve come out of this with a tremendous success. I’m very proud of what we’ve done.”
  • In Gulfport, the unrelenting rain forced an early end to the day, but not before the rehab work was more than 75 percent complete. Every house was primed and painted; doors and trim work completed; windows and cabinets installed as well. Otherwise, all that remains for follow-up crews is to finish the rest of the flooring, install the appliances and finish some exterior work.
  • In Biloxi, crews who had to watch their scaffolding sink into the mud during the morning were able to get back out and finish nailing up vinyl siding in the afternoon. Volunteers were able to landscape the yards at most houses, as well, while interior jobs such as flooring and cabinet installation were also begun.
  • Dedication ceremonies and a final day of building also wrapped up at participating affiliates throughout the Gulf Coast Friday. From Mobile, Alabama, to Houston, Texas, volunteers weathered the elements to bring 250 more partner families closer to homes of their own.

Partner in arms — The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army signed the papers officially purchasing Biloxi’s Yankie Stadium on Aug. 25, 2005. Four days later, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast.

Since then, Yankie Stadium has served as the Salvation Army’s long-term recovery headquarters, most noticeably housing Habitat and AmeriCorps volunteers — who often come for weeks and months at a time to help rebuild — at the stadium’s Volunteer Village.

During the Carter Work Project, Habitat for Humanity was able to use the stadium as its staging ground for its Biloxi construction sites. It was also where the Salvation Army fed volunteers breakfast and lunch each day.

“The Salvation Army is doing a lot of things to help folks down here,” said Mark Jones, a public relations director for the Salvation Army. “But the one thing we don’t do is put people in homes. So to be able to partner with Habitat, an international expert in putting people in homes, is perfect for us. It’s a great blending of two organizations’ strengths.”

  • Total meals served by Salvation Army this week: 45,000 at more than 100 work sites
  • Total money allocated to support Carter Work Project: $7.4 million
  • Volunteers served at Yankie Stadium’s Volunteer Village since 2005: 274,953

— Phillip Jordan