Feature Story – Day 1

A kiss for his favorite

Jimmy Carter kissed Rosalynn as he introduced her as his favorite Habitat volunteer at the opening ceremonies for the 25th Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project Sunday. The crowd of volunteers cheered for them both.
Feature Story – Day 1 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Carter calls project a blessing all 25 times

By Teresa K. Weaver

The Mississippi Mass Choir jump-started the 25th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project Sunday night with a rousing hymn that seems to hold special meaning in this battered region of the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“Lord, I’ve been working for Jesus such a long time,” the soloist belted. “But I’m not tired yet.”

Some 2,000 people — volunteers, partner families, donors and celebrities — gathered in Biloxi’s Yankie Stadium for opening ceremonies of the Carter Work Project, which is always part reunion, part revival.

This year is special: This is the first Carter Work Project to include the first lady’s name in the title, a tribute to her work beside the former president on every build site since the event began, in 1984.

“She is my favorite of all the Habitat volunteers I’ve ever known,” President Carter said, smiling.

“I am a fairly accomplished carpenter now,” said Mrs. Carter, acknowledging that she likes the way her name looks on a giant banner hanging behind the stage. “But I still won’t go on the roof,” she added.

Country music superstars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, longtime supporters of the Carter Work Project, were at Sunday night’s ceremonies.

“We’re here for pretty much the same reasons as all of you,” Brooks said. “We believe in the mission.”

Also attending were former U.S. Sen. John Edwards from North Carolina and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker from Mississippi. Nashville songwriter Anna Wilson joined the Mississippi Mass Choir for her tune inspired by Habitat, “That’s What Makes a House a Home.”

The host affiliate for this year’s Carter Work Project, Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when two small affiliates in Harrison and Jackson counties — two of the hardest hit in Katrina — decided they could accomplish more by joining forces.

“We’re building so much more than houses,” said Chris Monforton, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “We’re building homes and hope, promise and possibility.”

No matter how articulate, nobody can really tell the story of Habitat better than the partner families. President Carter got choked up when recounting the story of a woman who had lived with her children in an abandoned septic tank before moving into a new Habitat house.

“This has never been a sacrifice for us,” Carter said. “Whenever we think we’re working too hard and getting up too early, it turns out to be a blessing.”

The theme of this year’s Carter Project is about going the distance, continuing to build on the work that has already involved more than 70,000 volunteers in the construction of 1,300 homes in the Gulf Coast region.

“We were here quickly then, in those first few horrible days,” said Jonathan T.M. Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International. “And we’re here now.”

Let the building begin.

Teresa Weaver is a senior writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International, based in Atlanta.