Brooks brings celebrity, hard work to Birmingham -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Brooks brings celebrity, hard work to Birmingham


Singer Garth Brooks installs a towel rack in the bathroom of the Smith family's new Habitat home in the Wylam Oaks neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama, on the fourth day of the 2010 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. © Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein


Matt Crosby, 14, sits in the swings on the playground he planned and help build for the Wylam Oaks neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama, as one of the requirements toward earning his Eagle Scout rank. © Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein


Valarie Bogar’s new home is nearing completion in Birmingham, Alabama’s Wylam Oaks neighborhood. © Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein

By Phillip Jordan

By the time Garth Brooks arrived in Wylam Oaks at 10 a.m. Thursday, he had already put in quite a morning. After driving his daughters to school near their Tulsa, Oklahoma, home, he boarded a plane for Birmingham and then drove straight to the Habitat work site.

Upon meeting homeowner Geri Smith, Books deadpanned, “Do you have a bed inside already? I might need a little nap.” Everyone quickly saw how much of a joke that was, as Brooks immediately got to his hands and knees in Smith’s front yard, rolling out sections of sod. By 10:30, his shirt, forearms and neck were already coated in dirt and tiny, pressed blades of grass.

It’s hard to imagine a celebrity who volunteers with less fanfare. Brooks shook hands with house leader Kent Donaldson and quietly said, “I’ll do whatever you need. Any jobs that folks don’t want to do, feel free to put me on it.”

With Brooks clad in jeans, a Habitat T-shirt and a baseball cap, it took volunteers a while to recognize the music star alongside them lifting parcels of sod from stacks near the street. “Oh my gosh!” one volunteer shouted over the rattle of a nearby pressure washer, as she turned to find Brooks next to her. “Hey there, nice to meet you, too,” Brooks replied to laughter.

Brooks also found time to talk with Smith, helping her finish some landscaping around trees planted along the side of her house. The two quickly discovered they each had three children around the same ages, and commiserated over the worries of parents as their oldest children prepare to leave home. “It’s hard to let ’em go,” Smith said. “I call Chelsie, my oldest, and say, ‘Hello, you OK?’ And she says, ‘I’m OK, Mom. You don’t have to keep calling!’”

During a break later in the afternoon, Brooks scrubbed the dirt off his hands with a wet towel and said he most enjoyed those opportunities to work directly with Habitat homeowners. “Habitat for Humanity lends a hand, but the hand that takes it is a hard-working hand,” he said. And for volunteers like him, Brooks said, Habitat “reminds us of the kind of people we can be. Habitat reminds me I can be something better than I see in the mirror.”

An Eagle’s touch

Brooks had the opportunity to meet another hard worker Thursday when he introduced himself to 14-year-old Matt Crosby. In April, Crosby volunteered with his church on a couple of houses built in Habitat Greater Birmingham’s Wylam Oaks neighborhood.

During that build, he saw all the young children moving into the neighborhood with their families and thought: “Hmm, they don’t have a place to play here,” Crosby said. “So I got thinking about it and thought of this idea to build a playground here.”

The staff at Habitat Greater Birmingham thought it was a great idea, too, and gave Crosby a small plot of land to use. Over the summer, the idea became Crosby’s project on his path toward earning his Eagle Scout rank. He made up plans, secured a $1,000 “True Heroes” grant, and then persuaded a manager at a local The Home Depot to contribute discounted equipment.

“It’s pretty impressive,” said Matt’s proud father, David Crosby. “He came to me almost right after we had volunteered and said, ‘I’ve got an idea. I want to build a playground for the kids in that neighborhood.’ He had a vision, and he pulled it off.”

Matt’s mother, Kim, and his sister, Megan, helped get the playground started in September. Along the way, other Boy Scouts, Habitat volunteers and even children from the neighborhood helped build the playground. On Thursday, Matt and his family came out to put in the final set of swings.

Back in September, Kim Crosby took a “before” shot of the field where the playground now stands. Tomorrow, the family hopes to take a very special “after” picture: a photo with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.

Early finishing touches

As the week ends, it’s evident that nearly all construction will be finished on time in Birmingham. Valarie Bogar’s house in Wylam Oaks is one of the first homes nearing completion. Bogar, a longtime employee at a local Wal-Mart, received a lot of helping hands from her colleagues this week. Wal-Mart stores sponsored her home and supplied many of the employees who helped finish it this week.

Britt Wood, a marketing manager with Wal-Mart, had the honor of hoisting the American flag into a holder on Bogar’s front porch.

“We try and do this each year because just to have a chance to give back is great,” Wood said. “And it’s great that it’s an associate of ours this year. I’ve known Valerie for 12 years, and she’s pretty fired up right now with all this. It’s pretty cool to see.”

Phillip Jordan is a writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International.