‘Perfectly OK,’ Carters eagerly go to work in Washington -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

‘Perfectly OK,’ Carters eagerly go to work in Washington


Former President Jimmy Carter helps raise a wall on Kiona Mack’s home during a rainy morning in the Ivy City neighborhood of Washington, D.C., on the first day of the 27th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project.
© Habitat for Humanity International/Steffan Hacker

By Teresa K. Weaver

Former President Jimmy Carter, fresh off a two-day “vacation” at an Ohio hospital, joked with well-wishers and pushed his fellow volunteers to work harder and faster at a cold, rainy kickoff to the 27th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Washington, D.C.’s Ivy City community.

The 86-year-old statesman suffered from a stomach virus while on a book promotional tour last week and spent a couple of days in the hospital. Proclaiming himself “perfectly OK” now, Carter said he was eager to take part in his annual workweek with Habitat, beginning this year in D.C.—“the second most important city in America,” he said. The first, of course, is Plains, Georgia, his hometown.

Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, were on the build site shortly after 7 a.m. Monday. After a quick pep talk to 250 volunteers, the first couple pitched in for a ceremonial wall-raising at the home of Kiona Mack, an administrative assistant who has been living in a high-rise tenement with her two young children.

Mack was introduced to the president and gave him a long hug, whispering to him, “Thank you so much for helping.”

At a VIP luncheon later in the day, Mack and several other new Habitat homeowners joined more than 200 special guests at nearby Gallaudet University to celebrate World Habitat Day.

Claude Jeudy, Habitat for Humanity Haiti’s national director since 2005, officially presented the 2010 Shelter Report, a comprehensive look at the crucial link between good health and decent housing worldwide.

“The connection between health and housing becomes even more clear after a disaster,” Jeudy said.

The mood at the luncheon and back at the saturated build site was upbeat, despite the dreary weather.

“Rain can’t stop this from being a great day,” said Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan spent part of Monday building, accompanied by a team of his employees.

“It’s remarkable to see the way that this work that Habitat does transforms the lives of families,” Donovan said. But, he added, that is only one part of the broader transformation that happens in any neighborhood where Habitat builds. The community itself is changed, along with every person who takes part in its revitalization.

“To see the moral and spiritual commitment that volunteers have when they take part in a Habitat build is really a remarkable thing to watch,” Donovan said.

Among other volunteers on the build site Monday were Alan Hurwitz, president of Gallaudet University; actress Emily Bergl (“Desperate Housewives”); and Kerry Weiland, a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team.

“Most volunteers arrive with an open heart,” Weiland told volunteers at Sunday’s orientation. “They leave with hearts filled with hope.”

This week, volunteers will help build three new duplexes and rehab two duplexes and two single-family homes in Ivy City.

“I was only 60 years old when I started doing these projects,” President Carter joked on Monday. “It’s an exciting, challenging, gratifying experience for us. In every case, it’s an inspirational event for me and for Rosalynn.”

He added: “How many years we go on will depend on God’s will—and on whether Habitat has any age limits on its volunteers.”

Teresa K. Weaver is a senior writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International.