Carter, Mondale reteam to build hope in Twin Cities -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Carter, Mondale reteam to build hope in Twin Cities


Former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Walter Mondale work together to help Melody Lawson rehabilitate a home in Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Hawthorne Eco-Village during Day Three of the Carter Work Project. ©Habitat for Humanity/George L. Hipple


Former President Jimmy Carter drills holes into planks to be used in the future home of Melody Lawson in Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Hawthorne Eco-Village on Day Three of the 27th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. ©Habitat for Humanity/George L. Hipple


By Lurma Rackley

It’s not unusual for former President Jimmy Carter to build alongside people he has worked with before at Habitat for Humanity, since some volunteers return year after year for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. But Wednesday’s teammates in Minneapolis, Minnesota, included someone pretty special: his former vice president, Walter Mondale.

Adding to the political star power, U.S. Sen. Al Franken also lent a hand at the site in the Hawthorne Eco-Village neighborhood in north Minneapolis.

After building in chilly rain in Washington, D.C., on Monday and in bitter cold in Maryland on Tuesday, Carter welcomed the unusually high, 70-degree temperature. “It felt good to come here for this balmy, dry weather,” he said.

While Carter drilled holes into planks, Mondale climbed scaffolding to lay siding for what will become a home for the Lawson family. The family of five has been crowding in with relatives, unable to afford a place of their own.

“Habitat is an equalizer,” Carter said at a press conference in the Twin Cities, allowing volunteers to see shared values with people in need of a decent, affordable home. “It gives us a more defining description of what a human right is: the right to live in a decent home, to have education for our children, health care, a decent job, self-respect, and a chance for our children to look to the future with optimism.”

Soon-to-be-homeowner Melody Lawson shined with that optimism as Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, presented her with a Bible. Lawson had been turned down for a Habitat house twice before, so with the encouragement of a friend, she put a copy of the third application inside her Bible and never gave up. Now her new Bible will have a place beside the one she used to pray for a Habitat house.

Franken said he took a few tips from Carter about the teamwork necessary for putting up siding. “He’s very experienced,” Franken said, adding that he hopes to be equally active when he’s 86 years old.

Franken said he lived a comfortable childhood, but his wife’s father died when she was 18 months old, so her mother needed and received assistance. Helping others is “part of our ethic, our morality, our religious philosophy,” he said. Franken said he plans to continue working with Habitat.

The Hawthorne neighborhood experienced an “incredible amount of foreclosures,” and fell prey to drug dealers, but now the community has taken it back, Franken said.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison agrees. He lives in the neighborhood and shares the optimism over the change.

“Our home values will stabilize; kids will live in healthier households, free of mold, lead, and rats and roaches. There will be a sense of beauty that will lift spirits and cause people to treat their environment in a better manner,” Ellison said.

Habitat’s work is critical to changing such neighborhoods, Ellison said. “The lack of affordable housing is tied to the foreclosure crisis. People couldn’t find affordable housing, so they took out high-cost loans. Affordable housing is the key.”

Lurma Rackley is managing editor/writer for Development Communications for Habitat for Humanity International.