A simple and powerful wrap-up in D.C. -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A simple and powerful wrap-up in D.C.


Volunteer Kraig Koschnick and construction supervisor Bill Lifsey consult the blueprints of houses No. 3 and 4 on the final day of the Carter Work Project in Washington, D.C.’s Ivy City neighborhood. ©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker


Kent Adcock, president of D.C. Habitat, calls all the construction leaders to the stage to be recognized during the closing program at the Ivy City build site. ©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker


Sign language translator Sequoia El-Amin (left) relays instructions from construction leader Eliza Evans to Gallaudet University student Smentijlana Farnum. ©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker

By Lara Moore and Teresa K. Weaver

Without pomp or circumstance, Habitat for Humanity Washington, D.C., marked the end of its weeklong Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project with gentle, unexpected reminders of what this annual event is all about: hope, transformation and generational change.

Ana Valentin-Jackson, a volunteer from Hartford, Connecticut, provided one of the most moving moments as she shared her unusual perspective as a longtime Habitat employee and proud homeowner.

For 10 years, Valentin-Jackson has worked at the Habitat affiliate in Hartford. About eight years ago, she became a Habitat homeowner as well. Once in the home, she had the wherewithal and the confidence to earn her college degree, she said. Having accomplished two big life goals—becoming a homeowner and finishing college—Valentin-Jackson said her next mission was to volunteer at a Carter Work Project.

This year, she “begged, borrowed and borrowed” and found a way. She spent part of the week on a demolition crew and the end of the week building a new home.

“One thing I really believe about Habitat is that even though we’re building with hammers and nails, we’re not just building a house,” she told her fellow volunteers. “We’re building opportunities for families just like mine, so they can move forward.”

As she was building this week, she said, she kept thinking back to her experiences eight years ago.

“I kept thinking, ‘I’ve been here,’” she said. “Five years from now, the families who move in here could be where I am today. Keep that in mind, that when we give our time to Habitat, we’re doing more than building a house and revitalizing a neighborhood. We’re definitely doing something that is bigger than us.”

Norma Gales was the only new Habitat homeowner who was able to attend the closing ceremonies Friday. She had taken a week off from her job as a schoolteacher and had been on the build site every day, pitching in to make her home a reality.

“I want to thank all the volunteers who helped me hammer, who showed me how to hammer, and who showed me how to unbend my nails when they got bent,” Gales said, smiling. “This has been very exciting to help build my own home.”

Kent Adcock, president of Habitat D.C., presented Gales with a Bible that had been signed by President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.

“This will sit right on my nightstand,” Gales said quietly.

Gales and the other partner families will begin moving into the six new duplexes and six rehabbed houses in Ivy City sometime in the spring, Adcock said. In one week, more than 250 volunteers turned concrete slabs into fully framed houses, ready for the professional tradespeople to come in and handle the next stage of construction.

Volunteers also gutted two sagging duplexes and two single-family houses, leaving clean, empty shells for the next wave of workers to create brand-new interiors.

“I think everyone’s leaving with a sense of fulfillment and enjoyment,” Adcock said, adding that many residents of the neighborhood voiced their support and gratitude for Habitat’s ongoing commitment to Ivy City.

“I think they see us as a beacon of hope and opportunity,” he said.

Next year’s Carter Work Project will be in Haiti, an impoverished, earthquake-ravaged country that could use such a beacon.

The 2011 site was announced in Washington by Lloyd Troyer, who—along with his brother LeRoy—has served as house leader for more than 20 Carter projects.

Typically brusque and no-nonsense on the build site, Troyer got a little choked up in closing ceremonies as he recalled some of the 22 places he has helped build over the years.

“It’s not what we’ve given,” he said. “It’s what we’ve gotten out of it. When you give the homeowners the keys, and the tears come, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

Heard on the work site

“Someone would say, ‘We need eight people to move this tent,’ and 25 people would jump up.” —Sequoia El-Amin, a 28-year-old American Sign Language interpreter, on the teamwork on site. El-Amin was one of a corps of 25 interpreters who took turns signing for students, faculty members and employees from Gallaudet University who volunteered at this year’s project.

“I can’t imagine a more satisfying way to spend the day.” —Caitlin Kilborn, a 21-year-old volunteer from Glasgow, Scotland, who is an intern for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

“It’s always sort of a feeling of elation that you’ve accomplished as much as you have.” —Kathy Knapp, a 59-year-old volunteer from Indiana, who has been to five Carter projects.

“Building is sort of my day job, but this is a really fun way to do it.” —Eliza Evans, house leader on the Women Build house.

“I love this. I love it so much; I’m coming back on my day off.” —Ida Campbell, one of six Lowe’s employees from Maryland who spent Friday building.

Lara Moore and Teresa K. Weaver are writer/editors at Habitat for Humanity International.