‘An absolutely glorious’ start for the Twin Cities’ Carter project -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

‘An absolutely glorious’ start for the Twin Cities’ Carter project


St. Paul, Minnesota, Mayor Chris Coleman raises a sign reading “Community” in answer to the World Habitat Day question “What will you build?” during a press conference at a Habitat build site in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul.
© Habitat for Humanity International/George L. Hipple

By Lurma Rackley

Under a cloudless sky on a crisp, cool morning, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman declared it “an absolutely glorious fall day” to start building in the Twin Cities. In St. Paul’s Payne-Phalen neighborhood, he lauded the volunteers and homeowner partners who would spend the week constructing, rehabbing and sprucing up houses in two neighborhoods that Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has been helping to revitalize.

With hammering going on behind him, Coleman read a proclamation naming Oct. 4 World Habitat Day in the City of St. Paul. Twin Cities Habitat Executive Director Sue Haigh posed the question “What will you build?” to speakers at the press conference.

“I’m going to build hope,” U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum said, adding that she wants to help ensure that all children have safe places to live and to grow. McCollum said she has built with Habitat from South Africa to Northern Ireland.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison answered with a single word written on a pasteboard square: “invest.” “We must invest in affordable housing,” he said. He said parents should no more have to raise their children without a proper house than a cake maker should have to mix ingredients without a bowl.

In Minneapolis, City Councilwoman Diane Hostede welcomed volunteers to the Hawthorn neighborhood, which she said is undergoing a remarkable transformation. Not long ago, she told the volunteers, people were afraid to stop at traffic signals in the area because of dangerous drug activity. Now residents, along with the government, community organizations, corporate supporters and Habitat, are reclaiming the streets, creating the four-block Hawthorn EcoVillage, an economically affordable and ecologically viable neighborhood.

On Monday, volunteers took their spots at 12 houses in the EcoVillage. Longtime Habitat volunteers Bob and Mary Ann Evander served as part of the “hospitality team,” based in the tent where lunch was served and workers could rest or get information. They said a highlight of their involvement came at Sunday’s opening ceremony.

“We got a chance to talk with homeowners. They are so amazing and committed,” Bob said. Mary Ann mentioned St. Paul homeowner Ya Landa Kinchelow, who talked about putting in more hours than required in sweat equity and attending classes in homeownership so she can teach her sons how to take care of their new home.

At both sites, corporate volunteers sported bright red, yellow and blue shirts with their company logos, bringing enthusiasm as first-timers or skills as frequent Habitat builders. Many planned to remain with their projects all week—and with Habitat much longer.

A family affair

Bill Woodson treasures Habitat’s work for practical and romantic reasons: He met his wife, Kari, five years ago on a Habitat Global Village trip to El Salvador.

“We were both looking to do something for others at Thanksgiving. I lived in California, and she came from Minnesota,” Woodson said, explaining that Kari soon persuaded him to move to the Twin Cities area after that trip in 2005. Now the couple volunteers several times a year and will be taking a Global Village trip to Jordan next month.

While his wife spends a few days building in Minneapolis this week, Woodson and his team of volunteers will give a facelift to an older house on the east side of St. Paul: painting, renewing the siding, building a porch and working on the garage in back.

All around the neighborhood, the sound of hammers marks houses being rehabbed, built or treated to A Brush with Kindness, a Habitat house-repair program.

Among the people working with Woodson on York Avenue were about five from Wells Fargo, including Kim Johnson, on her first build, and Terry Jutila, who has built with Habitat before and describes himself as a “professional assistant,” ready to tackle any construction task he’s assigned. “I have no illusion that I could do this for a living,” he said with a laugh.

Also there was Jerry Dastych, eager to take up a paint brush or hammer. Dastych retired from Wells Fargo, but his wife still works there and recruited him for his first build with Habitat. Another Wells Fargo volunteer, Joe Beacon, counts this as his eighth build.

Giving back to the community

Not far down York Street, Sarah Andersen, chairwoman of the board of Bayport, Minnesota-based Andersen Corp., stood near her company’s volunteers, wearing an orange hard-hat on the construction grounds. Andersen Corp. and Dow Chemical are sponsoring the house and providing scores of volunteers, in addition to windows from Andersen.

“I am excited to be a part of the Carter build,” Andersen said, adding that she will miss seeing the Carters on Wednesday because of a company board retreat scheduled long before she knew the build dates for Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter in this St. Paul neighborhood.

Andersen has participated in numerous builds over the years, including the last of 100 houses her company built with Habitat over a five-year period to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Andersen Corp. “These builds are a fabulous way to give back to the community,” she said. “For people to have a safe home is a priority.”

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