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Field notes: September 2009 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Field notes: September 2009

Perspectives from around Habitat’s world



Ron Terwilliger, chair of Habitat for Humanity International’s board of directors, has committed to the largest individual gift in the organization’s history.


Habitat receives $100 million commitment: board chair Ron Terwilliger makes legacy gift

J. Ronald Terwilliger, chair of Habitat for Humanity International’s board of directors, has made a $100 million legacy commitment to the organization—the largest donation from an individual in Habitat’s history.

“In my professional life, I’ve seen housing strengthen health, education, families, communities and economies,” Terwilliger says. “Since housing is such a special focus of mine and it’s so fundamentally important to human beings and families, I thought that’s where I would leave the balance of my wealth.”

Within five years of the funds being transferred by Terwilliger’s estate, 70 percent of the legacy commitment will be used by Habitat for housing microfinance so that families in countries around the world can improve their living conditions. The remaining 30 percent will be used for the J. Ronald Terwilliger Leveraged Impact Fund, an endowment that will make annual distributions to help support Habitat’s affordable housing efforts.

“As long as God gives me good health, I ought to use my talents and my energies and my money to some degree to help other people,” Terwilliger says. “I made my wealth in housing, and I know an awful lot about U.S. housing in general. I can probably have more impact working in that area, so I’ve chosen to dedicate the rest of my life to help provide housing solutions to people around the world.”

Terwilliger joined Habitat for Humanity’s international board of directors in 2000. Prior to the announcement of this gift , he has given more than $3 million to Habitat.

Among many other honors, Terwilliger has been inducted into the National Association of Homebuilders Housing Hall of Fame and has been recognized as a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. In June, Terwilliger was honored in Washington, D.C., as the National Housing Council’s Housing Person of the Year.

A Baker Scholar at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Business, Terwilliger went on to become the driving force behind Trammell Crow Residential, the nation’s largest multi-family housing developer. He retired as CEO in 2008 but remains the company’s chairman.

“This commitment is a solid demonstration of the passion Ron has for our mission and for decent, affordable housing throughout the world,” says Habitat CEO Jonathan Reckford. “His generous spirit will touch tens of thousands of families.”

Terwilliger hopes that his gift will spur donations of all sizes. “I think that the need is clearly going to continue to be there and to grow,” he says. “We need all the help we can get because the families we’re serving need all the help we can provide.”



Author David Rubel wrote If I Had a Hammer with middle schoolers in mind.


Author takes on the story of Habitat: book for young readers to be published next month

By Shala Carlson

On Oct. 13, major bookstore shelves will bring the idea of Habitat to tomorrow’s volunteers.

Written by author David Rubel, If I Had a Hammer: Building Homes and Hope With Habitat for Humanity was written with middle schoolers in mind. Former President Jimmy Carter provided a foreword for the book, which will be published by Candlewick Press.

Rubel’s previous titles include the Scholastic Encyclopedia of the Presidents and Their Times, now in its fifth edition, and the Scholastic Atlas of the United States, now in its third. The Columbia-educated, New York-based author also has written history titles for adults, including The Coming Free, a history of the civil rights movement.

Rubel spoke with Habitat World during a research trip to Americus, Ga.

Q: How did this Habitat book project come together?
Habitat was looking for a way to celebrate President Carter’s 25 years with the organization. So we started thinking of a book that would have interest for readers and also convey the appropriate message about Habitat.

What finally hit was the idea of doing a book for middle schoolers, 9- to 12-year-olds. Doing a book about Habitat—particularly by telling the personal stories of people who have been involved with the organization, especially on the Carter Work Projects—could be a great way of explaining Habitat’s mission to kids and engaging them.

Q: Once you’ve identified the kind of book and the target demographic, what is your approach?
The first thing I need to do is enough basic research so that I have a handle on the subject and can organize it to create a sort of framework—in fact, not unlike designing a house, constructing the basic blueprint.

So I began reading a lot of materials that Habitat itself publishes and began to see certain themes come to light. It became immediately obvious that the overall theme of the book would be that you get more than you give. That comes through so clearly in whatever aspects of Habitat one looks into.

But then, I have to develop a story line that would be interesting to 10-year-olds. And so what I realized was the book had to have two aspects. One was the philosophical side, the inspirational, instructional side. And it also has to have the construction side because kids really like building sites, they like big yellow things that dig in the dirt, they like hammers, nails, all those sorts of things.

Q: What’s your vision for this book?

A: What I would like most for this book to do is for someone who is 10 years old to read it, and in a dozen years, they’ll walk up to the house leader on the job site who’ll say, “Great! We’re really happy to have you here. Why did you happen to come?”

And he or she would say, “You know, when I was 10 years old, I read this book …”

For multimedia updates and President Carter’s comments on the book, visit

Habitat welcomes national service expansion: legislation to help increase service opportunities, revitalize communities

In April, Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford joined representatives from Voices for National Service and members of the ServiceNation Organizing Committee as President Barack Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law. The signing took place at the SEED School of Washington with Sen. Kennedy, former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Rosalynn Carter and Vice President Joe Biden in attendance.

Habitat supported this legislation because it will allow for additional national service members, like AmeriCorps members, to serve with Habitat affiliates across the country, clearing the way for even more Americans to serve their communities.

“An expansion of national service will enhance Habitat’s capacity to serve more families, and it also provides the benefit of putting more national service members to work in helping to improve communities,” says Reckford. “We will be part of the effort to connect people together who care about helping low-income families achieve affordable housing and improving communities in need of revitalization efforts.”

National service members mobilize, lead, train and support volunteers. By leading construction crews, providing family support services and training others in construction skills, Habitat’s national service members help increase affordable homeownership opportunities in partnership with low-income families.

As a member of the ServiceNation Organizing Committee, Habitat was at the forefront of the initiative to see this legislation pass. Through online advocacy efforts, nearly 200,000 Habitat supporters learned about the Serve America Act and many took action by contacting their members of Congress.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which updates and strengthens national service programs, passed the U.S. House of Representatives one month after President Barack Obama called for passage of national service legislation in his joint address to Congress.

Mark your calendar

On World Habitat Day, Oct. 5, Habitat for Humanity joins the United Nations and organizations around the world in raising awareness of the global housing crisis and in working together to ensure adequate housing for all. Visit to learn more.

On Oct. 13, in St. Paul, Minn., Little House on the Prairie: The Musical begins its 8-month national tour and partnership with Habitat for Humanity. For a complete tour schedule and more details, visit and don’t miss the December Habitat World.



Habitat on the Hill

More than 180 supporters attended June’s Habitat on the Hill advocacy and legislative conference in Washington, D.C. Habitat affiliate staff and volunteers came from 42 states to learn how to effectively engage their local, state and federal governments.

While at the conference, advocates made visits to more than 475 congressional offices to speak about issues critical to Habitat’s ability to serve more families. Here, Habitat CEO Jonathan Reckford and congressional relations director Christopher Ptomey head off to a day of meetings.