Building a Habitat house together created a lasting friendship for homeowner Evelyn Jackson and volunteer Lynn Merrill.
The 1988 Carter Work Project in Atlanta was responsible for a lot of firsts, as Lynn Merrill remembers. It was the first time her church, Peachtree Presbyterian, had done a church-wide mission project. It was the first time she was involved with Habitat, the first time she dug footers for a house (and learned she didn’t want to again), the first time she met President Carter and the first time she met her friend Evelyn Jackson.
“We’d stopped for lunch one of the first days and she looked at me and said, ‘Why are you doing this? You don’t even know me.’ And I just said, ‘Well, this is part of living our faith,’” Merrill recalls. As a leader on Jackson’s house, Merrill became her sponsor, committing to stay in touch and help her through the Habitat process and her first year of homeownership. The two women formed a bond that is still going strong.
For Jackson, the first house built for that Carter Work Project was also the first home she and her two children would have to themselves. “We were staying in a house with my mom and my daddy, my sister and her daughter and my aunt,” she says. “I got the first house because they wanted to give it to a family that this was the first time moving out on their own.”
Without Habitat, Jackson says, “I never could have afforded a house for me and my children. But I had said that year — somehow, some way — I was going to get us somewhere. I just wanted us to move out on our own and for them to have their own rooms. My daughter was 16; my son was 12.”
The new home also gave Jackson her first experience caring for a yard, something that is now her favorite part of her home. Colorful plants fill the front flower beds and hang on the porch; big, bright azalea bushes line the back of the house, the result of years of work and care. Jackson says when they first moved in, working in the yard was a good way to keep her son busy. Now, he still comes over to cut the grass and do the edging, even though he’s married with kids and a home of his own.
Her daughter — the first in the family to graduate from high school — is married, as well. Jackson has a total of five grandchildren, and everybody still gathers at her house for holidays and celebrations, filling the house with love and laughter.
ALSO IN 1988: Two hundred volunteers joined President and Mrs. Carter to renovate a 10-unit row house in north Philadelphia.