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President, first lady help Habitat build




President George W. Bush signs an autograph for a volunteer on site in Covington, La. Photo by Kim MacDonald.

Operation Home Delivery Photo Gallery

COVINGTON, La. (Oct. 11, 2005) – President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush on Tuesday joined Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Covington, La., to help build houses with three families left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

In remarks on the build site, Bush said of his eighth trip to the region since Katrina struck: “We’ve seen the spirits change. Local people are beginning to realize there’s hope …there’s a chance to rebuild lives … and a lot of people care about them.”

Saluting Habitat volunteers from around the country who had come to help, Bush remarked that while he had never met his worksite partners before, he knew they were there for one reason: ”to love a neighbor. … We want to thank them and encourage others around the country to follow their example.”

Laura Bush echoed her husband’s sentiments and described their stop in Covington as giving the couple a chance “to thank the people who do this all the time—not just in a crisis situation—but who volunteer with Habitat in their towns wherever they are across the country…or volunteer in a million other ways.”

Covington’s three-home build this week is the next chapter in Habitat’s Operation Home Delivery, a several-pronged effort to aid Habitat affiliates affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, to engage others – churches, corporations, governments, foundations, etc. – in the rebuilding effort, and to build and deliver pre-built and “containerized” home panels to Gulf Coast communities where they can quickly be rebuilt on their final foundations.

It’s also the next chapter in Make a Difference Today, a partnership between NBC News, “Today,” Warner Music and Habitat for Humanity International. Two weeks, ago, volunteers working in Rockefeller Plaza (renamed Humanity Plaza for the week), Jackson, Miss., and Burbank, Calif., pre-built 65 homes for families along the Gulf Coast. One of those homes was rebuilt and dedicated last week in Slidell, La., and the homes in Covington are the next step in the reconstruction and rebuilding process.

“One home last week, three more this week … it’s a beginning,” said Jonathan Reckford, Habitat’s chief executive officer who joined the president raising walls in Covington. “The storm came and went quickly, but Habitat, which has been working in communities like Covington and New Orleans, Biloxi and Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Pascagoula, for years, will be here for years more, through the rebuilding and beyond.

“We are working with our corporate and faith sponsors, communities, governments, the president and first lady and others to build hope, and to build good, strong communities,” said Reckford.

“I applaud the “Today” show, Habitat for Humanity and your partners in being a part of a larger picture of helping people rebuild their lives, “ Bush told “Today’s” Matt Lauer during an interview on the build site. “It’s a great contribution.”

Janet Huckabee, first lady of the state of Arkansas and a Habitat for Humanity International board member, also joined volunteers in Covington in building a home as part of Women Build a program of Habitat for Humanity International that empowers and encourages women to help build skills as they help build homes.

The three homes under construction in Covington are being built with Jackulin Collins and her three children; Tanya Jackson and her two children; and Lillie McClain and her three children.

The home where Collins and her children – Crayan Suzanne, 18, Jarius, 13, and Miami, 9 – had been living was substandard, with electrical problems, rotting floors, damaged ceilings, holes in the walls, no insulation, and windows and doors that didn’t shut securely.

The home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Collins moved in with her brother, but had to send her children out of state to live. She works for New Directions and looks forward to her new three-bedroom Habitat home, bringing her family back together, and giving them a safe and decent place to live, and having a place where friends can visit.

Jackson is the mother of George, 8, and Jonathan, 6. She works for McDonald’s, and the house she and her family shared had plumbing problems, cracks in the floor and other safety issues. Several trees fell on the home during the storm, so the family is staying with family or friends and in temporary situations.

McClain is the mother of three children, Kayla, 10, Jada, 7, and Courtney, 2. The family lived in a home that was destroyed in the storm. Courtney was injured during the storm, when a tree limb crashed through the roof, and doctors from a nearby hospital rushed her to a hospital in Baton Rouge. She is recovering now from a skull fracture, but is doing well.