Volunteers for the 2011 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project are counting down the days until Nov. 5, when they gather in Atlanta to fly to Haiti. There they will build 100 simple, decent homes in one week in a former sugar cane field with families left homeless by the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.
In addition to counting days, those 400 volunteers are also counting money, as they raise funds to help the people of Haiti in the months and years to come. Habitat for Humanity International asked every 2011 Carter Work Project volunteer to raise at least $5,000 for Haiti, money that will help fund Habitat’s five-year commitment to help 50,000 Haitian families.
Some of the volunteers have sent fundraising letters to friends, some have reached out on Facebook, and some have taken on projects such as selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts on weekends.
Rick Damato of Duluth, Georgia, is selling the art he has been creating for years. The Carter Work Project veteran — he has volunteered at sites ranging from Detroit to Vietnam — is heading to Haiti to build houses even though he lost his wife of 33 years, Kay Gilliam Damato, to a heart attack on Sept. 1.
Kay didn’t accompany Rick on his Carter Work Projects, “but she was there in spirit, a part of everything I did,” he said. She brought lunches to build sites when he worked in his home affiliate, Gwinnett County Habitat, outside Atlanta, and helped organize a fundraising dinner at their church for the 2011 project.
That dinner raised $600 toward the $7,500 Damato has raised so far for Habitat Haiti. Another $1,500 has come from sales of 33 pieces of his art which are on sale at the Aurora Theatre, a nonprofit community theater in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Damato, who works for a roofing supplies company, started making stained glass art in the 1980s, and then moved on to working with copper and slate mosaics. He has donated artwork before for Habitat fundraisers but never sold them commercially.
Damato started building with Habitat in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1989. When he moved to Gwinnett County in 1995, he continued his Habitat ministry, serving on the affiliate’s board of directors and as its president.
“It’s very much a part of my ministry,” he said. “The church teaches us to give our time, talent and treasure, and this is the talent piece of my Christian stewardship. Because I’m in building supplies, and Habitat is a builder, it was a natural fit. Like so many people, I believe in Habitat’s model, and how we partner with the people we build with.”
He recalled building a Habitat home in Jacksonville in 1992. The homeowner, an elderly woman, was sitting in her front yard in a full leg cast. During the lunch break he learned that she had been pulling an item from her kitchen cabinet when the cabinet fell on her, and she and the cabinet had fallen through the rotting kitchen floor.
“She was moving into a nice new three-bedroom home,” he said, “and God bless her, she couldn’t move out of her old home fast enough. Those are the conditions that a lot of people live in, and we’re just never exposed to it.
“We’re all a little bit jaded,” he added. “You hear so much crummy news that it just sort of washes over you. But when you find yourself with the people that are working their way toward homeownership, it’s just an incredible experience to look them right in the face.”
In Haiti, Damato and the other 2011 Carter Work Project volunteers will come face to face with Haitians who have been homeless for a year and a half, living in tiny tarpaulin shelters, and will work with them as their new houses are built in a matter of days.