Two Habitat volunteers on the build site.

2018 Carter Work Project leaves behind a lifelong community

With each smile shared and ladder held, each morning prayer circle formed and beam lifted in unison, future Habitat homeowners and the volunteers who worked alongside them on this year’s Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project cultivated community.  

They cultivated it while laying sod on Athena’s front yard so her three boys have a safe space to play. They cultivated it while installing the floors in Raven’s house where her family will gather and dance at the party she’s planning to throw once she closes on her home. They cultivated it while hoisting the walls of the bedrooms for Cleora’s four children.

In between the loud and momentous moments on the build site in St. Joseph County, they cultivated it in the quieter ones too. Like when Benito flashed his wife, Jhunixa, a smile and a thumbs up from across the construction site as they worked on separate tasks on their new home.

Or when 6-year-old Collin toured his new home and signed a beam with the “I heart my mom” that will sit beneath the walls of his future bedroom. Or when volunteers bought future homeowners Deborah and Geoffrey a tool set of their own and watched them use it to put up the numbers 1-5-4-0, the new address on their house.

“I see a community here already,” says Nusrat, one of the 23 future Habitat families who will call this neighborhood home. She sees community in the homeowners who have grown, toiled and celebrated together, creating a bond that will be a source of strength for years to come.

Future Habitat homeowners Katrinia and Kaniece already are leaning on one another. The two went to school together and, in a few months, will live next door to each other. They also have shared heartache, each having lost a daughter to violence. “It has been a journey, and it has been hard for a long time,” Katrinia says. “I do feel like this is a new beginning.”

Community was evident in the deep relationships Nusrat, Katrina, Kaniece and the other families have formed with Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County, the host of this year’s project.

Community abounded with the friendships forged between volunteers who came from all over, donating their time, their talents and their encouragement to build a better world with their hands.

Community was apparent in that indelible link between homeowners and volunteers who, recognizing their shared humanity, gave to each other emotionally, physically and spiritually.

For volunteers Perri Pettit and Candy Richburg, school teachers who spent the week building alongside future Habitat homeowner Raven, just the thought of going home to their respective corners brought them to tears. The women, now Facebook friends, promised to see each other soon. “Raven has plans to make one of the bedrooms a playroom,” says Pettit, wiping tears from her eyes. “I think she should hold off on that because that is going to be my guest room.”

The Carter Work Project, now 35 years strong and fueled by the community it creates, draws both newcomers and repeaters.

At last year’s project in Canada, President and Mrs. Carter and Habitat volunteers helped Todd build a home for his two daughters. The experience was so powerful to him that he wanted to experience that feeling again — but this time as a volunteer. Todd made the 1,000-mile journey to this year’s project to help future homeowner Valencia build her house. “I told Valencia how amazing my experience has been,” Todd says, “and that hopefully she will be able to build houses for someone else one day.”

For Habitat families and volunteers, the weeklong Carter Work Project is a testament to community, reaffirming the goodness of people and the belief that everyone deserves a decent home. As the final bangs of hammers taper off and people wipe tears from each other’s faces, they vow to hold on to the energy they got from the week, taking it to their hometowns to replicate this community of giving.

“It’s like a family here,” Deborah says. “I just know that I’m going to carry the spirit of the week forward by volunteering, too. I want to help other people’s dreams come true.”

Carter Work Project 2018

The 2018 Carter Work Project headed to Indiana where President and Mrs. Carter worked alongside future homeowners and volunteers to build or improve 41 homes in Mishawaka and South Bend.

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