Homeowner high-fives a volunteer.

5 things overheard at the 2019 Carter Work Project

As the 36th annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project kicked off in Nashville, Tennessee, future Habitat homeowners, volunteers and donors, local leaders and musical talent, as well as the former president and first lady, convened at the historic Ryman Auditorium on Sunday evening and then on the build site Monday to usher in the weeklong build.

Garth Brooks on the build site.
“It’s the week of love that’s about to happen.”
— Garth Brooks, Habitat Humanitarian

Before the individual acts of kindness and labors of love that populate each Habitat build officially commenced, two longtime Habitat champions welcomed the crowd to Music City using the city’s unofficial love language: country music. Nashville natives, country music stars and Habitat Humanitarians Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood serenaded the Ryman audience with a pair of love songs. “The greatest gift is a home,” Brooks shared during the set. “The only way you can get better than that is if it’s a home right here in Nashville.”

Future homeowner Tara stands with Rosalynn Carter at the opening ceremony for the Carter Work Project.
“I am breaking generational curses.”
— Tara, future Habitat Nashville homeowner

For Tara, having a safe, decent place to call her own is the first step in redefining what is possible for herself and her 9-year-old daughter, Kennedy. From her own upbringing, Tara understands the toll that constant moves and rising rents can have on independence, on peace of mind, on economic mobility. On stage at the opening ceremony, the youth engagement coordinator encouraged her fellow future Habitat homeowners to persevere — calling on them to recognize the future they’re building, not just for their immediate families, but for the generations yet to come. “You can’t stop. Because we have a whole lineage depending on us to break the mold. We have a whole community depending on us to share our story.”

Barb and Steve stand together on the build site.
“For as long as we can, we want to help wherever we can.”
— Barb Szemenyei, Habitat construction volunteer

From putting up steel-frame houses in South Africa to brick-veneer homes in Mongolia, making new lifelong friends in South Dakota to discovering ancestral roots in Hungary, octogenarians Steve and Barb Szemenyei have yet to have a dull moment over their 17-year history with the Carter Work Project. Nashville, they expect, will be no different. “I can’t believe the life we’ve had,” Steve says. “The people we’ve met, all the good that has happened – so much of it happened through Habitat.”

Jimmy Carter waves to volunteers on the build site.
“I had a number one priority — and that was to come to Nashville to build houses.”
— Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States, Habitat Humanitarian and volunteer

Undeterred by a fall at home in Plains earlier in the day, President Carter inspired the audience at the Ryman with his enduring commitment to ensuring families across the world have access to the strength and stability that homeownership provides. During his devotion the next morning, the Habitat Humanitarian shared his fervent hope that the future Habitat homeowners and hundreds of volunteers gathered would find the courage within themselves to use the gifts they’ve been given. “We have the freedom to take advantage of all the great blessings God has given us. Everyone,” he shared. He says that includes the freedom to decide the answer to the question, “What kind of person do I want to be?”

“We all have gifts and talents — and when you’re able to use those to help someone else, you end up leaving as the one who is changed.”
— Dr. Sarah Theart, Habitat medical volunteer

Dr. Sarah Theart first began volunteering in the first aid tent at the Carter Work Project in 2011. A medical student in St. Vincent and the Grenadines at the time, she traveled to Haiti, the country of her birth, to support volunteers and families as they sought to help the nation rebuild after the devastating earthquake. “It was amazing,” she says, thinking back of the full-circle moment. “It was wonderful to be able to be there, to help however I could and to see what Habitat does — the change it really does bring.” Since that trip, Theart has graduated, completed her residency and become an attending physician, while continuing to save vacation days to volunteer as a medic at the Carter Work Project each year. While it was the impact that initially impressed her, it is the bonds formed and strengthened year after year on the project — between fellow volunteers, homeowners and the local community — that keep her coming back. “As a Habitat homeowner once told me,” she shares, “‘You come here as strangers, but you leave like family.’”

Carter Work Project 2019

The 2019 Carter Work Project headed to Tennessee where President and Mrs. Carter worked alongside future homeowners and volunteers to build 21 homes in Nashville.

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