Homeward Bound: The 2014 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project Helps Dallas Community
This project profile is unique to those typically found on the printed and online pages of Roofing Contractor. Perhaps most extraordinary is the fact that it was more than 30 years in the making. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, started it as an annual tradition in New York City in 1984. In the fall of 2014, the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project (CWP) with Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) continued the annual tradition in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas.
Jimmy Carter, who celebrated his 90th birthday the week before the 2014 CWP, is often credited with founding Habitat for Humanity, but in fact it was created by Linda and Millard Fuller in Americus, Ga., in 1976. The Carters’ involvement with HFHI did, however, catapult the organization onto the international stage and make a profound difference in its growth.
Other than being led by a former president and first lady, this project is different from most we visit because it was largely funded by cash and in-kind contributions from corporate sponsors and individual donors. Many participants in the roofing industry, including roofing and insulation manufacturers, distributor wholesalers and roofing contractors, make regular in-kind contributions of materials, labor and other logistical support to HFHI.
Families qualified to purchase the homes built as part of this project are also unique in that, as Habitat homeowners, they were required to make a down payment of “sweat equity,” working alongside the other volunteers on theirs and other Habitat homes. They, like most homeowners, will purchase their homes with a cash-down payment and a mortgage. Habitat homes are sold to families in need of simple, decent housing who would not otherwise qualify to purchase a home on the open markets.
This project also was different from others as I was able to move from observer to participant as a volunteer house builder. That is the nature of most HFHI volunteers, as their construction skills run the gamut from highly experienced to those who must be taught which end of the hammer to hold.
You would think building with volunteers might result in disaster, but the construction coordinators at HFHI are well practiced in bringing all of these resources together to safely construct a quality product. Together with my wife, I was honored to serve a trio of experienced Habitat volunteers and dozens of others from Dallas-area businesses, most notably Nissan, a major sponsor of the build.
We were assigned to work on one of 30 houses being constructed in the Oak Cliff Gardens area of Dallas. House 26, as it was known for the duration of the build, also had the distinction of being the “Heisman Trophy House.” The Heisman Trust has a relationship with Nissan, and arrangements were made for five Heisman trophy winners to work on House 26 on its first day of construction earlier in the year. So now I can say I worked to complete construction of a house started by Billy Sims, Ricky Williams, George Rogers, Tim Brown and Herschel Walker.
There is another Heisman Trophy winner from Dallas that made an appearance at the opening ceremonies for the CWP. It’s hard to upstage a former U.S. president and first lady, but Dallas businessman Roger Staubach came pretty close when he presented the Carters and other dignitaries with cowboy-hat-style hard hats.
Even more important than coming so close to a group of football icons, I can say I worked with Jessica Hunter, the mother of three who will occupy House 26. She spent days on the site working and sometimes supervising the work, which in our case included completing the cement-fiber siding and trim, interior and exterior painting, and landscaping.
Jessica grew up in the Oak Cliff Gardens area and is pleased to be returning. Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity had constructed 65 homes in the neighborhood prior to the 30 being constructed as part of the 2014 CWP. In addition to the new homes, significant repairs and upgrades were performed on another 20 homes.
Of the key features of the build, number one was a safe worksite. Our team was only required to work at height on ladders to install siding and to paint. All houses being built were in different stages of completion. Our job was to complete work on a house that had been under construction for months and was structurally complete, and it had a beautiful designer-shingle roof when we arrived. To ensure a safe worksite, the organizers held to some strict standards, including:
- All volunteers were required to wear a hard hat at all times on the job and other personal protective equipment, depending on the task.
- All roof decks and roof coverings were guarded on all sides by Hugs guardrail systems.
- All volunteers were required to take routine breaks for rest and hydration, and the frequency was monitored by site supervision.
- Medical care was provided onsite. (It thankfully wasn’t needed for anything too serious.)
- Volunteer construction leaders were trained and held daily toolbox safety talks with all volunteer workers.
- All tools required were functional and readily available.
The home exteriors feature wood-frame construction with cement-fiber siding and brick accent, laminate shingles, vinyl windows and pre-hung fiberglass doors. The homes are all modest in size and have a different number of bedrooms and baths depending on the needs of the owners. While they are of a new style, these homes fit in very nicely with the rest of the neighborhood, which has undergone a major transformation since Dallas Area Habitat began building there.
The takeaway for this Habitat volunteer is the same as it always is after a week of building side-by-side with a family about to take ownership of their first home: a little tired maybe, but energized. Seeing some familiar faces and renewing old friendships is always rewarding, as is being able to make new friends. There’s always a lesson or two (or 10) in the art of housebuilding. My wife taught me a thing or two about painting — mainly that she is better at it than me, and I just need to stay out of the way. The Reverend Walt taught me what a gentle spirit looks like in the body of a linebacker. Tammy showed me that women supervisors on a construction site are frequently much more effective than men (especially with volunteers). Cheryl taught me the great value of kneepads for siding work (I thought they were just for roofs and floors).
And Jessica reminded me of the value of sweat equity and partnership. Unlike most homeowners, Jessica was able to not only watch much of the construction of her home, but participate in it firsthand. She will always have a special appreciation for this house, which is no longer House 26, but the Hunter residence instead.
Habitat for Humanity International
Habitat for Humanity International's vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Anchored by the conviction that housing provides a critical foundation for breaking the cycle of poverty, Habitat has helped more than four million people construct, rehabilitate or preserve homes since 1976. Habitat also advocates to improve access to decent and affordable shelter, and supports a variety of funding models that enable families with limited resources to make needed improvements on their homes as their time and resources allow. As a nonprofit Christian housing organization, Habitat works in more than 70 countries and welcomes people of all races, religions and nationalities to partner in its mission. To learn more, donate or volunteer, visit www.habitat.org.
Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity
Dallas Habitat believes hardworking individuals and families should be provided the opportunity to live in thriving neighborhoods where hopes and dreams are realized for generations to come. Since 1986, Dallas Habitat has served more than 1,400 low-income families using affordable homeownership as an anchor for hope, change and stabilization, resulting in an investment of approximately $140 million in more than 25 neighborhoods for families that pay nearly $2 million annually in property taxes.
Trinity Habitat for Humanity
Fort Worth Area Habitat for Humanity Inc. was founded in 1989 as an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, serving Fort Worth and Tarrant County. In 2006, the name was changed to Trinity Habitat for Humanity to include the four counties it now serves. Having grown from a handful of dedicated founders into a volunteer corps of thousands, today Trinity Habitat for Humanity is ranked No. 20 out of 1,571 Habitat affiliates in the nation in new home production.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project
The Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project (CWP) began in 1984 when the former president led a work group to New York City to help renovate a six-story building with 19 families in need of decent, affordable shelter. That experience planted the seed for the CWP, which has been an internationally recognized annual event ever since. The CWP, working in conjunction with local affiliates of Habitat for Humanity International, has built homes all across the United States and the world, including The Philippines, Vietnam, South Africa and Mexico. Of the Habitat model, Carter said, “Habitat has successfully removed the stigma of charity by substituting it with a sense of partnership. The people who will live in the homes work side by side with the volunteers, so they feel very much that they are on an equal level.”
There were far too many roofing-industry contributors to the 2014 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project to name in the print version of this article. I’m still leaving out a lot of good folks, but I am especially grateful to Roofing Contractor’s parent company, BNP Media, and International Roofing Expo producer, Informa Exhibitions (with offices in Dallas), both key contributors to the 2014 CWP.
To become involved with Habitat for Humanity, visit www.habitat.org.
To read more about the 2014 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, the Heisman Trophy build day and the Oak Cliff Gardens area, here are some helpful links (including photos and videos):
Reports on other Carter Work Projects: