Unless you have been stranded in the Himalayas for the past forty years, you have no doubt heard of Habitat for Humanity. I could not decide whether this post should be about Habitat for Humanity, or about Jimmy Carter, so I combined the two, as they rather go hand-in-hand.
A Brief Bit of History …
Habitat for Humanity traces its roots back to a community farm, Koinonia Farm, on the outskirts of Americus, Georgia circa 1965 when Millard and Linda Fuller, living on the farm, developed the concept of “partnership housing.” The concept centered on those in need of adequate shelter working side by side with volunteers to build decent, affordable houses. The houses would be built at no profit. New homeowners’ house payments would be combined with no-interest loans provided by supporters and money earned by fundraising to create “The Fund for Humanity,” which would then be used to build more homes.
In 1973, the Fullers decided to take the Fund for Humanity concept to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. After three years of hard work to launch a successful house building program there, the Fullers then returned to the United States and called together a group of supporters to discuss the future of their dream: Habitat for Humanity International, founded in 1976.
Habitat now works in 1,400 communities across the U.S. and in nearly 70 countries and has helped 6.8 million people achieve strength, stability and independence through safe, decent and affordable shelter.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Involvement …
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter became involved with Habitat for Humanity in 1984 and has since become its highest profile proponent. He has been involved in fund-raising and publicity as well as actual homebuilding, taking part in the annual Jimmy Carter Work Project “blitz build”. The Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project is an annual home building blitz organized by Habitat for Humanity International and its affiliates. It generally takes place in the United States one year, and an international location the next. Not only do the Carters organize the project and contribute financially, but Jimmy, now 92 years of age, can often be seen in a hard hat using a hammer and saw!
This year’s Work Project takes place in Canada, and the plan is to build 150 homes in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary. The event kicked off in Edmonton, where 75 of the homes are being built, 25 more homes in Winnipeg and 50 homes in territories and provinces across Canada.
In addition to the annual week-long building blitz, perhaps the most important contribution Jimmy Carter has made to Habitat for Humanity is his enthusiasm and his name. Carter has brought in both donations and volunteers and continues to do so.
What They Do and How It Works …
One of the most impressive things about Habitat for Humanity is that it helps people, but it is not charity, they are not simply given a home. The family in need of affordable housing partners with Habitat, helping build their own home, and even paying an affordable no-interest mortgage.
Habitat relies on volunteer labor in order to construct simple and affordable homes with its partner families, as well as to build community and civil society in the areas in which it works. Many churches and other houses of worship (synagogues, temples, mosques etc.) sponsor houses and provide a large amount of the volunteers from their congregations. Some corporations and businesses who value good corporate citizenship provide financial support to the projects and/or donate materials for use in construction. Many politicians and celebrities have volunteered with Habitat, reflecting its profile as a highly regarded non-profit.
But they do much more than simply building a house …
Habitat believes that a family’s success relies, in part, on the dynamics of the neighborhood, so they will often help with neighborhood re-vitalization and even help fix up neighbors’ homes. There is also a disaster response program to provide shelter assistance, education, training and partnerships to the affected individuals who find themselves in unthinkable situations. And finally they provide financial education services for new homeowners who may not be savvy about financial matters. The topics include budgeting, credit cards, loans, saving & investing, and credit reports.
There are also a number of ongoing special programs under the Habitat umbrella:
- A Brush With Kindness – groups of volunteers help homeowners with exterior maintenance, such as painting, repairs, landscaping, etc.
- RV Care-A-Vanners – volunteers travel in their personal recreational vehicles, making stops at local Habitat affiliates to assist in house construction and renovations.
- Women Build – provide an environment in which women can feel comfortable learning construction skills they might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn. Lowe’s is a major sponsor and underwriter of Women Build, and has generously supported each National Women Build Week. In addition to competitive grant opportunities, Lowe’s offers a series of free how-to clinics for U.S. Women Build affiliates.
- Youth Programs – a variety of youth programs aimed at teaching the value of helping others are aimed mainly at kids 16 years of age and up, but one program, Youth United, engages children as young as five years old, though they cannot actually be on a building site.
One Family’s Story …
Sitting in front of the Habitat Charlotte home he helped build for his family, Mario reflects on what a decent place to live and an affordable mortgage has made possible for him. He feels like a better father.
And More …
Habitat for Humanity has partnered with energy companies, such as Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to provide solar grids for some homes, saving the homeowner up to 85% on their electric bills, while helping protect the environment. They are planning to expand this initiative in the future.
There is much more that Habitat does around the globe, such as working in under-developed countries to help find ways to provide improved sanitation. But alas, it would take a book, and this is a mere, humble blog post. I suggest you visit the Habitat for Humanity website to learn more about this excellent organization.
But the real story here is not the organization … it is the people who volunteer their time, who donate money and materials. Those are the ‘everyday heroes’, the people who have learned that we are all a part of the same race, the human race, and have come to understand that we are all on this planet together.