On Wednesday October 6, Former United States President Jimmy Carter joined thousands of volunteers in Minneapolis’s Hawthorne neighborhood as part of Habitat for Humanity‘s 27th Annual Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. Hawthorne EcoVillage and St Paul’s East Side Payne-Phalen neighborhood are two of the sites of the work project, which also includes neighborhoods in Washington, D.C, Baltimore and Annapolis, MD and Birmingham, Alabama.
|Carter week Habitat for Humanity coverage in TCDP
• President Jimmy Carter leads Habitat team in North Minneapolis [includes video and audio slideshow]
Twelve families in Hawthorne are partnering with Habitat this week in repairing five homes currently occupied by low-income homeowners, building two new homes, and renovating five boarded and vacant homes. The homes are located in Hawthorne EcoVillage, a four-block area within the Hawthorne neighborhood in North Minneapolis, which was launched in 2006 by the Northside Home Fund, a partnership of the City of Minneapolis, Northside neighborhood organizations, developers, funders and others. Once an area plagued with blight, the neighborhood saw a 73 percent decrease in crime between 2007 and 2009 and an 85 percent reduction in narcotics arrest, according to a press release.
On Wednesday, Carter and his former Vice-President Walter Mondale helped out at the house of Melody Lawson and her family. Lawson came to the United States from Togo in 2003. After applying with Habitat three times, Lawson finally was eligible to purchase a home in 2010. She said she was unable to study last night for her Minneapolis Community and Technical College courses because she was so excited about today. “I’m delighted,” Lawson said, “I’m having a daydream!”
Melo Lawson, a new Habitat for Humanity homeowner, and family friend Jean Apalod talk about former President Jimmy Carter’s visit in the audio slide show below.
At Lawson’s home, Carter drilled some holes in front of the camera while Mondale was up on the scaffolding. Carter joked during the press conference that followed that if the scaffolding was any higher, he would have put the Republicans up there. At this kind of publicity event, Carter said he doesn’t “have a chance to drop many nails or drill many holes.” Instead, his notoriety helps bring publicity to the organization, and emphasizes that there are so many needs that are not being met.
“This is a very good opportunity,” Carter said, “to make America a greater place.” Touching on the religious beliefs that he and his wife shares, which compels them to serve those in need, he said “We and the Muslims and the Jews and those of different religious faiths—we should share our wealth and our well being and our security with those in need. It’s a challenge and an opportunity.” Carter also spoke of breaking the barriers that exist between those who have everything and those who don’t have anything.
Everyone, Carter said, has a right to live in a decent home, a right to have modicum of education, some element of health care, and a decent job. “We need to look at a broader definition of human rights.”
Mayor R.T. Rybak, who also spoke at the press conference, said that five years ago he visited Hawthorne Neighborhood and met a woman who was crying because her son had to go live with relatives in Carolina, because her Minneapolis home was an unsafe place to live. Rybak said that he was moved by the woman’s predicament, and thereafter the city resolved to make Hawthorne neighborhood a place that was safe to live. The city, in partnership with the Federal government, Project for Pride and Living, Home Depot Foundation, and other partners, acquired 38 properties.
However, Rybak said, “Housing is not a government industry. It works when individuals see investment next door.” As an example, Rybak pointed to the house next to one of Habitat’s projects where someone had just moved in with no government assistance, but because that person thought it was a good investment. “I’m deeply appreciative of the neighbors who have stuck it out,” Rybak said. “This has gone from the worse neighborhood in Minneapolis to a shining star.”
Jonathan Reckford, Chief Executive Officer for Habitat for Humanity, said the organization helped 75,000 families this year. In the United States, “We’re the largest private home builder, but we’re not winning.” Because of the foreclosure crisis, he said, property values have lost $500 billion, and recent census data showed one in seven Americans below the poverty line. “The data says we have to do more,” Reckford said. Neighborhood revitalization efforts such as buying up properties is one way “to help these communities come back.”
[Text and video by Sheila Regan, audio slide show by Karen Hollish]
CORRECTION: October 7 – Date of Carter visit: “Wednesday, October 6”