President Carter is known the world over for so many notable and outstanding accomplishments. Starting out as a gradate from the United States Naval Academy, his leadership in civil and human rights led him to be the President of the United States, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Governor of Georgia, and so much more.
“At Habitat, we know President Carter best as a humanitarian who has mobilized thousands of hands and voices to build affordable housing for those in need,” said Valerie Renk, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, “In fact, President Carter is so passionate and closely tied to Habitat, many people believed he founded it.”
For the last 36 years, President and Mrs. Carter built thousands of homes by leading work projects, not just in the United States, but around the world. Together the Carters worked shoulder-to-shoulder with more than 103,000 volunteers in 14 countries to build 4,352 homes.
Madison resident and longtime Habitat volunteer, Dee Wylie, worked alongside President Carter during two of those builds – the 28th and 29th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Projects – both in Léogâne, Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake that left 1.6 million people homeless.
In 2011 President and Mrs. Carter led 400 volunteers to build 100 houses, and because the need was so great, came back again in 2012 with 600 volunteers. “Prior to the 2011 build, a Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project had never visited the same area twice,” Wylie explained, “After seeing the devastation and working in Haiti, the Carters were inspired to go back again.”
Each trip met in Atlanta, where President and Mrs. Carter welcomed volunteers before all flying together on two airplanes from Atlanta to Port-au-Prince. “Going down, President Carter shook hands and welcomed each and every volunteer as they boarded the airplane and again thanked everyone coming off of the plane when we arrived back in Atlanta,” Wylie said.
Once the group arrived in Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince, they took an 18-mile bus ride to Léogâne. Although the bus ride was short distance, the journey took two hours due to poor road conditions. “Léogâne was the epicenter of the earthquake,” Wylie explained, “Most of the country was still in ruins, but this area was the most devastated. An estimated 400,000 Haitians were living in temporary shelters and struggling to find ways to make a living.”
During the build, volunteers stayed in a secured campsite that had sleeping tents, a shower area, dining tent, and social area, as well as an area for Haitian crafters to sell their creations. Many Haitian families lived in tents and makeshift shelters surrounding the secured build site.
Throughout both trips President and Mrs. Carter were active participants in not only the build each day, but also joined in the campsite activities. “The Carters ate with volunteers and did everything with the rest of the group,” Wylie said, “President Carter was so heartfelt. There was such a super energy around the build site.”
Before beginning work the first day, President Carter shared a Sunday lesson with volunteers. He asked everyone to remember three things:
1. Accommodate changing times but cling to unchanging principles. (A lesson from his boyhood teacher, Miss Julie).
2. Have two loves in life, God and the person standing in front of you at the moment. (A lesson from pastor Eloy Cruz).
3. Never forget that while good works are important, people are saved by a grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. (A lesson from the Book of Ephesians).
“As each home was completed, President Carter personally congratulated every family and gave them each a Haitian Bible,” Wylie explained, “He also took many photos with volunteers and homeowners alike.”
“I will never forget my time building with President Carter,” Wylie said, “There are so many wonderful memories. He was such an inspiration to work with and he helped so many people.” During Wylie’s second trip in 2012, she was also able to reconnect with the homeowners she built with during the previous trip and was even treated to a concert by Garth Brooks on her 65th birthday.
“President Carter is an inspiration for those of us at Habitat, as well as the rest of the world,” said Renk, “He continuously leads by example and shows his endless commitment to basic human rights through everything he does.”