Former President Jimmy Carter is almost as well-known for his volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity as he was for being 39th president of the United States. And that’s for a good reason. While he served as president for four years (1977 to 1981), his relationship with Habitat for Humanity, a global, nonprofit, housing organization dedicated to providing decent and affordable homes for families, started back in 1984 and continues to this day.
Since then, with his beloved wife Roslyn by his side, President Carter has worked on 4,300 homes across 14 countries as part of the Carter Work Project. When we say work, we mean work as in getting his hands dirty, wearing jeans, and picking up tools. Through the years, Carter has worked alongside thousands of everyday volunteers, including local inmates in Houston, as well as celebrities, including Brad Pitt and Garth Brooks; slept in all manner of accommodations, dealt with all types of weather from the windstorms of the South Dakota plains to the heat of Vietnam and the cold of China. Read on for more about his history with the organization and specifics on the build that was his most sentimental.
A dedicated volunteer
Carter hasn’t let his deteriorating health hold him back either. In early October, the former president, now 95 years old, didn’t let a fall and the resulting 14 stitches hold him back from kicking off the 36th Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project with Habitat for Humanity in Nashville, later that same day. “I fell down and hit my forehead on a sharp edge and had to go to the hospital,” he told the crowd of volunteers. “And they took 14 stitches in my forehead and my eye is black, as you’ve noticed. But I had a number one priority and that was to come to Nashville and build houses.” Even more impressive, the current oldest living president was hard at work at the job site six days later, reported CNN.
His role model
Not surprisingly, volunteering is in Carter’s DNA. His mother, Lillian Carter, known as Miss Lillian to most, was a nurse throughout Jimmy’s childhood. During an era earmarked by segregated bathrooms and drinking fountains, Miss Lillian, as Carter recalled in his book An Hour Before Daylight, served as both doctor and nurse to many poor African American patients. “Mama was a special person, who refused to acknowledge most racial distinctions and spent many hours with our black neighbors,” he wrote. “She never charged them anything for her help, but they would usually bring her what they could afford—a shoat, some chickens, a few dozen eggs, or perhaps blackberries or chestnuts.”
Then, in 1966, at the age of 68, Miss Lillian became a Peace Corps volunteer. This was almost unheard of at the time, in fact, she had to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before they would take her on. She left the United States for India for 20 months, where she taught women about birth control and treated people with leprosy.
Upon her return to the states, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Miss Lillian wrote to her children, “I didn’t dream that in this remote corner of the world, so far away from the people and material things that I had always considered so necessary, I would discover what life is really all about, sharing yourself with others—and accepting their love for you is the most precious gift of all.” Mrs. Carter died in 1983.
One of Carter’s favorite builds
Given how much being in India inspired his mother, it’s not surprising then, that in 2007, when asked about his favorite Habitat for Humanity builds, Carter noted the 2006 Lonavala, India, build as a sentimental favorite. “We built 100 homes where my mother had been in the Peace Corps when she was 70 years old,” he said. “So that was a homecoming in a way.”
Next, read on for 8 Jimmy Carter quotes that will make you proud to be American.