Former President Carter to help build homes along Gulf Coast

Published 4:19 am Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sixteen-year-old Trevon Skinner takes a break from pounding nails into a new Gulf Coast home and waves the hammer over his head during a big stretch, unaware that his work is about to get a powerful helping hand from a former president.

Skinner is among a band of youths building homes in the hurricane-devastated coast for a Habitat for Humanity project led by former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. The Carters, in their 25th year of building with the nonprofit organization, will help volunteers about 20 Habitat affiliates May 11-16 at construction sites in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

“We’re learning to build,” said Skinner, who smiled broadly when told he may meet the former president.

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This Carter project includes more than 250 houses, most of them being built through the end of the year in the three states, plus Texas, in the continuing recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

“He’s a true humanitarian and when he’s on site he works all day,” building supervisor Kevin Ambrey said of the former president. Ambrey, of Australia, said he worked with the Carters on a Habitat project last year in Los Angeles.

Buyers of the new Gulf Coast homes must participate in their construction with 300-400 hours of “sweat equity.” The homes are then sold at cost with an interest-free mortgage.

The Carters will bring attention to the project during a ceremony May 11 in Biloxi, Miss. In the following days, they will work on homes in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

On the Mississippi coast, where Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 47,000 homes, Habitat will build 20 houses in Pascagoula, 10 houses in Biloxi and frame nearly 50 more houses. Thirty hurricane-damaged houses also will be repaired in Gulfport during the week, Habitat spokesman Duane Bates said.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Habitat CEO Chris Monforton said some 2,100 volunteers are expected to build with the Carter project in his state.

“We’re eager about the project, very ready,” Monforton said by telephone.

Besides giving the local economy a boost, he said it will also allow those volunteers arriving from around the United States to see that the hurricane recovery isn’t over.

In Mobile, Ambrey directed a crew of 30 young workers earning minimum wage and on-the-job training through the U.S. Labor Department’s YouthBuild program, which has partnered with Habitat. At least one Habitat home on the street already is occupied and other decaying houses were demolished to clear the lot for new ones.

On a nearby street, Hugh McWhorter, a Habitat building supervisor, said workers were getting trusses and walls ready before Carter’s arrival. Some of the houses are already built and await interior work; others are marked only with a concrete slab.

Habitat crews in Mobile County have been putting down four slabs a month for new homes, with 30 homes designated for the Carter project, said county Habitat director Brenda Carson-Lawless. Crews are working on 10 houses in Hillsdale, a struggling neighborhood the Carters also will visit.

Carson-Lawless said she has almost signed up some the 400 volunteers needed for the Carter building blitz in Mobile.

Habitat’s Mobile County affiliate began almost 20 years ago with one or two houses a year. Last year, they built a record 54.

On the Net:

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project: