April 7, 2008
PASCAGOULA --Habitat for Humanity officials say former President Carter's rebuilding trip to Mississippi will focus on recognition of post-Hurricane Katrina needs as well as the untold thousands of volunteers who continue to assist.
The weeklong Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project also marks the former first couple's 25th year of involvement with the group, and a tentative schedule of events over and above construction shows the scope of the combined work project and celebration of the Carters' and volunteers' contributions on the Gulf Coast and elsewhere.
"We've been working almost completely full time on this since Thanksgiving," said Kent Adcock, director of business development and community relations for Habitat's Mississippi Gulf Coast chapter. The first of two events honoring volunteers along with the former first couple is May 11, when a kickoff for the project will center around a dinner for 2,000 to 2,500 volunteers from across the country at Yankie Stadium in Biloxi. Adcock said there will be entertainment and Carter is scheduled to address the crowd.
Next morning, volunteers will be dispatched from their hotel rooms to work sites: 10 new build sites in East Biloxi and 20 more in Pascagoula, and 30 home rehabilitations in Gulfport's Forest Heights subdivision. In addition, 48 home frames will be built in Biloxi and stored in cargo containers until needed.
On May 13, an invitation-only reception is planned to honor sponsors - about 25 of them - of the week's work. Adcock said the "signature sponsors" are The Salvation Army and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which became a lead sponsor last week with a gift of $1.05 million to Habitat.
The evening of May 14 will feature a block party at the Merchants & Marine Bank plaza in Pascagoula, complete with dinner and entertainment for volunteers and local leaders in appreciation for involvement in the work and festivities. Todd Trenchard, a Habitat board member and communications director for the bank, said the thanks is well deserved.
"It's a privilege and an honor to be able to host these volunteers who are coming down to not only continue the rebuilding efforts of our Gulf Coast region, but continue to bring awareness of the needs that the region still has," he said.
Closing ceremonies will be held at Yankie Stadium the night of May 15, and the former president is scheduled to visit work sites for photos with volunteers, homeowners and sponsors the following day before leaving the state.
Adcock said some aspects of the week, such as the possible involvement of other public figures and celebrities, are still being worked out, along with final security measures.
Despite the public fanfare, attention will remain focused on providing affordable housing for those displaced by Katrina more than two and a half years ago. Adcock said about 95 percent of the new or rebuilt houses should be finished by the end of the week, although occupancy of some may be delayed while prospective owners finish the 300 hours of "sweat equity" required or they continue to save the one year's home insurance premiums needed before receiving the keys.
The idea to build home frames in a parking lot near the Biloxi Lighthouse is a twist on previous Habitat efforts in which frames were constructed in New York City's Rockefeller Plaza and adjacent to the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., then shipped to the Coast. Adcock said frames built during the Carter Work Project will be stored locally in cargo containers until needed to speed along Habitat homes built on the Coast later.
"When we identify the lot the house will be constructed on, we'll ship the container there and have volunteers assemble it," he said.
Carter decided to spend the anniversary of his 25th year of well-publicized work for Habitat on the Gulf Coast after a previous visit to see post-Katrina recovery efforts firsthand.
"He was so engaged and enthused by what he saw happening," Adcock said. "He intentionally chose this site because he wants to shine the spotlight back on the Coast and say, 'A lot of good things have happened but there is still a need for affordable housing.'"