May 13, 2008
BILOXI --More than 2,000 volunteers left Yankie Stadium on tonight ready to build after seeing video of the aftermath of Katrina, hearing from celebrity singers and giving former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn a standing ovation.
Carter saw the Coast right after Katrina and knew recovery would take years, he told the crowd.
He brings national attention back to the Coast's recovery this week with the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project with Habitat for Humanity, where he and volunteers will build 20 homes in Pascagoula, 10 in Biloxi and rehab 30 in Gulfport. They also will prefabricate 48 to put on a site later.
Celebrity country singers Garth Brooks and his wife Trisha Yearwood introduced the Carters as "the voice of hope."
Jimmy Carter talked of the American right to a descent life, food and a place to sleep and a modicum of education and bridging the gap between rich America and those who sleep in doorways.
"It's hard to cross the chasm that separates us from the less fortunate," he said. He found that possible in Habitat for Humanity. The focus on the Coast is still to help the less fortunate own a home, it's just being done under more urgent circumstances.
His voice broke when he spoke of a woman and her four children living in an abandoned septic tank in the Philippines who benefitted from a former work project there.
He talked of the grit that people on the Mississippi Coast have displayed.
"The people here have performed nobly," he said. "You've not only helped yourselves but been an inspiration to others."
Rosalynn told the crowd that it looks good having her name on the work project for the first time. Though she has volunteered alongside him for 25 years, this is the first year the annual work project officially included her name.
The Carters lend their names to the project each year as an all-out effort to build homes and bring attention to an area of need.
The larger project this week will include home-building along the Gulf from Texas to Alabama.
The volunteers who came paid their own way or got help through sponsorships. Many are staying at the Beau Rivage and were impressed with the accommodations.
"Nice rooms? Let me tell ya," said Ruth Lutman of Pasadena, Md., as compared with other places she's stayed while working on Habitat projects.
Mary Morgan paid her way from Northern Ireland because she didn't have time to raise sponsorship money. It took three flights and about 24 hours, but she was rested Sunday evening.
"We've been treated so well and welcomed so warmly," she said.
Besides the Carters and the Brookses, who will do hands-on work building homes, celebrities Sunday night included Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Roger Wicker and the Mississippi Mass Choir.
Four representing the Knight Foundation out of Miami, a major sponsor for the project, called Sunday's event a pep rally.
"I saw tears," said Al Santaballa.
"It was a good inspirational context to get us going," said Tom Pitmon.