Henry Wills never thought he would own a home, much less have a former president help build it.
But on Monday, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, swung hammers and hauled wood with hundreds of other Habitat for Humanity volunteers, including country music stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, to help build the Willses’ home in Fort Worth’s Central Meadowbook neighborhood.
“I never thought I would be able to work beside a president,” Wills said, grinning. “I am just elated on what is going on. I always wanted my own home, but I never think it would arrive. But God is good.”
Since 1984, the Carters have dedicated a week each year to helping Habitat for Humanity in their Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project.
The couple will finish up their work with Trinity Habitat for Humanity on Tuesday, building 20 new homes and repairing 44 others in the east Fort Worth neighborhood. On Wednesday through Friday, the Carters will be helping to build 30 homes and repairing 20 more in east Oak Cliff with the Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity.
“It is a pleasure to see the two cities working as a team,” Carter said. “This is really not very common in the United States or anywhere else.”
‘Change their whole life’
Carter, who celebrated his 90th birthday Wednesday, said he and his wife will head to Nepal for next year’s Habitat work project. In the past 30 years the Carters’ work has resulted in more than 3,800 homes being built, repaired and renovated in 14 countries.
“We really appreciate the opportunity to work side by side with wonderful people, just as intelligent as we are, just as hardworking as we are, just as ambitious as we are,” Carter said. “… And I’m talking about the homeowner families. And when they get a new home, they change their whole life.”
Wills and his wife have over 350 hours in building homes for Habitat, said Wills, who is supposed to move into his one-story house surrounded by other Habitat homes by the first of next year.
“I’m just trying to drive as many nails as I can into something I’m going to own,” he said, his tan work belt carefully clipped and his hammer hanging by his side.
Carter said he and his wife don’t specialize in any single part of construction but said that they do what the job site bosses tell them to do and that they are “capable of doing it all.”
Rosalynn Carter did say she does not get on the roof.
“I never have gotten on the roof and I don’t want him on the roof,” she said to laughs from the crowd. “Anybody tries to put him up there I’m going to protest.”
Jimmy Carter, however, climbed a ladder to do some work.
‘An incredible opportunity’
In a meeting in August, the Fort Worth City Council made a last-minute donation of $250,000 to help build four homes in the work project, and Mayor Betsy Price will volunteer with the work Tuesday.
“It is an incredible opportunity to revitalize this neighborhood,” she said. “People who own houses, the crime rate is lower, the kids are better students, they just have such an incredible sense of pride in owning a home.”
Price said affordable homeownership programs are an important piece of the affordable housing discussion the city is engaged in.
“We just put 20 houses back on the tax roll, and that is good for everybody,” she said.
Habitat homeowners put “sweat equity” into the construction of their homes and others’ and make affordable monthly payments on a no-interest mortgage held by Habitat.
• The Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project for Habitat for Humanity began Monday in Fort Worth and will continue Tuesday before shifting to Dallas on Wednesday through Friday.
• At a closing ceremony from 8 to 9 a.m. Saturday in Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth, the Carters will thank volunteers and community members for their support.