Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter headed to Canada to help build Habitat houses

1:37 p.m Friday, July 7, 2017 AJC Homepage
Former President Jimmy Carter sneaks a kiss with his wife, Rosalynn during a Habitat for Humanity build in Memphis in November 2015. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com

Canada’s about to receive a really terrific 150th anniversary present:

Habitat for Humanity houses. Hand delivered by Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter.

The former president and first lady are heading north to join thousands of volunteers in a five-day building blitz beginning Monday, July 10. In all, Habitat for Humanity’s 34th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project will construct 150 homes in Edmonton, Winnipeg and additional communities across the country.

Bob Andres/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Days before celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary on July 7, 2016, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter discuss their years together in his office at the Carter Center in Atlanta. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

The massive undertaking kicks off with an opening ceremony in Edmonton on Sunday -- just two days after Jimmy Carter, 92, and his 89-year-old wife mark their 71st wedding anniversary on July 7. And it arrives right around the time that Canada is celebrating a major anniversary of its own, its sesquicentennial.

It was 150 years ago --July 1, 1867 -- that the Dominion of Canada was officially proclaimed. And whether you consider that a birthday or an anniversary, the timing of the Habitat project is perfect, said Justin Trudeau, Canada’s much buzzed about Prime Minister.

“What a great gift to mark Canada’s 150th birthday,” Trudeau, 45, said in a video where he announced (both in English and French) that his country would host the 34th Carter Work Project. “Let’s come together, roll up our sleeves and build homes for those who need them most.”

There’s some rich history here. Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre, was prime minister of Canada twice, the first time from 1968 to 1979. When Jimmy Carter won the presidency as a dark horse candidate out of tiny Plains in 1976, he later recalled, Pierre Trudeau helped school him “in a nice way” on world leaders and other aspects of his new job.

The former president and his wife delivered a special message as they helped build a home for a family in need.

“(Trudeau) was the first one I invited to the White House,” Carter said at the Canadian leader’s funeral in 2000 -- where he served as an honorary pallbearer along with singer Leonard Cohen and Fidel Castro. “We were long-time friends.”

Habitat for Humanity’s annual Carter Work Project has an equally rich history. It was March 1984 when the former first couple started working with Habitat in Americus; by September of that year, they were leading a group of volunteers to New York to help build and improve homes for 19 families. That inaugural Carter Work Project spawned the annual weeklong building event that takes place in a different location each year (see a timeline here).  

Over the years, Habitat for Humanity says, the Carters have worked alongside nearly 100,000 volunteers in 14 countries to build, renovate and repair more than 4,000 homes.

Jill Vejnoska/ AJC
2016 (Memphis): Former President Jimmy Carter (left, white shirt) and Garth Brooks (gold shirt) help raise a wall on the first day of a weeklong Habitat for Humanity build in Memphis last August. (JILL VEJNOSKA / Jill.Vejnoska@ajc.com)

Civil unrest led the 32nd annual Carter Work Project to be cancelled only about three weeks before it was to take place in earthquake ravaged Nepal in November 2015; instead, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter spent a day in Memphis building a house and announcing the city as the site of the 33rd Habitat for Humanity Carter Work Project the following summer.

True to their word, the Carters returned in August 2016 to spearhead a weeklong effort to build 19 homes in a low-income neighborhood near the city’s downtown. Both times in Memphis, they worked side-by-side with another well-known married couple: Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, who are famously dedicated to Habitat for Humanity in general and the Carter Work Project in particular. (And Georgians are pretty dedicated to Brooks: Tickets to his Oct. 12 concert at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta recently sold out in a little over an hour. The show will also feature Yearwood.)

“I’ll do anything for him,” Yearwood, a native of Monticello, Ga., told the AJC about Carter during that one-day build in November 2015.

Including joining them in Canada. Habitat for Humanity says that Yearwood and Brooks -- who, along with the Carters, received the inaugural “Habitat Humanitarians” award last November -- are expected to work on building sites in Edmonton Monday through Wednesday,

For more information and to follow the Carter Work Project blog, visit www.habitat.org.

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