Former president Jimmy Carter introduces house-building spree

“If the Lord does not build a house, in vain do its builders labor.”  

President Father Jenkins invoked this part of Psalm 127 at the Opening Ceremonies of this year’s Carter Work Project, held at Purcell Pavillion on Sunday, August 26. He prayed that the laborers would build “not just rooms and roofs, but true homes.” Former President and First Lady Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, and television show host David Letterman spoke at the event among others.  

The Carter Work Project is an annual weeklong spree of house-building for Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that helps improve and build homes for families in need. During this year, which is the 35th anniversary of the Carter Work Project, the Carters, scores of volunteers, and future homeowners built 23 homes in a new Mishawaka subdivision.

A video played at the event to honor Leroy Troyer, a 1971 Notre Dame graduate and famous architect who uses his talents in service of Habitat for Humanity.  He was described as “the architect who puts God’s word into action.” President Carter later discussed the value he places upon his friendship and correspondence with Troyer.

Jonathan Reckford, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, spoke about the affordable housing crisis in the United States and the work Habitat for Humanity is doing to combat it.  Last year, Habitat helped 3.5 million families obtain a new or improved home, meaning that Habitat helps a new family every 50 seconds.

A surprise guest was talk-show host David Letterman, who has been working with Habitat for Humanity since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina inspired him to find a way to give back. At that point all he could do was hammer— “if there’s a hammering hall of fame, get me in”—but on a later trip to Houston, he graduated to ripping out sheetrock and dealing with fiberglass.  In his speech, he said he found a lot of value in his work with Habitat, remarking, “It was the hardest work my friends and I have ever done, and I loved every minute of it.” Letterman closed by expressing his gratitude to the Carters for making him and the rest of the world aware of Habitat for Humanity, describing the former president as “a beacon to show you what needs to be done and what can be done.”

Emphasized throughout the ceremonies was the fact that Habitat for Humanity does not give houses away for free: each family participating in the Carter Work Project put in at least 250 hours of “sweat equity.”  Benito and Junixia Salazar, future homeowners, voiced their gratitude for their home and the opportunity to help build it: “Knowing that my children can grow up in a house that their mother and father have worked so hard for means so much.”  The Salazars expressed good wishes to all of their future neighbors: “May your new keys to your home be the keys to success for every individual in your family. May your walls know joy. May every room hold laughter, and may every window open to great possibilities.”  The couple thanked the volunteers and donors who made their home possible with a quote from Fred Rogers, (of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood): “I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said ‘yes’ when all it meant was extra work for you, and was seemingly helpful for somebody else.”

Finally, President Jimmy Carter himself took the stage. He had all of the volunteers stand and be recognized.  He thanked Leroy Troyer for his inspiration and he especially thanked Habitat for Humanity, saying, “It’s not a sacrifice. We sometimes get too hot. We sometimes get too cold. We sometimes work overtime. But every time we’ve ever been out and volunteered….at the end of the Habitat project we always feel that we got more out than we put into it.”

Natalie Casal is a sophomore majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and Classics. She shares a home state and a love of peanuts with former President Jimmy Carter. Email Natalie at