Carter lends heart, hammer in Sandtown Former president helps nail a new home for city woman.

June 17, 1992|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Jimmy Carter hammered in the morning, and he hammered in the evening.

And if he didn't hammer out justice and love in Sandtown yesterday, he at least put down a subfloor, studded some walls and built part of a deck at a once-vacant rowhouse that will become home to a woman and her three daughters.

The former Democratic president and his wife, Rosalynn, came to West Baltimore wearing jeans and carrying a bag of carpenter's tools to work for a day on a Sandtown Habitat for Humanity project to rehab 10 vacant houses this week.

Mr. Carter flashed his "I will never lie to you" grin, posed for photos, shook hands and met the press.

But mostly he just worked.

"What I really like to do is have a difficult, complicated assignment rehabilitating a house or building a porch on a new house and just do it without people bothering me, with two or three ready assistants," Mr. Carter said during a break.

Habitat's most famous volunteer, who described himself as a "fairly accomplished furniture-maker," worked alongside such bumbling carpenters as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

More than 200 volunteers worked on other houses.

Mr. Carter also rubbed elbows and pounded nails with Sonia Moore and her three daughters.

Ms. Moore, 30, will buy the home in the 1500 block of N. Gilmor St. that the Carters helped her to rebuild yesterday.

Because Habitat takes no profit, charges no interest, uses many donated materials and much volunteer labor, the rehabbed storefront will cost Ms. Moore, a $6-an-hour teacher's aide, only about $200 a month.

"We don't know the lives of poor families. We don't know their worth, we don't recognize how ambitious and hard-working they are. We underestimate them," said Mr. Carter, who called the discrimination of rich against poor America's worst prejudice.

"Habitat gives me an almost unique way to relate naturally and easily to people like Sonia," he added. "We've gotten to know a completely different America from what I knew as governor [of Georgia] and president."

Ms. Moore, who was in junior high school when the Carters were in the White House, was enchanted.

"They were real nice," she said. "I wish I could go around the world with them one time."

"My life has been turned around," she said of the program, which plans to renovate 100 vacant houses over five years in Sandtown.

Patricia Holmes, another Habitat homeowner-to-be, said she chatted "like one Sunday school teacher to another" with Mr. Carter over lunch under a tent on an empty lot.

"It seemed like family sitting there. It made me feel really good," she said.

Ms. Holmes and her five children sang at a Habitat celebration attended by the Carters last night at New Shiloh Baptist Church.

A stream of neighborhood onlookers stopped by the corner of North Gilmor and School streets to catch a glimpse of the former president.

"Very seldom do I see important people come through here," said Robert Alston, an unemployed tow-truck driver. "He was a nice president. I would vote for him again."

Angelo Glispy, a carpenter, said: "You tell me that ain't great what he's doing. If he can do this, imagine what the president could do."

President Bush isn't doing enough, Mr. Carter said. He told reporters that federal funding for low-income housing has plunged by 92 percent since he was president.

The only note of protest came from Bob Reuter, an activist with Baltimoreans Against Disability Discrimination. He challenged Sandtown Habitat to make all its rehabbed houses wheelchair-accessible with one 32-inch-wide door and a no-step entrance -- and to make 4 percent of its houses fully accessible for disabled residents.

Mr. Carter told Mr. Reuter: "I think we ought to make some for you."

Habitat for Humanity International, founded by Georgia millionaire Millard Fuller in 1977, will complete its 15,000th house next week, Mr. Carter said. It now builds 18 houses a day.

Compared with the demand for low-income housing, Habitat's output is a drop in the bucket, the former president conceded.

But asked what impact Habitat has, he gestured to Sonia Moore, who is about to own her first home, and posed a question of his own:

"How big is the impact for Sonia?"

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