There we were, in the small backyard of 1928 Sherwood Ave. on Baltimore's east side, shoveling a path through dirt and rubble and searching for bricks -- of which there were many. Because the back wall of 1928 caved in several months ago, ample work faced this stalwart group.
This gang comprised a psychologist, a professional storyteller, a minister, a suburban homemaker, a semi-retired carpenter, a high-school student, an upholsterer, a journalist and a chemistry teacher.
"Jimmy Carter was in Baltimore yesterday to support this project," said Barbara Frazier, the psychologist from Timonium. "But he was in West Baltimore. We're all waiting for Ronald Reagan to show up this morning."
Nobody was holding their breath.
Sherwood Avenue, a narrow offshoot from North Avenue, was alive yesterday with the noise of about 50 volunteers rehabilitating four houses that single mothers and their children will soon occupy
A donated lunch of sandwiches, fresh tomatoes, watermelon, iced tea and lemonade was served by the Rev. Young H. Kim, pastor of Apostles Mission Church.
The project is part of the Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity in which volunteers work side-by-side with future homeowners to renovate abandoned houses.
By yesterday, Mr. Carter had left Baltimore.
Those who pounded a few nails with the former president, such as Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Mayor Kurt Schmoke, had gone on to their other duties.
All that was left along Sherwood Avenue in Sandtown in West Baltimore was the work.
Matthew McNaught, the minister at the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, with a head full of silver hair was wearing a T-shirt that read, "Over the hill and on a roll."
He said the rehabilitation work "fills me with hope," and "a great deal can be done with the tragedy of the inner cities without government help, and there's a great spirit in this block today."
Bill Wood, a traveling storyteller who usually works at schools, libraries and summer camps, was working yesterday in the tiny backyard "to make a small corner of the world worthwhile. It's easy to criticize, but a commitment like this is a statement."
As people like Mr. Wood have discovered, work along Sherwood Avenue is not without its adventures.
Two weeks ago, at 1922 Sherwood, a woman taking photographs on the second floor fell thigh-deep through the rotting floor.
Yesterday, a neighborhood child throwing a rock accidentally broke the headlight of one of the volunteer's autos -- one reason all workers sign liability waivers before they can pick up a hammer or shovel.
Of the four Sherwood Avenue houses being worked on, the most headway was being made at 1918, where a squad of 10 women were hanging drywall and finishing a bathroom.
Among them were Dink Rigger, a woman with eight grandchildren, and Chris Wendel, a professional cabinet maker from Mount Washington.
"I have a lot of abundances in my life, and I want to give back," said Ms. Wendel.
On the receiving end of these givers is Angela Tisdale, first occupant of the newly redone house at 1920. She's a 22-year-old, single mother of two small children, a cosmetologist, bright and full of dreams.
Ms. Tisdale has nearly completed 300 hours as part of her "sweat equity" for her long-term, no-interest mortgage on 1920 Sherwood.
She said she's deeply touched by the work done by the volunteers and is happy with her new home.
But all is not well on her new street.
"I've been here a month, and some of my neighbors, the ones who have lived here for a while, won't talk to me," she said. "They think I'm not with them. I still try to talk because I'm not a rude person.
"We tried putting some colorful flowers in front of their homes, but they pushed them away, rejected them. To be sure, I'm a little afraid to let my children out at night, because there's a lot of traffic at one house on the block, and I don't leave my furniture out because it might walk away.
"But I'm going to have new neighbors when the houses are finished, and I'm going to keep on trying to talk to everyone in the neighborhood because houses aren't the only things being rebuilt here," she said.
"We have to start believing in each other again."