How former President Carter helped build thousands of houses: 'A caring, wonderful person'

Posted at 11:19 PM, Feb 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-20 23:19:10-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Former President Jimmy Carter has entered hospice care in his home in Georgia and members of Richmond-area branches of the non-profit that made up the 39th president's so-called "second act" are remembering the impact he had on Habitat for Humanity.

"The Carters are known for a second act. Literally, a second career after being president that probably Jimmy Carter is more well known for than being president," said Habitat for Humanity Powhatan Executive Director Susan Winiecki.

"He definitely has helped to put Habitat for Humanity on the map," added Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity Communications Director Kristin Vinagro.

Following his presidency, Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn began volunteering with the Georgia-based non-profit and through 2020, they had built, renovated, and repaired 4,390 homes in 14 countries alongside 104,000 volunteers.

Winiecki said it was the Carters who played a part in her becoming more involved in Habitat. Back when she was a board member with the Richmond branch she attended a conference in Atlanta in 2017 where the Carters spoke.

"Their sincerity and their belief in Habitat's mission for homeowners all over the world and, again, I go back to how they stated it -- that by bringing volunteers together with families, we're building up walls, but breaking down barriers to housing," said Winiecki. "And I just thought it just sums it up so perfectly and they had me hook line and sinker."

Winiecki said she eventually left her career as a journalist and joined the Powhatan branch in July 2020.

She said that the branch has built 15 homes since its founding in 2001.

She spoke with CBS 6 at the site of the 16th home which will mark a first for the Central Virginia region's Habitats in that it will be a modular home -- the house is being constructed in two large pieces in Pennsylvania and will be transported and assembled at the site this Thursday.

"Like Lego parts and put them down on a foundation and then we'll let the subcontractors come in and marry the two sides together and be under roof by Thursday evening, which is spectacularly fast," said Winiecki. "And then our Habitat volunteers will come in and finish up the house like they normally do and hopefully our great family…[a mother and son]…will be in it by the end of April."

Winiecki said the Powhatan Habitat also does a lot of work helping to do critical repairs at homes in the county, including helping 54 families last fiscal year.

"Anywhere from helping people fix their septic systems or their wells, to doing heating and cooling work, to doing re-piping work, to helping with mold issues. You name it, we have done it," added Winiecki.

As for the work the Carters have accomplished, Winiecki said they are an inspiration.

"They truly believe in the mission that everyone deserves shelter and an affordable place to live. They believe in the mission of the work," she added.

Vinagro who spoke to CBS 6 at a home in Church Hill at a recently finished home that will be dedicated to a mother and son on Tuesday, said Carter helped Habitat become an important voice in the affordable homeownership arena.

"He's helping to change the lives of people and helping to build generational wealth, build equity and build homes -- safe, affordable homes -- for families. It's amazing that that is his calling," Vinagro added. "I think his legacy is that he has shown himself to be such a caring, wonderful person. He has helped to build homes for thousands and thousands of people across the United States and across the world. He's helped to bring light to the need for affordable housing and he really is such an incredible advocate and his legacy is going to live on for generations."

"I would say President Carter's legacy is, again, his belief that everyone should have a safe, affordable shelter, no matter where they are around the world," added Winiecki. "And really embracing hands with families and community members to make it happen. Not just to say it would be nice, but to make it happen. Whether it be by advocacy, by funding, or actually wielding a hammer -- which he's done with his wife."

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