On July 7, 1986, former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter spend a hot summer day in Chicago, celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary while building a home in the West Garfield Park neighborhood for the Georgia-based nonprofit Habitat for Humanity.
The Carters helped build a new, four-unit townhouse, located at the southeast corner of Maypole and Kildare Avenues. Joining the Carters were more than 150 workers, including about 70 volunteers from local building trades unions. Jimmy Carter, who had left office five years ago, worked a 14-hour day sawing and hammering. Despite rainy weather, the construction was completed in four days, during which the Carters stayed at the nearby Guyon Hotel. Carter told reporters that Habitat for Humanity had given him and his wife “a new dimension in our lives.”
Every year since 1984, Carter has donated a week of his time and building skills to Habitat for Humanity. The Carters each year led a major building event called the Carter Work Project that attracted thousands of volunteers. Typically, the event alternated between a U.S. site and overseas site. They worked at many sites in Asia, including Thailand, China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea and India. Domestically, the Carters led a volunteer building team along the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2008, helping the region to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
“We have become small players in an exciting global effort to alleviate the curse of homelessness,” the former president told Habitat for Humanity. “With our many new friends, we have worked to raise funds, to publicize the good work of Habitat, to recruit other volunteers, to visit overseas projects and even build a few houses.”
In the inaugural Carter Work Project, held in September of 1984, the Carters led a group of volunteers to New York, where they built housing alongside 19 families in need. Carter, who has become beloved for humanitarian work since leaving office in 1981, praised Habitat for Humanity for the way it gets the beneficiaries involved in the process.
Jimmy and Rosalynn befriended each other in 1945, when the future president was on break from the Naval Academy. Jimmy Carter asked his future wife—who was friends with his younger sister, Ruth—on a movie date. The couple married on July 7, 1946. Rosalynn died in 2023.
In Chicago, unfortunately, the townhome the Carters helped build in 1986 became derelict, and the building was torn down in 2010.