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Carter Work Project: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Carter Work Project: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Excitement for the 2024 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project is ramping up among staff, sponsors, and volunteers. For many of us, Carter Work Project is brand new. But for a few staff members, this will be their second time working on this massive project. We take a fun trip down memory lane with several staff members as they recall what they remember most about the 2010 Carter Work Project and what they’re excited about this time around.

Rhonda Thorson, Project Manager

Project Manager Rhonda Thorson was a Site Supervisor during the 2010 Carter Work Project and was responsible for all the St. Paul build sites. At first, she didn’t think the event would be too much of a challenge. “Blitz builds happened more often in the early 2000s, so while it was a bigger event than we had ever done, it wasn’t THAT much bigger. In the very early stages of our planning for the event here, we figured it would be no big deal and would only take a few site staff to pull it off,” Rhonda remembers. 

“The week of the event was crazy. And fun. And crazy! We were worried about it being cold, but the weather was beautiful, to the extent we had to shift our concerns to working in the heat.” Other volunteers at the time commented that it felt like a summer day instead of early October.

Hard hat works carrying the frame of a roof of a house.

Rhonda ticked off a few more specific memories that stand out:

“I remember a challenge with the siding on one of the rehab homes and with the kitchen countertops at another rehab. I remember one of the lunchtime speakers was an immigrant who had lived at one of the addresses we were working on when she was a kid. That house was torn down for one of our new construction homes, and she is now a writer. I remember the heightened security on the day President Jimmy Carter was there, but also somewhat surprised that it was still pretty relaxed. I remember there being some neighborhood opposition to our work, and affirmation from those same people as the houses got finished.”

With the 2024 Carter Work Project only a few months away, Rhonda is looking forward to a bigger event. “The scale of this Carter Work Project will be much bigger, with more national and international representation. Having it all in one spot will be an incredible event.”

Tony Beckstrom, Site Supervisor

Site Supervisor Tony Beckstrom has been with Twin Cities Habitat for more than 35 years. He was the Site Supervisor at the Habitat house that President Carter worked on during the 2010 Carter Work Project. “He was absolutely the sweetest, kindest man I’ve ever met in my life,” Tony remembers. “What comes through on television – that’s him. He was just the coolest guy. Pure good intentions and no hidden agenda.”

Tony fondly recalls President Carter’s use of tools. “He used our drill and Sabre saw, but not the nail gun. Anything he could do with his own tools, he’d use them. When he installed siding, he didn’t use the nail gun; he used his grandfather’s hammer.”

President Carter using a drill on the build site.

Tony feels extremely grateful for the experience he had on the Carter Work Project and meeting the President.

“His visit is a part of our local history now. It wasn’t like a work week, that’s for sure. It was like the World's Fair coming to town. It was just an honor to spend the week with him. I don’t think a whole lot of people have had that experience, but I’m grateful I was asked to do it. As my Habitat years wind down, that’s a nice thing to think back on and have a chance to be a part of.”

Terra Lumley, Construction Field Manager

Terra Lumley also worked as a Site Supervisor during the 2010 Carter Work Project; her role was Block Leader in Minneapolis. As she puts it, “Basically, I was there in case there were any problems that needed fixing.” Terra is now a Construction Field Manager with Habitat.

Like Tony, her favorite memories of that week include meeting President Carter. Throughout that week, the Carters visited each of the 20 project build sites in the Twin Cities and stood for pictures with volunteers and workers.

“To move the process along, everyone stood in their places ahead of time and waited for the Carters to arrive. When I saw the Carters approach, I got really emotional. Rosalynn noticed I was crying and came over to shake my hand. I had a moment when I was introduced to President Carter. He asked me how I started in construction and what kind of training I had. The whole time he was talking to me, I was trying to ignore my walkie talkie with the voice of my co-worker yelling because we had a problem we needed to solve.”

Terra was very moved by meeting the Carters and experiencing their kindness first-hand. On the last day of Carter Work Project, “there was music and dancing and smiles as far as you could see,” Terra says. “That energy of coming together for a higher purpose drove the crowd. I am looking forward to the energy and excitement coming together for housing in the Twin Cities!”

A project volunteer painting.

Chris Coleman, President and CEO

Twin Cities Habitat President and CEO Chris Coleman was Mayor of St. Paul during the 2010 Carter Work Project.

“I was able to build on the East Side of Saint Paul with President Carter. I also recall going to Minneapolis to meet with Vice President Mondale, and former Senator Al Franken. There is a picture in my office with all of us! It’s a great memory from my mayoral days. What was also memorable was how thrilled the homeowners were!”

“What most excites me about the 2024 Carter Work Project is helping to reshape a bright future for the residents of The Heights, and also being an active participant in creating a new neighborhood in St. Paul,” Chris says.

These memories remind us that the Carter Work Project creates a lifelong impact on its participants. To be part of something so big and life-changing is a gift for all of our staff, sponsors, and participants. We look forward to building forward together and making new memories in 2024!

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