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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Businesses turn out volunteers to build Habitat homes in Charlotte

Wells Fargo employees turned Habitat for Humanity volunteers felt pride as they raised a wall to one of two homes they are building as part of the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project underway this week in Charlotte.

Working alongside the Wells Fargo volunteers at the time was a single mother with four children. She and her family plan to own and live in that house once it’s finished in April.

Anna Davis, who works for Habitat for Humanity Charlotte Region, works on a home Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, during the Carter Work Project.

“Her reaction was, ‘This is my home,’” says Mary Mack, a longtime Habitat volunteer who retired in May as Wells Fargo’s CEO of consumer and small business banking, as she recalled the moment Wednesday. “This is her dream. It makes what we do (in banking) very real, helping someone achieve financial security and financial health.”

About 900 volunteers are on site each day this week as Habitat for Humanity works on 23 homes in a 39-home west Charlotte neighborhood that has a home ownership rate of 26% compared to a Mecklenburg County rate of 57%.

Eight of the homes being worked on this week will be finished for new homeowners by Friday. Volunteer builders on the other 15 arrived Monday with just a foundation in place, but will have them under roof by week’s end.

“I’m proud of Charlotte,” says Mack. “Charlotte has really shown up in a big way.”

Volunteers from businesses across the Charlotte region and beyond are taking part. Bank of America, Truist and several other banks in addition to Wells Fargo have hundreds of workers on site. Detroit-based Ally Bank brings its 40 volunteers in from across the country to reward them for their contributions to their local communities. Charlotte-based companies such as Jeld-Wen and National Gypsum have supplied windows and drywall, respectively. Coca-Cola Consolidated is supplying soft drinks and water. 

Celebrity builders and country music superstars Garth Brooks and wife, Trisha Yearwood, bring star power to the massive weeklong effort that will help families move into homes about a year earlier than if Habitat built them under normal circumstances. Habitat anticipates 2,183 unique volunteers to take part in the annual build that started in 1984 when the 39th U.S. president and first lady helped build homes for a week in New York City three years after his presidency had ended.

The Carters, who participated in another weeklong effort in Charlotte in 1987, can no longer take part for health reasons. Jimmy Carter, who turned 99 on Oct. 1, went into hospice care in February.

Brooks, the highest-selling country music artist of all time, and Yearwood started volunteering with Habitat when the Carters were still actively involved. They make a point that they are there to work, but will take photographs with fans at breakfasts before the day begins. Volunteers described them both as “so nice.” On Wednesday, Brooks and Yearwood appeared as any other of the hundreds of volunteers as they worked on the same house. Yearwood’s pink socks did help her stand out.

On a Habitat job site there is no pecking order, but rather a group of people who come together to build homes, says Brenda Suits, a senior vice president for Bank of America in its charity foundation. A moment later, another Bank of America gives Suits a bit of grief as he walks by, as if to prove her point.

“It brings people from all corners of the community together to build homes and help these families build stability in their lives,” she says. “It’s life changing for those families, but for all the volunteers as well.”

Suits started working for what’s now Bank of America in 1978 between her junior and senior years at West Charlotte High School. She began volunteering with Habitat in 1987 and led the McColl Habitat Project that saw 120 homes built in the U.S. and 100 homes internationally to honor retired Bank of America chief executive Hugh McColl within five years of his 2001 retirement. She has participated in other Carter Work Projects in places like Haiti and Tijuana, Mexico, and Nashville.

“It never ceases to amaze me how a home comes together and you can then envision a family’s life here,” she says. She offers a walk-through of the home she is working on and points to the messages the volunteers write to the new homeowners with Sharpies on the unfinished walls. “Blessed Home, Blessed Land,” states one of a dozen or so messages. “May you find peace in this home built with love,” states another.

Those heartfelt thoughts speak to the craftsmanship of these homes, says Suits.

“People who build these homes care,” she says.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Habitat for Humanity in Charlotte. Habitat has built more than 1,900 homes in the Charlotte region since 1987. Since opening its first NC affiliate in Asheville in 1983, Habitat has built more than 8,000 new houses in North Carolina. Only Florida recorded more Habitat builds last year than the Tar Heel state.

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