When he found out that former President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn would be in Nashville earlier this month for a Habitat for Humanity project, MTSU’s Murat Arik decided it was a good opportunity to try his hand at assisting the nonprofit.
Arik, director of MTSU’s Business and Economic Research Center, had become more familiar with Habitat following his work on a statewide economic impact study for the organization that BERC released earlier this year.
“I became intrigued by Habitat’s work,” said Arik, whose wife, Hulya, works for the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, a Habitat partner agency. “Then I said, ‘OK, let’s give this a try.’”
The Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Nashville would be building 21 homes the week of Oct. 7 as part of Habitat’s ongoing mission to provide affordable housing across the country by serving families earning 60 percent or less of their area’s median income.
The assisted families are required to complete homebuyer/homeowner education classes and contribute “sweat equity” hours to build the home alongside armies of volunteers looking to give back to the communities in which they live and work.
Arik said roughly 700 people gathered under a huge tent early on that Monday morning to shield them a bit from what started as a rainy, chilly day. He was assigned to House No. 11 with a “a very diverse group” of 15 to 20 other volunteers from all over the nation, including Virginia, Oregon and Georgia to name a few.
“It was a great experience for me,” said Arik, whose wife also volunteered that day. “We actually built the outside frame of the house.”
Like many others, Arik was greatly inspired by the 95-year-old former president, who suffered very visible bruises and stitches from a fall the previous day. Yet there was Carter, wife at his side, moving around the construction site that day, conducting press conferences, lunching with volunteers … and helping build homes.
“He was there, and throughout the day he was all over the place,” Arik said. “It was phenomenal. If you’re out looking for inspiration, you don’t need to go anywhere else.”
(Editor’s note: Carter suffered another fall Oct. 21 at his home in Georgia and continues his recovery as of this posting.)
The Carters have led such projects around the nation and world for 36 years.
“We try to share the religion of the hammer,” said Carter, who cites his Christian faith as the motivation for his Habitat work. “We have volunteers of all faiths. … Everybody’s the same in the eyes of Christ.”
And while Arik met volunteers who travel with the Carters all over the country to help with the building projects, he also unexpectedly bumped into another True Blue Habitat volunteer — Tom Wallace, an associate vice president in MTSU’s Information Technology Division.
While volunteering for the day was an unforgettable experience, Arik said he’d like to volunteer multiple days in the future “to see the step-by-step process of how that house actually became a nice, livable space for that family.”
And a lesson he learned that day?
“Being a construction worker is a tough job,” he said.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)