Habitat International Celebrates President Jimmy Carter

President Carter with the Blind Boys at the Habitat for Humanity International Gala

President Carter with the Blind Boys at the Habitat for Humanity International Gala

Last Monday night, my wife Susan and I were invited to join Habitat International in its celebration of the amazing contribution of President Jimmy Carter.  The National Association of REALTORS® has had a long standing relationship with Habitat.  We have built homes in each of the cities that host our annual convention.  We participated in a major donation for Tsunami relief in Southeast Asia as well as earthquake relief in Haiti.  We also funded and built 52 homes in our Katrina partnership with them.  We, the National Association of REALTORS® and Habitat International, are both in the shelter business.

Earlier this year I represented NAR at the United Nations Habitat International Urban Housing Forum.  One of the highlights of the trip was meeting the senior management team for Habitat.  They are very special people.  One of the team members will be on our Board of Directors in 2011: Elizabeth Blake.  She joined us at the Leadership Summit in Chicago in August.  We talked about the media’s questioning of the value of home ownership.  Habitat’s model is based on the concept of sustainable home ownership.   It is great to have a partner in that voice.

Earlier in the day of the event we heard there might be some people moving around, but we had no idea what was in store for us.  Much to our surprise and delight, we were moved to the front table to sit with President and Mrs. Carter.  Housing and Urban Development Secretary Sean Donovan was also at the table along with other dignitaries, including Habitat International CEO Jonathan Rechford.

It was really incredible.

Susan and I were really honored to be there.  Habitat has built over 500,000 homes worldwide, providing shelter to more than 2,000,000 people. It was really amazing.  What is most impressive is how this famous couple, who are both in their mid-eighties and together continue to make such a powerful difference.  They could have “retired to the comfortable life of a former president” but instead they to choose to continue to serve by building homes, which every REALTOR® understands is back-breaking work, around the world.  Moreover, they are real gentle, likeable people. (Susan was almost like paparazzi, taking pictures of the Carters from across the table).

When Jimmy spoke he reminded everyone that the differences between us and those who lack adequate shelter are really situational.  All of us want a safe place to call home, no matter what our station in life is, or where we live.  My grandfather would have called him a “regular guy,” someone who walks among all people, kings, presidents, and the homeless with universal respect and compassion.

Four US Presidents have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  Three of them while they were in office, yet only one after he had left the White House: Jimmy Carter. This speaks volumes about the type man Jimmy Carter is.

The evening finished as it began – on an inspirational note. We listened to the Blind Boys of Alabama, including their rendition of Amazing Grace to the music house of the rising sun.  We left even prouder than when we arrived having been in the modest company of a humanitarian giant. – Ron Phipps, 2010 NAR President-Elect