President Carter Tours Diamondhead Habitat Homes

DIAMONDHEAD (WLOX) -- It's not every day a U.S. president comes to your neighborhood, but that's exactly what happened in Diamondhead Thursday. Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn toured the ten Habitat homes going up there as part of the Carter work week project.

The Carters thanked the 300 plus volunteers that have spent the week building in Hancock County.

"It's not a sacrifice for us. It's a great honor and privilege for us to work side by side with, as you know, thousands of volunteers for a very worthy cause. So we continue to do it every year," President Carter told WLOX News.

Over the last 25 years, the Carters have taken many of their build weeks overseas. That was the original plan this year, until they saw how many volunteers are still dedicated to helping Katrina victims.

"Because we saw such a tremendous dedication from people all over America coming here. And we saw a lot of people from foreign countries that were here this morning on one particular work site, so just because there was a special need. Next year, we'll be going back overseas," Carter said.

South Mississippi's recovery will still not be complete by then, but Habitat leaders and families benefiting from the work say they're grateful for the mission here now.

"Sometimes we feel forgotten, and when a former President and First Lady comes by your job site, you know you're not forgotten," Bay-Waveland Habitat Director Wendy McDonald said.

"One of the reasons Rosalynn and I come back is to bring publicity to the fact that we have a long way to go. A lot of houses have been rebuilt and a lot of houses are being built. Habitat by itself has already finished 1,300 homes, and were working on 250 homes this week. But it's kind of a shame that in many areas of the Gulf Coast, the biggest builder is Habitat. That ought not be the way it is. We're proud of that, but it's kind of a same that other normal builders, the federal government and all is not doing more," Carter said.

As the Carters met the people who will soon call these Habitat homes their own, it was easy to see just how much this week means to each and every one.

Future Habitat homeowner Mary-Lou Reed said, "As soon as he walked up my driveway, I started crying. It was very emotional. I said to him, 'I didn't want to cry.' He said, 'That's okay, you won't be the first'. Rosalynn leaned down and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I just felt honored to meet a former President and a former First Lady. I mean when you get a chance to do things like that?"

The former President and his wife are expected to attend closing ceremonies for the Carter work week Thursday evening at the Beau Rivage Casino Resort in Biloxi. The event marks 25 years that the Carters have been associated with Habitat.