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Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz and First Lady Vick Hurwitz rolled up their sleeves with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, his wife, Rosalynn Carter, and other volunteers from the University and across the nation on October 4. Their mission was to build and renovate affordable housing units for residents of the Ivy City neighborhood that adjoins the Gallaudet campus.
This marks the 27th year that the Carters have joined city and state officials and volunteers on World Habitat Day to kick off the Annual Habitat for Humanity Carter Work Project. This year, a total of 86 homes will be built or renovated in Birmingham, Ala., Washington, D.C., Annapolis and Baltimore, Md., and Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. The 2010 Carter Work Project was held in conjunction with the United Nations World Habitat Day to highlight the importance of the nation’s need for affordable housing.
Dr. Hurwitz welcomed the volunteers the previous day at a volunteer orientation program held in the Elstad Auditorium on the Gallaudet campus. He was joined by D.C. Habitat officials Susan Moser and Kent Adcock, D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development Director Leila Edmonds, and U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey Olympian and Habitat volunteer Kerry Weiland. The Carters were also scheduled to appear, but were unable to attend due to a flight delay. The former president’s hospital stay the previous week, which he later joked served as a two-day vacation, had no impact on his attendance at Habitat events.
At the orientation, Hurwitz pointed out that Gallaudet predates the Ivy City neighborhood, which was founded in the 1880s, but added that “while Gallaudet has always been in the neighborhood, it has not always been of the neighborhood.” Historically, communication boundaries between Gallaudet’s deaf community and the predominantly hearing residents of the surrounding area have made the campus “an island in many ways,” he said. Thanks to changing societal attitudes, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and increased job opportunities for deaf people that have brought them into the mainstream workforce, this isolation has diminished. Today, Gallaudet is a vital part of the neighborhood.
Projects undertaken by students through the University’s Community Service Programs and initiatives like the Gallaudet Community Relations Council, now in its 35th year, are ensuring that the neighborhood-University relationship grows stronger. Hurwitz said that he and his wife and the Gallaudet students “look forward to working with you all to improve the lives of so many” by pursuing the common goal of creating affordable housing.
Despite heavy rain, Gallaudet’s first couple and several students joined the Carters at the work site at Gallaudet Street and Central Place, NE at 7 a.m. the next day, ready to grab hammers and raise beams. The Hurwitzes and Carters, along with other volunteers, would work on six new homes and renovate six more in the neighborhood.
Later that morning, President Carter paused for a press conference. Smiling beneath the brim of a rain-soaked Habitat for Humanity baseball cap, he spoke of the enthusiasm he and his wife have maintained for this project over the years. “It’s an exciting, challenging, gratifying experience for us,” he said.
The humanitarian and statesman also spoke of Gallaudet’s involvement with Habitat’s building endeavors. “Gallaudet has been one of the finest supporters of Habitat that I have ever known, in many ways,” said Carter. “This is not just a new thing for Gallaudet to be helpful to others,” he added. Reaching out to families in the greater D.C. community, he said, “shows the broad expanse of their generosity and benevolence to people in need.” Earlier, Adcock praised Gallaudet for its ongoing support of Habitat. “Gallaudet has been a great patron all along, and they are eager to host us,” he said. He pointed out that in 1992, the Carters and other Habitat volunteers also gathered in Elstad Auditorium during that year’s building project.
Habitat for Humanity asks volunteers to commit to a full day of work — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Seven undergraduate students signed up for a day or more of work during the week, and graduate students also helped out. For undergraduates, the time may count toward their required community service hours, while graduate students in the Master’s in Interpretation Program who volunteered can count their time toward practicum hours.
Future homeowners like Kiona Mack, a mother of two living in an apartment in northwest D.C., also worked alongside the volunteers. Mack said she has always wanted to learn ASL, and already knows a few signs. One of the signs she has put to use as she builds her new neighborhood is “thank you.”
“I thank [Gallaudet] so much for being involved,” said Mack, “because they’re making a dream come true for me and my family.”
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