By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Sherri Eckles’ eyes sparkle as her face lights up, reflecting upon the priceless moment she met President Jimmy Carter five years ago.
“It was at the Jimmy Carter Build in South Bend, Indiana in 2018, and I was working in the house next door to where he and his wife Rosalynn were working; his charisma and energy were a palpable thing I’ll never forget,” said Eckles, the Sr. Vice President at Norcom Mortgage. “At 94 years old, he was turning spindles on houses, while his wife was painting them, and they both went around giving out Bibles and housekeys to the owners of each of the houses being built.
Those homes being constructed were part of an organization- Habitat for Humanity- that has been synonymous with former President Carter for multiple decades. His unwavering devotion has included his imprint on the building of homes in 14 different countries, totaling renovations and repairs in almost 5000 homes, while closely working alongside 104,000 volunteers. That indelible, selfless mark he has made on Habitat led to the creation (actually taking place at the 2018 Carter Build) of a special day of reverence and giving, Friday, September 29, 2023, selected in his honor.
As part of a 16 state affiliate Habitat Tribute to Carter, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh partnered with the New York Banker’s Association Friday for a Statewide Build Day of Giving, honoring Carter’s 99th birthday, technically falling on Sunday, October 1.
Here, inside Habitat’s home base, 125 Washington Street, employees from several banking industries gathered for a day of service, contributing to some of the various active Newburgh home build sites. Presently 12 are under construction at the busy Newburgh branch, which celebrates its 25th year providing affordable, “sweat equity”, a “hand up” home ownership in 2024, and will turn over keys to its 105th home owners this month, October 5. At the heart of much of what they do with their catalyst- entirely volunteer base- lie the mission of the man they were celebrating.
“Jimmy Carter dedicated decades to Habitat for Humanity, really putting them on the map,” pointed out Paul Brothe, Board President of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh. “As time goes on, it’s really incredible to see how much work he and his wife Rosalynn put into this organization.” Brothe went on to express deep gratitude for Carter’s tremendous advocacy for Habitat for Humanity along with the inspirational barometer he set with his selfless nature and calling to serve: “whatever you can,” “however you can, “wherever you can.”
That “hands-up” and hands-on philosophy could be spotted all throughout the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh Headquarters Friday. Here, bank employees, typically sporting formal wear, were clad in tee-shirts (many blue with white Habitat lettering) and jeans, applying final polishing touches to a set of stairs or diligently painting sponsor donation signs, set to be put in front of completed homes.
“I was really thrilled for an opportunity to do actual, hands-on work- such as the painting- involved in the house owning process today,” said Eckles during the Coffee Break segment of the day, a bi-weekly refreshment and social gathering thank you to volunteers for all their efforts. “We do the financing piece, but to be a part of the building is really cool.”
Following that lively, fun, Coffee Break bonding, several members of TEG Federal Credit Union headed back to put some shellacking touches on some staircases. They too were deeply grateful for the special opportunity to put tangible touches on the housing process.
“It’s night and day seeing how this work is done as opposed to the financial end of it,” said Tyreik Brown of the TEG Wappingers Falls branch. “Today, has already taught me so much about what goes into actually building a house.”
Nearby, also touching up staircases in a similar fashion, Brown’s co-worker, Tamara Baggett, who has been a 20 year, proud Habitat for Humanity home owner in the City of Newburgh, came to Friday’s event well equipped with home building experience in addition to the financial expertise her banking job affords her. Returning to Habitat to help other homeowners for the day truly made her feel the full impact of the unique experience of being involved with such a life-changing organization.
“I love the kindness and generosity of this organization,” reflected Baggett. “They really take the time to hold your hand and take you through the entire home ownership process; it’s really amazing the positive effect it can have on people.”