The Magazine

Jimmy Carter's Favorite Charity

A wildly expensive way to help small numbers of the non-poor.

Jun 13, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 37 • By PHILIP CHALK
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One answer, of course, is that a do-it-yourself homebuilding empire is curiously appealing to donors. Habitat's volunteer carpenters, for instance, also write a large portion of the checks received, and for them, says sociologist Baggett, building houses on the other side of the tracks looks good and feels good. The real draw isn't the eventual homeowner--it's the fleeting intimacy of a 21st-century barn raising in which volunteers can "rub shoulders and swing hammers and have a sense of community," as he puts it. "Feeling good and feeling right--and that's more valuable to a lot of Americans than the work they're actually volunteering to do."

The public face of Habitat for Humanity is one of energetic warmheartedness with a touch of glitz--earnest staff, busy volunteers, enthusiastic celebrities from Oprah to Jack Kemp. But seen up close, Habitat for Humanity looks more like a wildly expensive means of aiding a misrepresented clientele.

Perhaps, then, change at the top is well timed. With vision and tough choices, Millard Fuller's successor may be able to restore a focus on Americans in the bottom fifth of household incomes, and develop or expand more cost-effective programs for higher-risk clients. The odds for such a transformation are probably slim, however. After all, the chair of the search committee is none other than Jimmy Carter.

Philip Chalk is The Weekly Standard's production director.