International Build Oct. 04, 2019

2019 Carter Work Project - Habitat Canada’s Terry Petkau is the President’s choice

Terry guiding President Carter on a tour of a Carter Work Project build site.

Terry Petkau’s official title is Director of Safety Awareness and Construction. But to his colleagues at Habitat for Humanity Canada, he is simply “Mr. Habitat”. It’s a term of affection and respect, recognizing Terry’s long career with Habitat and the impact he’s made on the organization through his tireless fundraising and volunteer work. As one of his colleagues says: ‘Not only has Terry made an impact on the Habitat mission, he has made an impact on anyone he’s had the chance to cross paths with over the last 20 years.”

One of those people is none other than former U.S. President, Jimmy Carter.

For the past four years, President Carter has hand-picked Terry as his personal House Leader on Habitat for Humanity’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, one of Habitat’s most highly anticipated annual home builds. Terry, who has participated in 10 previous Carter Work Projects, calls it the ‘Super Bowl’ of Habitat builds. “It was a great honour to get the call from the president again this year,” he says.

“It was a great honour to get the call from the president again this year.”

For this year’s event, Terry is heading to Nashville, Tennessee, where he will work alongside President and Mrs. Carter, 21 future homeowners, and hundreds of other volunteers on a five-day-long building blitz. As the house leader of the “Carter house”, he will be in charge of three or four experienced crew leaders and about 25 to 30 general volunteers. “The Carter house has a reputation for being the busiest on site,” he says. “President Carter takes the build very seriously and expects to see ‘active hammers’ at all times. Woe betide anyone who pulls out their camera for a souvenir snap!”

One of the things Terry enjoys most about the five-day build is the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and play a part in teaching them new skills. In addition to buying their home and paying an affordable mortgage, future homeowners volunteer 500 hours with their local Habitat. Many times that includes working alongside other volunteers from the community to help build their own Habitat home.

“It’s great to see people who may have never picked up a specific construction tool before gradually gain enough confidence over the week to tackle a small home improvement project on their own,” he says. “And, more importantly, do it safely and to high standards of quality.”

Terry’s first time volunteering on a Habitat home build was 28 years ago in Winnipeg. He says that experience changed his life and to this day gets emotional every time he sees families become homeowners for the first time. That’s the aspect of the Carter Work Project he loves the most. “The joy on the family’s faces when they see their completed house makes every exhausting moment on the job-site worthwhile,” he says.

Habitat for Humanity believes that every family needs a strong foundation to grow, and that often begins with a decent and affordable place to call home. “It’s what inspires me every day in my work,” says Terry, “and keeps me coming back to this event year after year.”