As the government shutdown enters the second week, I attended three events last weekend that emphatically reminded me about the greatness of the human spirit that seems so not in evidence on the national political scene. The three events might at first seem unrelated – a 75th birthday party, a worship service honoring marriage equality and President and Mrs. Carter joining hundreds of Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Oakland, California to build hones for people who need them. However they were united by common use of the words like love, humanity, dignity and rights.
Joy Bianchi celebrates her 75th birthday at the Fairmont
Joy Bianchi is an incredible woman who has spent 60 of her 75 years helping people with developmental handicaps. She founded Helpers of the Mentally Retarded, (a name which will soon be changed to just plain “Helpers”) a group devoted to helping provide for people with handicaps with safe places to be. From 1966 until 2003 they ran group homes. Their fundraising efforts included a boutique store in Ghirardelli Square and a Haute Couture Boutique on Fulton Street. Her birthday dinner was held at the Fairmont and preceded by a reception in the penthouse. She spoke very movingly of what it is that a person with developmental handicaps needs. I would do a disservice to Joy’s eloquence to try to paraphrase or summarize her words, but as I listened I was struck that the needs were universal – a place of safety, stability and interaction with people.
Both President Carter and Joy Bianchi understand the basic need for housing. Providing a safe place for people to live should be a basic human right that needs to be recognized by our society. Our society also needs to recognize the right of any individual the right to marry the person they love. That was the point of the annual Witness Our Welcome service held Sunday October 6 at the Walnut Creek United Methodist Church were John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, marriage equality advocates, were honored with the Spirit Award.
John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney at Walnut Creek United Methodist Church
After partying Saturday night, worshipping Sunday afternoon, Monday morning dawned bright and early as I made my way across the new Bay Bridge to Oakland to the Brookfield Village neighborhood in Oakland. The Carters were already at work when I arrived at 8:30am and I was able to get some photos of the Carters working on putting in window frames on the first floor of a two story home on Brookfield Court. For me both the Carters and Joy Bianchi exemplify the kind of people who live their faith through example rather than words and whose actions have made the world a better place for all.
President Carter measuring for a window sill.
There was a personal highlight of the day for me. One of the volunteers on the project was a nephew of Mrs. Carter. He bought his family over to where the President and Mrs. Carter were working to say hello. President and Mrs. Carter came outside to talk with them. After several minutes President Carter went back inside to go back to work but Mrs. Carter stayed a little longer to talk with them. The saw for cutting various pieces of wood were located in what will become the front yard. So when President Carter came back outside with a piece of wood that needed to be cut, he looked around to see where Mrs. Carter was. Seeing that she was still talking with her relative he turned to the group of media and said, “Can I get some help holding this?” Since I was the nearest person I ended up holding the wood while he made the cut.
President Carter gets an assist from Mrs. Carter as he cuts wood for a window frame.
If someone were to ask me what makes America great I would cite these three examples of people volunteering to make the world a better place for everyone.