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June 22, 2001


President Bush helps build Habitat house

President George W. Bush and Johana Rodriguez working on her Habitat for Humanity house

               A UMNS Photo by Phil Sheffield, The Tampa Tribune

President George W. Bush (left) works with Johana Rodriguez (right) on the Habitat for Humanity house her family will soon own. Bush later told nearly 100 Tampa-area Habitat volunteers the government should not fear working side-by-side with faith-based groups.
By Michael Wacht

TAMPA — President George W. Bush helped fellow United Methodists here build a Habitat for Humanity house June 5 for the family of Johana Rodriguez.

Bush spent about an hour helping a team of mostly United Methodist pastors from the Tampa District construct a wall in the house, which will be home to Rodriguez, a single-mother, her two children, two siblings and her mother. The family is now living in two rooms, a bedroom and a kitchen.

The house is sponsored by the Florida Conference’s Tampa District, which is raising the $45,000 needed for materials and supplies, according to the Rev. David Brazelton, former superintendent of the Tampa District. In the three weeks the district has been raising money, it has collected approximately $14,000.

The Rodriguez house is one of four Habitat is building in the Grant Park area east of Tampa on a recently acquired plot of land.

Brazelton led the morning devotional for the team and a second devotional for the president’s entourage. He said he wasn’t comfortable with some of the hype surrounding the president’s visit to the site. “I’m not here to support a political party, but to support persons who legitimately have a need for a home,” he said.

After about an hour of work, the president took time to promote cooperation between the government and faith-based organizations.

Bush said he wished he knew of a law he could sign that “would make people love each other,” but that “love does not happen because of the government.”

“This is a land of hope, a land of promise, a land of opportunity,” Bush said. “It’s a land of compassionate people.”

Bush paid tribute to Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, calling him a general in the “army of compassion.” He said he was proposing the federal budget line item for Habitat be tripled.

“Our government should not fear working side by side with faith-based organizations,” he said. “To the skeptics I say come to a Habitat for Humanity site and listen to the words that inspire people. Critics don’t understand the power, hope and promise of faith.”

Pastors react to visit

Brazelton said he spent a few minutes chatting with the president while they worked. They spoke about family and their mutual interest in Habitat for Humanity and other faith-based initiatives.

“His presence is very ordinary,” Brazelton said. “He’s just another human being. He worked hard and was sweating.”

The Rev. Ron DeGenaro, pastor of Seminole Heights United Methodist Church, which houses the Habitat’s Hillsborough County office, said it was “a lot of fun” working with the president.

“I asked him, ‘What’s the greatest thing about being president,’ ” DeGenaro said. “He said it’s seeing the United States and seeing people of faith walk up and tell him they’re praying for him.”

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2001 Florida United Methodist Review Online