he Mayes family are no strangers to Habitat. Grandmother Peggy has lived in her Habitat house for more than 15 years, and sister Tamiko and other family members have partnered with Habitat, as well. Brothers Willie and Jamarcus knew how the process worked and were excited about building their own new home, but they didn’t expect the extra “new” it would bring them. The Mayes brothers’ house is the focus of an interfaith build event coordinated by Atlanta Habitat for Humanity and the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta.
“Meeting different religions, learning how they eat, how they talk, how they work with other people — like us — it’s just new. New things to try,” Jamarcus says. “It’s been fun. I didn’t know all these people would come out and show love.”
“All these people” included members of congregations from around Atlanta — among others, the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, a variety of Christian denominations, Temple Sinai and His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for the Southeastern United States.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the need for understanding in a city as diverse as Atlanta was more important than ever. That was a catalyst for Jan Swanson, a longtime leader in the city’s ecumenical community, to shift her focus from race relations to interfaith ones. She’d worked with Atlanta Habitat before, and conversations with affiliate CEO Larrie Del Martin quickly led to the first Atlanta Interfaith Build.
It required a new approach, given that the project would require building on a Sunday, something Habitat did not typically do. And there was another requirement: Volunteers would partner for the day with someone from a different congregation. “If you just want to build a house, build on Saturday,” Swanson explained at the time. “If you want to build relationships, then join this build because we’re going to work on the relationship-building right along with the building of the house.”
The Mayes build site demonstrates the success of that plan. On a sunny Sunday morning, the crisp fall air is punctuated with sounds of laughter, assorted power tools, hammering and pleasant chatter. The roof is dotted with volunteers in hard hats nailing down shingles, including Jamarcus, who has discovered he really enjoys being up there. Willie, who does not, is somewhere amid the flurry of activity inside, where volunteers can be found working cheerfully in every room.