Cancer-Stricken Carter Has Nonprofit Legacy

Former President Jimmy Carter announced he is battling cancer.

“Recent liver surgery revealed that I have cancer that now is in other parts of my body,” Carter said via a statement posted on the Carter Center’s website on Wednesday. “I will be rearranging my schedule as necessary so I can undergo treatment by physicians at Emory Healthcare. A more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibility next week.”

Deanna Congileo, Carter’s press secretary, declined to provide further information when sought for comment.

Since leaving office in 1981, Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have partnered in numerous nonprofit efforts, most notably the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity International.

The Carters first became involved with Habitat for Humanity in 1984, according to Habitat CEO Jonathan Reckford. In the 31 years since, the annual Carter builds have helped provide 4,000 people with new housing. “One of the misconceptions is that President Carter started Habitat for Humanity, which is not true,” Reckford said. “But most people may never have heard of Habitat for Humanity had he not gotten involved.”

The Carters’ participation in Habitat initiatives had a ripple effect, Reckford said. Each time a Carter build has visited a new country, Habitat has seen an increase in volunteers and leadership in that region, Reckford said. “Sometimes, famous people just want the photo,” Reckford said of Carter’s involvement with Habitat. “President Carter couldn’t be any more different.”

Reckford said that his thoughts and the thoughts of the Habitat community are with Carter as he goes through treatment.

Dr. Surishtha Sehgal, founder and president of Campus Community Partnership Foundation in Atlanta, credits Carter with serving as a role model for the foundation, citing, in part, the creation of the U.S. Department of Education during his tenure. “He has been the inspiration for our foundation,” Sehgal said. “From the beginning, he has been a champion of our work…Even though it’s unsettling at the moment, he’s going to fight it out. That’s what I believe, because he always has.”

Since 1999, CCPF has acknowledged examples of great work between collegiate campuses and communities with the Carter Award. Due to a lack of funding, the award has not been handed out for several years, Sehgal said, but CCPF intends to bring it back.

Other programs that branched out of the Carter Award include community entrepreneurial grants that recognize college students who identify and address concerns in their community and CCPF’s Mentor Walk. The annual walk brings high school, middle school and elementary school students onto university campuses to interact with collegians with the goal being to lower school dropout rates, Sehgal said.

Diana Aviv, president and CEO of Independent Sector, lauded the Carters’ efforts in assisting nonprofits as a leader and volunteer. In a statement, Aviv referenced the Carter Center’s work in battling diseases such as malaria and the Carters’ work in constructing homes with Habitat for Humanity as examples of Carter’s commitment to others.

“The world is a far better place because of President Carter’s achievements, because of his exemplary accomplishments as a private citizen,” Aviv said in the statement. “He has carried his commitment to human rights and democratic elections forward as a NGO spokesperson and observer.”