NEW ORLEANS, La. — Life is about the simple things for Michael Harris— sitting on his front porch and playing his guitar.
“I say, ‘Let the music play,’” he said.
Harris is a New Orleans musician who’s played around the world, but his greatest second act may be his role as a homeowner in a New Orleans neighborhood known as “Musicians’ Village.”
“To be a musician living in a place called Musicians’ Village— it’s like for the affirmation of the importance of what we do,” Harris said.
He lost everything during Hurricane Katrina but found a way home and more.
“And that's how I wound up meeting President Carter,” Harris said.
Habitat For Humanity helped build the more than 80 homes that make up Musicians’ Village, a neighborhood specifically designed to help New Orleans musicians who lost their homes in the storm.
Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, were right there, side-by-side with residents, rebuilding the neighborhood, one nail at a time.
“I shook his hand and he was just a very warm, approachable, accessible person, very humble man,” Harris recalled.
In the living room of her Musicians’ Village home, singer-songwriter Margie Perez keeps a framed photo of her meeting with Carter during the neighborhood build.
“Somebody that I know came by and said, ‘Yeah, Jimmy Carter is in there,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, my God! It's so cool he's here. He's actually, like - he's ‘Mr. Habitat,’” Perez said.
She recalled what it was like to meet him.
“He was just so kind and just, you know, just like the little guy wearing an Atlanta Braves baseball cap and, you know, he felt like one of us,” Perez said. “From the day he left his presidency, he's just been putting himself towards service in making communities better.”
Jay Huffstatler, chief advancement officer with the New Orleans Area Habitat For Humanity, said Carter made three separate trips after Hurricane Katrina to work on rebuilding homes in the region.
“He was very hands on,” Huffstatler said. “He would get the hammer out and actually do the work.
He also said residents could sometimes appear star-struck when encountering the former president at a work site.
“He's our most famous volunteer. A lot of folks think that President Carter runs Habitat when you, when you, talk to them,” Huffstatler recalled, “but we just like to tell them that, ‘Hey, he's our best volunteer’ that we have him. He makes sure that he's making the difference in the communities across the United States and across the globe.”
Harris said he looks at his neighborhood with gratitude because of everyone who took the time and worked to make it a reality, including Carter.
“I have a place to call home. It is one of the best feelings in the world,” Harris said. “And it was all because of people like President Carter. I am a living example of what he stands for as far as public service and changing lives. It changed my life.”
In his decades of work with Habitat For Humanity, the nonprofit says Carter personally worked on more than 4,300 homes a legacy that’s standing the test of time in Musicians’ Village.