Rockefeller Center now looks more like a construction zone than a Midtown Manhattan plaza. During the week of September 26, it will serve as a building ground for Habitat for Humanity in an unprecedented effort to help the Gulf Coast rebuild, one nail at a time.
Katie Couric of "The Today Show" has been volunteering her time. On Monday's 'Hardball',' she took Chris Matthews of on a tour of the renamed 'Humanity Plaza.'
To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.
KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": We're doing this project with Habitat for Humanity and Warner Music Group. And we have joined forces to really just make a huge event out here on the Plaza to hopefully inspire other people to get involved. And by the time it's over, we will hopefully have built almost 100 houses and raised money to build so many
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST "HARDBALL": So, you're putting together the walls here, right? It's like prefab.
COURIC: Yes. Basically, these are called houses in a box.
MATTHEWS: What we're looking at right now.
MATTHEWS: A bunch of walls that are being stood here.
COURIC: I think we're going to show a finished house on "The Today Show" tomorrow. So, people can really get an idea of what these will look like once they're completed.
But, essentially, the frames are built here. Then they're loaded on to flatbed trucks and then they're placed in the area where the folks are going to live. And then the rest of the house is completed. They're three-bedroom houses and obviously provide a great opportunity for so many families.
Incidentally, they do pay a small mortgage and they're required to do something called sweat equity, everybody who gets a Habitat house, where they have to work on other houses for other people. So, it's not welfare. It's really giving people a chance and letting them have an investment in their own home.
MATTHEWS: What I'm impressed by is the batting average of somebody I just saw hammering over here. I'd say it's about .200.
COURIC: I know.
MATTHEWS: But they're really trying.
COURIC: Well, I almost hit my finger early on.
But, you know, it's terrific. We have lot of celebrities coming by. Tracy Chapman, Josh Groban came by to sing. We're really just trying to make it a huge, fun event and also do something wonderful for a lot of people.
MATTHEWS: You know, I'm amazed, aren't you? Well, tell me about your feelings about it. You talk to so many people there. There is a real outpouring, isn't there, around the country?
A lot of it.
COURIC: I think I said on the show today, while we saw the worst of Mother Nature and actually also manmade structures, in terms of the levees in New Orleans, this national disaster has really brought out the best in so many people.
In a way, it's a shame that something like this has got to happen for us to really open our hearts and our pocketbooks. But I think a lot of people are pitching in. And they see, it was shocking for some people to see these communities not only left devastated, but to see them, really, the way people live before this even happened. That's one thing the Habitat people point out, Chris. It's not just the people in the Gulf Coast region who need help.
There is poverty all over this country. People need suitable housing, and so many people just don't have it.
MATTHEWS: Katie, you're the star of this show. Are you going to be
the star of this building project...
COURIC: Well, you know what? I am. I have to confess, I'm not particularly handy, but I'm going to bring Elle and Carey, my daughters, down here.
MATTHEWS: I want to see how many two-by-fours you can haul at one time. I remember watching Jimmy Carter and his wife hauling them around down in Tijuana.
COURIC: They're impressive, right?
MATTHEWS: They sweat. They're real sweat equity types.
You know, Katie, television — we all learned about this story through television. Is that what you think inspired people to do this kind of thing?
COURIC: Well, I mean, nothing like those stark images we saw of people trying to leave their homes, of the houses almost completely submerged by waters in New Orleans, houses torn apart, left like matchsticks in Biloxi and other places along the Mississippi coast.
I think those images really struck people and certainly started a national debate on a variety of issues. And, you know, we in the media are often criticized for a lot of the things we do or don't do. But I think, in this case, the immediacy of television and those pictures and the
heartache and the emotion and how raw it was, it was hard for even the reporters, who pride themselves on being objective, not to get emotionally physically involved.
I think all those things, brought together, really did create an environment where people were angry and/ or people felt bad and wanted to do something.
MATTHEWS: This behind us, you know, I wonder if this is the one time in a long time that bringing people the bad news, they wanted to get it. They were glad to know it.
COURIC: Yes. I think people were glued to their sets, Chris. I'm sure everyone couldn't stop watching it, because it was such human drama. It was such disturbing, upsetting human drama.
But this was a question of lives and would they be saved and what would happen to people. I think it brought out something very primal in all of us. That's the desire to try to help
people and save lives.
I think it's actually, hopefully, going to turn into a very positive thing. But it certainly created enormous suffering in so many families in this country.
MATTHEWS: What is your imagination, your vision on what the kind of people who are going to grab these houses and really invest in them as poor people, what it is going to be like for them?
COURIC: I think so many of us are so fortunate, don't even imagine what it's like not to have a decent roof over our heads. I think this will mean the world for so many families.
Watch each night at 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.