Berklee Blogs

First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

Author: Matthew Frias

10 Years in NOLA Coming to an End

This is the last night here in New Orleans for the Habitat for Humanity Sponsorship.  We spent the past 4 days from 8am to 4pm working hard to help rebuild the city.  We were working in Orleans East. When we toured the lower 9th ward, we discovered that where we were building houses in Orleans East actually had over 10 plus feet of water from Katrina. Our Build Leader, Hans, informed us that the neighborhood we are working in was once a bad crime area that was completely destroyed.  Habitat has bought the land and is rebuilding it into a nice little neighborhood.  

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Gracenotes 10th NOLA Habitat Sponsorship

We arrived in NOLA to embark on our 10th trip to the city for our Gracenotes Habitat for Humanity Sponsorship.  I am eager to see the progress since the first time I was down here in 2013 when arrived in this vibrant city to help build homes.  We have a great group of volunteers this year with a group of 5 staff and 3 faculty.

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Last Night in New Orleans

So today is our last night here in New Orleans and there is so much to talk about it is hard to put everything I have experienced into words.  My name is Matt Frias and this was my first trip to New Orleans.  I have always wanted to travel here to experience the culture, music and excitement that it brings. Ever since Katrina, I have wanted to come down and help rebuild the city in any way that I could. Since Katrina was 8 years ago, I was expecting to see many of the homes to be rebuilt and lived in.  When we arrived at the Habitat house in the 7th ward, I was shocked to see that the lot across the street and the lot next door were completely abandoned.  There are many reasons that contribute to this but the devastation after Katrina played a significant part.

Our cab driver, Mo, informed us that about 400,000 people have not returned to the city since Katrina.  We took a cab ride tour of the Musician’s Village that Habitat helped build. We also saw the lower 9th ward where Brad Pitt has rebuilt many homes. Even with these rebuilt parts of the city there are still many homes completely destroyed and abandoned.

Brad Pitt Built Home

Abandoned Building in same neighborhood as Brad Pitt Houses.

Working with the Habitat Family receiving the home was so fulfilling.  I personally worked with Roshand and Jayson on Friday putting up siding on the house.  It was great to see the two interact and find out about their lives and kids.  They are a great couple and made me laugh a ton.  Apparently, my Boston accent made them laugh as well as they called me out on it every time I said something ending in r.  It was also great to see Roshand’s dad come out and help on Saturday with his dreadlocks and renditions of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love”.

It was a treat speaking to the gentleman that lives 2 doors down from Roshand and Jayson’s future home.  He let us all use his hose for water and pet his terrier dog “Mickey”.  He told me about how the water reached 8 feet near his house from Katrina. This gentleman was like many of the people we met, welcoming and very appreciative of what we were here to do.

It is hard to leave when you see so much more work needs to be done not only to Roshand and Jayson’s house, but also the neighborhoods surrounding their house.  I did the most work I could do in the little time given and feel great about the work we did accomplish here.  I left my sweat all over that house, from the roof, attic, siding, even beneath the house.

Me fastening bolts under the house.

The trip was also very culturally rewarding.  New Orleans is unlike any place I have visited before, from the unbelievable music, cuisine, and arts.  Many people come here for partying on Bourbon Street, but there is so much more.  We worked many hours per day, but had some time to enjoy the food each night, some live music at Preservation Hall, the Garden District, and just plain old good times with good people that I seldom or rarely interact with in our everyday lives at Berklee. It was great to get to know and work with Maria, Matthias, Lesley, Kathleen, Benai, and Joe for a few days. I know I feel I have made 6 new friends on this trip.

The Group!

I am so glad I had this opportunity to help rebuild one of the most unique cities I have ever been to in my entire life.  Even if what we did is a small fraction of what needs to be done, it was so rewarding to know I had a small hand in helping out a family and city that still needs some help. Thank you Berklee for letting me be part of such an extraordinary and life changing trip.

Goodbye NOLA!

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