In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, particularly New Orleans, which experienced catastrophic flooding and destruction.
Nearly eight years later, the city is still recovering. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity have been indefatigably working to rebuild the city. Habitat currently has nearly two dozen projects going, including a one-story, single-family house in the 7th Ward.
Yesterday morning, a group of Berklee faculty and staff arrived at this house, marking the college’s seventh year pitching in on reparation efforts in the birthplace of jazz. I am lucky enough to have been selected to join this year’s team, composed of Matt Frias, Kathleen Flynn, Benai Kornell, and Matthias Lupri, and led by Gracenotes volunteer committee cochair Maria Goldberg. Berklee staff member Joe Chinni was inspired enough by his experience on the trip a few years ago to come back on his own dime; he and his friend Kevin will be joining the group for two of the four work days.
Our Habitat leader Evan called out the day’s to-do list—scratched onto a piece of lumber—and we volunteered in pairs for a host of jobs. Kathleen and I got to work insulating crevices between windows and frames with “Great Stuff,” a material we were warned is nearly impossible to remove from skin and hair. She wasn’t kidding; my forearms are tattooed with it—a testament to the first day on the job. Next, we were assigned a project cryptically called “deadwood,” which entailed nailing two-by-fours to the tops of room frames to create overhang for fitting drywall. In the space of a few hours, I’d wielded a circular saw, drill, and hammer. Evan was encouraging and by the end of her “hammer pep talk,” Kathleen and I were putting a good amount of power into our swing.
Meanwhile, the others caulked windows, built a frame for the attic door, moved lumber. The list goes on.
As we worked, we saw inspirational messages penned on beams of wood, other Habitat workers sending notes of love and good wishes to the home’s future owners.
After the day wrapped, our cab driver Mo took us on a tour of the Lower 9th Ward, where much progress has been made in rebuilding, including the Musician’s Village. We also drove by the infamous levee, which has since been reconstructed.
The day was a sobering contrast to the previous one, when we had a chance to tour the city and see the impressive homes of the Garden District. In other parts of New Orleans, the effects of Katrina are still very much a fact of life. Much work is left to be done, even eight years after the storm surge wreaked its havoc. It’s a privilege to be a part of one small piece of the rebuilding.