“Home is the nicest word there is.” — Laura Ingalls Wilder

The notion of home. It’s something most of us take for granted. The literal, structural part, at least. Until now, when I looked at a wall in a house, I saw a wall. I didn’t see the bones that held it, that made it so.

Now, after four days of working on a Habitat for Humanity house in New Orleans’ 7th Ward with a team of Berklee faculty and staff, I am more conscious of the fact that each individual nail has to be put in its place by a human hand. I am more aware of the framing and insulation and drywall. I don’t think I will look at a wall the same again.

But as we nailed and measured and sawed and painted, we knew this wasn’t just about building a house. This was about creating a home for a family who couldn’t otherwise afford one. Working alongside these homeowners was a powerful and moving experience.

Jayson and Roshand Miller, bottom left, with the Berklee team and Habitat site leader Evan Clark (bottom, far right)

Roshand Miller was born and raised in New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, she was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Houston, Texas, where her family relocated temporarily from New Orleans. Bit by bit, her family trickled back to her hometown. When she became pregnant with her first child, Roshand felt the pull to be closer to family again. She moved back with her husband Jayson in 2007 but they couldn’t afford to buy a home of their own. That’s where Habitat came in. Roshand and Jayson applied and were accepted on the second try.

As part of the program, homeowners are required to provide “sweat equity,” in the form of 350 hours (this includes work on other Habitat homes, financial fitness and home buying classes). Roshand and Jayson come on their days off from work.

“When you build it, you really own it,” Roshand told me.

“When we brought our kids, I showed my son the straps for the trusses for the roof, and I said, ‘I nailed that in there. I put your room together.’”

She continues to be moved by the notes volunteers leave on the studs and plans to make a collage of the images to frame in her new home.

As we finished our last shift at the Millers’ home and said goodbye, we felt a little closer to the house we helped bring a little bit closer to completion. A little closer to the family who will soon live there.

Lesley Mahoney
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