I came on the Gracenotes Rebuilding the Birthplace of Jazz trip with the unique point of view of a former resident of pre-Katrina New Orleans. From the first night, my Berklee teammates asked me what had changed since I had last lived there in the year 2000.
I cannot deny that the socio-economic disparities I saw over a decade ago persist nor that there are many more empty lots and abandoned and deteriorating houses. What remains is the incredible pride that New Orleanians feel toward their city. And the residents who have remained, returned, or newly relocated are even more determined to perserve their distinctive culture.
During the first part of the week, I busily hammered nails and caulked joints, thinking only about the one house our team was building. That perspective changed on the third day when the future homeowners, Roshand and Jayson Miller, joined our team on site. Roshand told us about how she would point out the other Habitat houses she had worked on to her children as they drove through the city. I realized then that she had invested herself in creating homes for other families just as we were building one for hers.
From that point through the rest of the week, I saw the house as much more than a single family’s home. I read the notes written by volunteers from all over the world on unfinished studs and added my own well-wishes. Every time a neighbor waved or offered us ice or water, I thought about the strength of their community. I reflected on Roshand’s sharing the value of helping others with her children and those she taught at her preschool.
The Gracenotes Sponsorship likewise allowed me to get to know and work with Berklee faculty and staff members whom I may not otherwise have met. Those connections in turn will enhance our college’s community, and its effects will ripple out through further volunteer efforts in own city. This trip not only reconnected me with the city of New Orleans but also reaffirmed my belief in the widespread, lasting benefits that start with a single act of volunteering.