Blog entry 1 – Wednesday, May 14, 2014:
From the time we landed to this evening of our second on-site work, it has been a whirlwind! Thanks to Sara’s guidance and enthusiasm, we are all managing this new experience very well and really enjoying our work.
Visually, New Orleans is an unusual blend of European and Southern Plantation style, and a little Charleston, SC, mixed with some voodoo, Cajun treats and a LOT of music. The people have been friendly, with some expressing their interest in Berklee and their appreciation for our efforts with Habitat.
I feel very lucky to be working with such a great group of people, always smiling, and positive, despite some very challenging tasks, working hard, and doing their best to make every situation work well.
On day one, most of us continued work on a house that had already been framed with wall sheathing. Our task was to shore up the wall sheathing, cut out the space for the windows, anchor the window headers, and prepare the framing on the inside for more wall sheathing between rooms. Here’s what the house looked like when we finished all of these tasks.
As the temps continued to rise and the humidity peaked, a few drops fell, much to our delight as it gave a nice break from the stuffy heat. Then very quickly the weather turned, and the refreshing drops became buckets of cold, drenching water. It was fast and furious, catching us all by surprise. And despite a full dousing, it did not ruin the mood or diminish our spirits!
On day two, a few of us went back to the same house, and others went to complete the siding on two of the houses, but instead of the expected vinyl siding, we were to put up flat pieces of cement-laden siding, preferred for its durability. It was a little tough getting the top rows in place, and we had a few blunders, but we managed to complete the top of the siding on the two homes.
Things have run very smoothly on-site. We have been lucky to have some great leaders, Ben, the manager, as well as Vu and Chris. All have been pleasant and friendly, clear in their direction and helping when needed.
After the workday Mo, our driver, took us to Ward 9, which had been severely damaged by Katrina. It was wonderful to see the new homes, many of which were funded by Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation. Some newer homes were built higher off the ground and many had an artistic flair in their design. We also got to see Musician’s Village.
Still, after every few homes, there were dilapidated and boarded houses and buildings, some of which are still in use as homes. And while so much has come back in this area, the need for help is still pressing.
So far, it’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of fun. Tonight we went for dinner at Bacchanal’s, a very hip outdoor restaurant, where we heard a great four-piece group, The Courtyard Kings, playing New Orleans gypsy jazz and swing.
This has really been a fabulous experience and I am very grateful to the Gracenotes Committee to have me be part of this project! I would come back in a heartbeat to do more! I appreciate that Berklee and Gracenotes have continued their collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, which enables these opportunities for the staff and faculty. It is such a worthwhile program that has such a life-altering impact on some very fine people in need of a little support, and you just can’t beat that.
Blog Entry 2 – Sunday, May 18, 2014:
During day 3 and 4, we prepped the second and third house for paint by caulking and filling nail holes with paint putty. Painting took place on our last day, and it was very satisfying to see some very tangible results – the houses looked quite good!
One moment I had been hoping for finally came to pass on this last day. I got to meet two of the homeowners as they worked alongside us and the other Habitat volunteers. Both were very grateful and so very excited, each talking about their plans for setting up house and the colors they would pick for the different rooms. Interestingly, both women had an 8-year old daughter, and both beamed when each spoke of her daughter’s hope and vision for her own room. It was clear that those two little girls were deeply loved and also clear how meaningful it was to each mom that she would soon be able to give her daughter a room of her own, a home for her family and something she could pass down from generation to generation.
On our last evening, we made our way to the Mid City Bayou Boogaloo. What a fantastic sight, with the orange sun dropping low, white tents peeking up with people milling about, and dozens of kayaks, small boats and other floating devices. It was a mix of crafts, art, and music, not to mention, alligator po-boys, catfish sandwiches, falafel, and more.
As folks walked and talked around the large crowds and by the river, I couldn’t help but feel sad that our NOLA adventures were coming to an end, a sentiment a few of my colleagues also expressed. Sure, there were some fun romps, great food, 20-minute excursions, and as it was later put, frolicking, but it was the time, energy, commitment and perseverance of this group that created so many valuable connections, concrete progress, and triumphant experiences, it seemed a little hard to let it go. Whether it was Sara’s love of strawberries, Eve’s matching shall, Shannon’s wide-eyed smiles at all times of the day and night, Debrina’s food pictures and very cool boots, Steve and Rebecca’s climb to the top in the blazing sun, Erin’s love of flip flops, the exuberant “Jim Boyd chant,” and his many surprises, or hearing 50 or more desperate taps to get a nail through a piece of cement–filled siding, it seemed that what went on in New Orleans would now stay there, but also in each of us.
Who knows what new adventures might lie ahead, although I do know that for four families, those adventures will include a new home of their own and that is something for which we all can feel very pleased. And someone, somewhere in New Orleans is having a new adventure with a very worn and very loved pair of John’s boots.