It wasn’t until the four young boys from the Habitat house next door came sprinting on to the lawn like a makeshift football team that I realized the magnitude of what my colleagues and I were doing in New Orleans as part of Berklee’s trip with Habitat for Humanity.
Other than the constant buzz of construction crews, this was one of the first signs of life in the area, and the most important – its permanent residents.
So, as the boys began tossing around a foam football, several of us took a break from the tasks of the day to quarterback for a bit.
We watched them dive on the lawn for passes, cling to the fence to beg for the next toss, or storm off down the driveway when their big brothers hogged the ball.
Just next door, my Berklee team of 8 was busy installing those same elements – a fresh new driveway, a vibrant lawn, a chain link fence. So I had to surrender my role as QB and say goodbye to my new little pals, lest I be labeled a slacker by my ferocious counterparts!
The smallest of the toddlers looked up at me and asked, “You gotta go ta work?” And my heart officially grew three sizes.
He knows what it is for people to go to work. All around him are banging hammers and buzzing saws – bringing new life into this once crippled neighborhood of New Orleans, still mending a decade after Katrina. And he sees his parents working to build their own home because Habitat for Humanity isn’t a volunteer effort alone. It is a partnership, whereby owners commit to 300 hours of labor – both in Habitat’s retail store and in sweat equity on location – before occupying their homes. It is a program that builds business acumen, financial responsibility, trade skill, pride and a sense of community.
Soon, these young boys will have new neighbors in the houses we worked on. They’ll probably scale our fence a thousand times when they lose their ball, or lay in the grass with new friends, or scribble in sidewalk chalk on the cement we poured. All those tiny actions, those memories, those bonds, are what they will think of when they think of home.
And my hardworking colleagues and I will remember our own laughs, our construction foibles, our sore feet and backs, in helping them build it. We changed a tiny slice of America Street in New Orleans, but it changed all of us in an immeasurable way.