Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity arms its volunteers with knowledge, tools, and new skills. Its crew of reliable AmeriCorps and Habitat staff is there to catch your dropped nails, give a word of encouragement when your sheetrock is crooked, and remind you to measure twice, cut once. They bring everything you need to get the job done.


I went into a week of volunteering with Gracenotes knowing that. I’ve admired Habitat for a long time, and lived in Santa Fe long enough to know that the city had a particularly good reputation for wanting to provide housing opportunity for New Mexicans who needed a fresh start. I was excited to travel back to my home in the Southwest with my new Berklee family, and reconnect with my community. I trusted that Habitat knew how to build houses. They brought us wood, and nails, and screw guns, and ladders.

With so much fresh building material, what I wasn’t expecting was the sense of history.

It only takes a few months to put up a house for Habitat. The two homes we worked on, primarily, will likely be lived in by July and September, respectively, should their inspections go to plan. But in just those few months, volunteers have crawled over every inch of framework, and left their mark. Literally. Every piece of raw material carries signatures and wishes for good luck for the new homeowners. In uniform black sharpie, people who I’ve never met, who came before me, left their blessings, their hopes, their personal happiness, on these walls.

I felt an affinity to these people, even though I hadn’t met them, pounding nails through their words, pressing sheetrock against them to lock them inside the house forever. There are whole groups and individuals, Spanish and English languages, well wishes that range from generic to ultra-personal. Some happy thoughts are specific to their location: the window sill invites someone to bask in the good view, the bathroom walls joke about avoiding future plumbing mishaps.

These houses are built with contractor knowledge and hard volunteer labor. They’re built with hope and heavy New Mexico sun (and snow! And wind! All in the same day!) on the back of your neck. They’re built in different languages, with people shouting and laughing through open walls about things they like, good humor that fills up the roofless space straight to the crystal blue sky.

They’re also built with love.

We left our mark – personal messages and one large, generic Berklee logo – on the final day. Cleaning up the job site, it was the first thing anyone asked. Have you signed the house yet? Have you signed the house? Eager to join those anonymous ghosts who have come before us.

More volunteers will come after us, and run their fingers over our names, hide our messages under sheetrock and paint, wonder about what we wrote, leave their own notes.

The messages are prophecies: for ourselves, for the home owners, for their neighbors, for the future of Habitat and AmeriCorps in an ungenerous political climate. Children will grow up surrounded by those words, under their feet, above their heads, little magic spells unrolling, never spoiling under the sun or fading in the wind. Long after Habitat rolls up its flag and pavement covers the gravel roads. As long as those homes stand, their prophecies will too.

I hope they’ll all come true.

Lauren Linsalata
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