The outskirts of Santa Fe, as seen from a 15 passenger van on route 25

Hello from sunny and beautiful Santa Fe! I’m here with colleagues as part of the annual Berklee Gracenotes service trip.

Though I’ve been looking forward to this week for a while, I don’t think I was prepared for how downright expansive this journey would be. The wide open landscapes, the breadth of history culture and art of this area, the community impact through our volunteer work– it all has a far-reaching feel to it.

The culture shock does make sense though; Santa Fe is a far cry from Boston, geographically, culturally, and food-wise (seriously, 500 feet from my hotel room is a beef jerky cart: “$10 for a gallon bag”. Also the mexican food is unreal).

The shift in environment became clear on Tuesday trekking to Tent Rocks National Monument. Hiking a good few miles through rocky (at times almost alien) terrain was a fantastic way for our group to get to know each other. Participants include faculty and staff from Berklee and Boston Conservatory, and only a few of us knew each other beforehand.

Reaching the peak provided one of the most far-reaching, stunning vistas I can remember. From that high up, with so much wilderness as far as the eye can see, it really made me grateful to travel with a group of new friends to share this journey. Somehow, in just a few hours, I’d already expanded my Berklee circle.

The view from 9/10 of the trail peak at Tent Rocks National Monument

It’s a good thing we all grabbed the chance to see such the view while we could. Wednesday had us up bright and early to head to the Oshara neighborhood of Santa Fe, to get right to work building houses via Habitat for Humanity.

Sheetrock, sheetrock, sheetrock ’til broad daylight

The most eye opening part of this trip so far has been witnessing and partaking in the coordination, effort, and teamwork that go into a Habitat build. The Americorps construction crew team who have instructed us throughout the week have shared so much about the impact our trip will make (as well as some practical skills we can take home!).

L to R: Ellen, Joanna, Lauren, Nate, Mary Anne, Daniel

Our group was lucky enough Wednesday to work alongside the future homeowner of one of the houses. Mary Anne shared her story and her humor, and taught us a thing or two about cutting and mounting drywall to boot. She laid out the plans for each room; her kids have already picked out the color of their bedrooms and her whole family is so excited for the July move in date.

In just th few days I’ve been here, it has been an honor to learn more about the Southwest, witness the natural stunning landscape, and contribute to not just a community in need, but to the real life individuals who will be positively impacted by our hammer-wielding efforts. It’s powerful to get a sense of just how much this trip has allowed for new opportunities in community-building, from Gracenotes participants to the future home-owners and beyond.

All of the sheetrock you see in this picture we hung in a few hours!

The week has flown by, and it’s hard to believe we have only two more days of building ahead of us. I think time is the only thing that hasn’t felt expansive this trip. Though I’ll be really bummed to head out in a few days, I’m delighted that my trip mates will be just a few offices away once we return to Boston. In the meantime, here’s to sheetrock, Tent Rocks, and a totally rockin’ week.

Ellen Thompson, Global Initiatives Coordinator

Ellen Thompson is the Berklee Global Initiatives Coordinator, originally from Corning, New York. Her work at Berklee supports her central passion: understanding and supporting communities from across the globe. Ellen has been part of the Berklee team since October 2015.

Ellen Thompson
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