Berklee Blogs

First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

Author: Sarah Froberg

The Befores and the Afters

The before and after is such a cliche blog post that I figured I had to do it. It’s been 3 days since I’ve been back from New Orleans, volunteering with Gracenotes and Habitat for Humanity. Besides from the heat rash, and bizarre tan lines, life has resumed as usual and I’m back in the office for the summer semester check-in.

However, since I’ve been back, I have been overwhelmed and touched by how many people have come up to me to ask me how my trip was. I suppose that they saw my picture at Brass Day (I hope it was a good one!). The best type of people to approach me, however, are the ones who previously went on the trip. They are all so eager and genuinely interested in hearing how it went and now that I’ve experienced it myself, I can see why they would want to know if my trip was as fulfilling as theirs, and if I had the same amazing time as they did. This is the kind of trip that sticks with you, the kind of experience that you want to share with others.

So the obvious “before and after” would be the houses that we worked on. As you can see below, before we arrived the exterior of the house was very bare. When we left, we left these people’s homes with with a brand new stained front porch, and a shiny new fence, and a beautiful front yard, complete with grass, a sidewalk and a driveway. It’s amazing what just four days can do.

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However, when you put this particular “before and after” alongside the bigger picture of New Orleans before and after Katrina, it can seem like such a small drop in the ocean. So much work has gone into rebuilding the city over the past 11 years, but what not everyone realizes is that there is so much more work still to be done. We took a drive through the Lower 9th Ward on a sunny happy day and drove past rolling fields of green grass. At first glance, it seems like a tranquil, quiet, rural area, but then you realize that all of these empty grassy plots actually used to be people’s homes, and the reason that it is so quiet is that not many of them have returned.

Thousands of people’s houses were completely wiped out, and because they didn’t have the proper flood insurance, they were never able to rebuild their homes.

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Even a simple search on Googlemaps can show you how desolate this area still is

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As a result, once you get out past the touristy Bourbon and Frenchman St, New Orleans is a completely changed city that may never bounce back. Even worse, the situation in New Orleans has gotten lost in the news. You don’t hear about the people who are still struggling to make life work, in fact you don’t even hear about the massive oil spill right off the coast.

In a world where information is blasted at you 24/7, it is so important to remember that even if something is dropped from the news, it doesn’t mean it isn’t still happening. I feel so lucky to have had my eyes opened in this way, and I really hope that we can continue to promote this cause.  #berkleenola


The Best Kind of New Friends Come from Dirt

When I first found out that I was accepted to go to the NOLA Gracenotes trip, I was ecstatic and I couldn’t wait to find out who else was going with me.  I was surprised to find out that I knew almost none of the 8 people going on the trip, so while I was excited to make some new friends, I was also a bit anxious to embark on a very intense, weeklong trip with a bunch of, technically speaking, strangers.

Well, we have been together for about 4 days now, and it’s hard to imagine a time when I didn’t know these people.  Each person is sweeter, funnier and more compassionate than the next.  There is not with one person on the trip that I would mind plowing away on a fence hole, having a deep conversation with over our boxed lunch while caked in sweat and dirt, or just taking a walk to the convenience store to stock up on Gatorade.  My new friends have gone out of their way to find me the best Muffaleta sandwich to deliver to the pool when I couldn’t walk any further, showed me how to wrap my water bottle up in “borrowed” hotel towels to keep it cold all day, and offered up multiple servings of the highest SPF sunscreen possible, all without a second thought.

This week has by far been the hardest physical labor that I (and probably most people in our group) have ever done.  We laid yards and yards of cement and sod, dug fence poles, mixed cement by hand to pour into these fence post hols, pushed wheelbarrows with flat tires full of said cement, pounded nails, dragged around heavy materials, and attempted to learn how to use power tools.  All of this was done in nearly 90 degree weather and blistering sun (not to mention blistering skin). However, it was honestly the most fun that I’ve had in awhile, and I’ve felt better about completing these tasks than any other job that I’ve done at my desk.

When I stop and look around me at the worksite, I have this funny feeling of pride as I watch my coworkers/new friends hard at work.  It is such a comfort to know that no matter what I am doing, someone will always come over and tell me, “Wow, good job, you’re killing at sanding that porch!”  Or “hey, you’ve been working really hard today.  Let me take a turn at that while you go take a break in the shade.”  But lo and behold, the biggest test of friendship is offering a hand to help jump over the swampy water that never seems to evaporate here.

I’ll write more soon about the actual experience that we are having in New Orleans, but I’ve just felt so strongly moved by the incredible people that I’ve met on this trip that I had to blog about it (that is, before we all get sun stroke and decide to kill each other)

Hats off to Gracenotes Volunteer Selection Committee.  You have truly outdone ourself because I am sure that my group is the best yet (I know this because I’ve seen us).


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