This spring, the college’s Gracenotes Volunteer Committee sponsored its third annual trip to New Mexico. A group of nine staff and faculty members traveled to Santa Fe to work with Habitat for Humanity. Here, one of the trip participants, Lauren Linsalata, shares her experience.

The Gracenotes crew prepares to lift a wall frame“On the count of three,” shouts Rob Lochner, construction director at Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity, “We’re going to slowly lift together!” Together, because we’re all going to raise the entire western wall of a two-bedroom home. Slowly, because we’re all different ages and heights, all different strengths and confidence levels. On the count of three, because if we aren’t in perfect sync, the walls will fall apart: they’re just two-by-four pieces of wood, held together with 16-penny nails, ready to betray us until we anchor them into the foundation.

Rob counts faster than I expect him to—1-2-3!—but the wall goes up together, and doesn’t come apart. A dozen of us stand side by side, carefully lifting the frame onto metal rods spaced in the foundation so that it can be bolted to the ground. Our homeowner, Colleen, suddenly has more than just a concrete slab: she has walls.

Habitat for Humanities workers lift a house frameWhat stays with me, though, is Rob’s command that we lift: slowly and together. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity on behalf of Berklee is a freeing thing, for me. I work at a desk 40 hours a week, and rarely get to create things with my hands. Having concrete evidence of my progress at the end of the week is a big deal to me—not just because we’re building a home for someone who very much needs it. It’s a reminder of what I’m capable of, in a tangible context.

But let’s go back: slowly and together. Let’s lift, slowly and together. I felt confident on the job site; the patience and good humor my Americorps instructors gave to me was a gift. I was allowed to make mistakes, bend nails, pull them out, try again. In fact, the only mistakes that weren’t permitted on the job site were ones that involved self-harm: don’t hit yourself, don’t bleed, don’t forget to hydrate, don’t get a sunburn. How can I bring this back to Berklee with me? How can we lift, slowly and together?

The Gracenotes crew poses in front of a wall frameFor me, the great joy of Berklee’s collaboration with Habitat for Humanity is how it allows me to interact with people outside of my department. Not just for an afternoon, or a day, or an intense retreat where we brainstorm things: for seven straight days, where we share stories about our lives, our work, and our individual cultures. This is my second trip with Gracenotes, and I’ve yet to find another activity at Berklee that develops my compassion, thoughtfulness, and caring for my fellow Berklee employees like spending time on the road and building a home.

So here’s my wish for our return to campus: that we lift, slowly and together. That we recognize the fragility and awesomeness of the frame that we’ve built across Berklee—our collaboration, or communication, our recognition of the importance of our students and of music itself—and that we lift it. And the way we lift will be different, because we’re all strong in different ways, we have unique experiences. But I know that it will be together, working toward the framework of something that will house the artistic soul for as long as those homes in the desert will stand.