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, Nicole Mlynczak, shares her experience.

By Nicole Mlynczak

Nicole Mlynczak wielding a pickaxe Greetings from 30,000 feet! I am on my flight home, one of eight Berklee staff members returning to Boston after participating in the Gracenotes trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we spent the past week volunteering with the Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity. After a sprint to the finish of the spring semester, the opportunity to get out of one’s office, city, and self to give to and work with others is a gift that I’m extremely grateful for. As we exited the airport and got our first taste of the stunning New Mexico sun, there was an audible and observable shift—as if the stress and hustle of the semester was melting away. Pride in the weekend’s commencement festivities was the first topic of conversation, followed quickly by an excitement to share with one another the work that we do and the pieces of our backgrounds that somehow brought us all together.

Tent Rocks National MonumentExploring Santa Fe and the greater New Mexico area—and its space, pace, beauty, and culture—was a gift to us as trip attendees. Santa Fe is a night and day shift from the hustle and bustle of Boston—and about 7,000 feet higher (so hydrate, hydrate, hydrate)! A highlight, aside from bonding with some of the group members over a love for hot sauces and spicy food, was hiking Tent Rocks National Monument. The terrain and landscape was something I’ve never experienced before—Georgia O’Keeffe knew what she was doing when she chose New Mexico as her permanent home. The weather was beautiful, the hike memorable with a gorgeous summit, and it was a wonderful way to start the trip.

Wednesday was the start of our building adventure with Habitat for Humanity. We learned a lot about the mission and logistics of Habitat throughout our trip, and we were lucky enough to meet several homeowners and family members for three of the build sites we worked on.

Nicole and other Gracenotes volunteers onsiteOur work days were filled with a wide variety of projects and tasks, each expanding our knowledge base around the elements of home construction and (at least for me!) developing a stronger openness to the new and unknown, a better relationship with trying new things (and failing at them at times), and a more developed self-confidence in my abilities to navigate that which is outside of my comfort zone. The work we did included leveling yards (and shoveling, picking, and moving literal tons of dirt), framing, landscaping, painting, welding, installing insulation, and more. It was extremely enjoyable to have a hand in a variety of projects with observable results over the course of the week—I certainly felt accomplished and proud of the progress we made in getting the houses built! Building alongside other Habitat workers, Americorps team members, and future homeowners and their families and friends—each with their own unique stories and interesting backgrounds—was an added joyful element accompanying and enhancing our work on the houses.

Our evenings were spent getting to know our Berklee colleagues better and exploring some of the unique offerings of Santa Fe, including lots of spicy chilies; stunning artwork and handmade jewelry and crafts; and a psychedelic, explorable, immersive art installation at Meow Wolf that defies explanation (but you should seriously check it out if you’re ever in Santa Fe!).

In addition to my own personal growth on this trip, working with seven other staff members, who I’d never gotten to know before, was an essential and enjoyable element of our time in Santa Fe. Our work paths at Berklee do not often cross, and the opportunity to gain a better sense of the personalities and work experiences that weave through the Berklee community to support our students left me a more informed, collaborative, and excited person and coworker as I return to campus. The communal aspect of the trip and shared interest in coming together to do some good in the world was invaluable and inspiring—worth every sore muscle!

Thank you Berklee, Gracenotes, and Habitat for Humanity for this opportunity!

Nicole Mlynczak headshotNicole Mlynczak is a career advisor in the Career Center supporting and educating students and alumni in career and professional skill development. She comes to Berklee from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she was a successful band director, clinician, adjudicator, private instructor, and active performer on clarinet and saxophone. She was also the director of the Tapestry Visual and Performing Arts Program, serving and mentoring students and artists through authentic artistic and creative experiences. She holds a B.M. in clarinet performance, a B.M.E. in K–12 instrumental education, and an M.M. in music education and wind conducting from Louisiana State University.