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, Terry Kates, shares his experience.

By Terry Kates

The Gracenotes crew poses in front of a wall frameColleen and Javier needed a house. Habitat for Humanity stepped in to make their dream come true.

In May 2019, eight of us from Berklee had the opportunity to participate in a Habitat for Humanity house building project in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Actually, we worked on 3 building projects in various stages of completion.

The house we worked on for Colleen and her five-year-old son was in the beginning stages. It only had a foundation when we got there…no walls yet. Before we were able to begin work framing the walls, we had to clear the lot of building debris and level it. It took all hands-on-deck using shovels, pick-axes, and wheel barrows to tackle a giant mound of dirt and spread it out in such a way that the rain would flow where it was supposed to and not where it shouldn’t.

Once that was done, the framing could begin. But wait! The framing platforms had to be brought from another build site to ours, a half-block away. The framing platforms are two 4×8 sheets of particle board held together, end-to-end, by 2x4s. They were very heavy and hard to maneuver. It took about twelve of us to carry one if them! Our arms were sore for a couple days after carrying them.

The framing finally began and we learned how to build walls and corners. Once we had enough walls built, we could start standing them up and putting them together and fastening them to the foundation.

All of this happened with the excellent guidance and training provided by the Habitat for Humanity crew.

A few of us broke off into a smaller group and worked on installing 4” insulation on the roof of another house that had already been framed. The Santa Fe wind proved to be a challenge carrying large sheets of insulation up to the roof and getting them into place to be screwed onto the roof.

The third house we worked on was for Javier and his family. The house itself had already been completed, but none of the hardscaping/landscaping had been done. We again had to “mold” the hard Santa Fe dirt in the yard so that rain water would flow away from the house instead of toward it. Which meant the shovels, pick-axes, rakes, and wheel barrows got another workout…as did our arms, legs, and backs!

Gravel was brought in which needed to be spread throughout the yard. In Santa Fe, grass (at least as we think of “grass” on the east coast) doesn’t grow well so they put down gravel instead. After the yard was shaped and contoured, sheets of weed block were laid down, then a backhoe dumped large buckets of gravel that we spread throughout the yard by hand.

Seeing the gratitude and excitement of the soon-to-be homeowners as they watched their new homes take shape was very special. The Habitat for Humanity team was fantastic as well. They were very patient with us as they taught us “the ropes” of building a house and using tools and techniques that some of us had never experienced before. And they made it very fun at the same time! Last, but not least, it was great meeting and getting to know fellow Berklee employees I hadn’t met before.

If you have a chance to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, jump at it! There is probably a local chapter near where you live. They are a great organization doing great things for wonderful, deserving people like you and me.

Gracenotes 2019 crewTerry Kates (pictured right, standing) is a senior software developer working for Berklee Online. Originally from Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, now residing in Hamburg, New Jersey, Kates is also a drummer and attended Berklee as a performance major (drums). When he’s not helping his team keep the wheels turning at, he’s playing drums in local cover bands in the NJ/PA area.