Berklee Blogs

First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

Tag: volunteer (Page 1 of 3)


Tent Rocks and Sheetrock: Gracenotes Santa Fe 2017

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.

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New Beginnings in New Orleans 2012


I didn’t really know what to expect when arriving in New Orleans as it was my first time.  I knew I was chosen to join a Berklee assembled team in helping a family start a new life.  It was so much more.  The area appeared to be in a revitalized stage, the French Quarter was buzzing with tourists looking to taste the world famous local cuisine and locals eager to provide the unique southern hospitality.  The food was awesome, bursting with flavor, originality and that distinct “umph” that so many people have tried to describe but couldn’t.  We all enjoyed a great 1st evening at the Red Fish grill and filled our palette with the great Louisiana cuisine.  We retire early for our 1st day on the job, our mission.

Day 1 at the work site and we are literally starting from the ground up.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect but I guess I figured there would be more done, maybe some touch-ups, painting, gardening.  This was going to be something I’ve never had to do before but needed to step up.  Just a few cinder blocks on the foundation and lots of wood waiting to be put together.  Seems like a daunting task but one I’m ready to take on.  We quickly are assigned to numerous jobs along with other volunteers from around the map.  And we get going.  The sun is bearing down on us yet the team continues to going with a sense of purpose.  At the end of day, we are almost done with the 1st floor. As I’m packing up tools into the container, Nicole, the recipient of the house stops by to see how its looking.  She’s looks like she’s had a long day but all smiles as she now sees the progress on her house.  She conveys how happy and appreciative of our help to rebuild and stabilize her and her kids’ lives.  I’m psyched!!

Day 2 spirits are even as we still have a lot to do in such a limited time.  I’m feeling a bit burnt, literally from the sun but still going.  Hammering down the 1st floor, hollering measurements and cutting 18ft lumber pieces as yelled out.  I’ve cut lumber before but not to this extent.  Starting to get anxious and just thinking don’t mess up Nicole’s  house.  LOL.  The first wall is up and I’m looking at it like, yeah this is about to get really really fun.  I’ve always passed construction sites or seen it at certain stages but to watch it with my eyes.  Unbelievable.  A few neighbors are looking on and a few smiles are around.  They might be impressed or just anticipating what could be.

Day 3  Everything is forming well and we’re really rolling now, 1st floor walls are up and the windows are being cut out.  I’m trying to be a part of everything I can, or anything asked of me.  Doesn’t matter. Everybody is enthused with the great progress.  Yeah the sun is kicking our butt and we’re chugging down water like it was going out of style along with snowballs but we’re keeping the focus. Not sure if time just flew or I was just so engrossed in the first floor windows and walls but the next thing the 2nd floor has a wall up. 2nd story already…BAM!! Now that’s progress!!


Day 4 all walls are up on the 2nd story and Doug collaborating with Clint on the stairs.   I don’t know what it was about this project, actually I do.  I had never seen stays made but the work put into it was phenomenal.  Somehow it certified the 2nd floor and definitely energized me especially considering my hands were aching from all the hammering, some on my thumbs and the nice blood blister I developed the day before.  That’s not going to keep down.  Got to get this done!

Day 5 and I’m realizing that we have come so far in so little time.  From just a few concrete blocks to now a 2 story house in the making.  The smiles, sweat, sawdust and sunburns can’t explain the joy I’m feeling in seeing this all in front of my eyes.  Nicole is back and she really was speechless.  Not sure if she couldn’t believe the progress or just was lost for words.  Sometimes words aren’t necessary.  I’d feel the same way if I were her.

You know, I was asked how was the trip or how was New Orleans.  And I’m a person of few words and in this case I am because my description would not do New Orleans justice.  I’m left believing that New Orleans could be the best city in the U.S.  It may be easy to say for the obvious reasons, the food, the entertainment, weather.  But there is a distinctly unique vibe about the city.  It breathes. Its gravitational pull draws you toward its center and looks to latch onto you.  I see so much potential in the city even with such a short stay.  I’ve done my part in trying to revitalize and take the city beyond what it was but Rome wasn’t built in a day.  And it may take several more years to build New Orleans into what it was, but my sentiment is that we should not forget or give up in building the city.  It’s going to take all of our efforts to make New Orleans that place we love to visit but also for those who live there.  The various wards still need work, need attention.  Let’s not forget the jazz capital of the world.

Much love New Orleans, I’ll be back.

Letter from New Orleans: Marian Wilson Featured on

“Home is where the heart is” must be the oldest cliché in the book. Yet after spending a week with eight newly acquainted volunteers from Berklee College of Music helping to build a home for a family of displaced Katrina survivors, I have a newfound respect for the cliché.

The thoughts that linger have much less to do with the hours of work covered in sweat, sawdust, and paint, or the quality of work we did (which was excellent, truth be told!); they have everything to do with the people I met and the stories we shared.

Read the rest of Marian’s dispatch from New Orleans on

Read more blogs from the Gracenotes New Orleans 2011 Trip.

Letter from New Orleans: Leigh McLaren Featured on

Day One at Habitat for Humanity, and one of the many things I learned today, is that New Orleans is HOT. Not just like the New England summer heat that we complain about in July, but really, really hot.

Despite the heavy heat, we had an amazing first day. We were not sure of our location until we arrived in New Orleans, and we ended up being placed in the 7th Ward, on Allen Street. Berklee College of Music has been a volunteer group to New Orleans every year since 2007.

Read Leigh’s full dispatch on!

Read more blogs from the Gracenotes New Orleans 2011 Trip.

what is knowing?

this morning, our fearless leader mike popped out the side door of the house and told us how psyched he was that he could trust us to handle the concrete on our own. michael, magen, corinto and i looked at each other, like, “is he talking to us?”

he was. apparently, now we know concrete. in the words of magen tracy, “it kind of made my day.”

corinto posing with the rebar for our concrete

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