Guest Blog Post -- From Boston University

Below is a guest post from our volunteers from Boston University, who worked with us in January!
Only a bit after the sun began its trek into the sky on that first morning, we started our journey, too.  The first stop was the cozy PNOLA office for an orientation led by Jim.  Most of us were still unsure about what we were getting ourselves into but were game for anything that came our way.  Just a day after meeting the whole crew and before we all knew each other’s names, it was time to break up into smaller groups.  Seven of us were sent to build a house with John; six were placed on Ian’s demolition team.

On the corner of Clio and S Gayoso sat the frame of an empty house hugged in Tyvek, a house that we weren’t quite ready to call a home.

It didn’t take long, though, for us to find comfort in our wooden habitat.  This connection with the house started with the touching story of its future inhabitant, a sweet lady with a lot of love to share stuck in an unfortunate situation.  Glances at the floor plans allowed our imaginations to divide the open space into rooms, and we tried to wonder how it would be decorated.  What color would the walls be? Who would live in which room?  With our hearts in the right niche, were ready to get our hands dirty and do some good.

Before stepping foot onto the construction site, our group had minimal experience with power tools, let alone building a house.  We were at first skeptical of how the seven of us college students could possibly contribute to a process as specialized as constructing a house, but we were certainly willing to try.  A training session on the first day familiarized us with the tools, and we quickly determined which of us were suited best for each different task.

One of the first assignments was to build a wall, and the boys took on this job while the girls worked on putting up a ceiling.  Tons of construction vocabulary was thrown our way, and we can now all say that we know the difference between “jacks,” “kings,” and “studs,” among a list of other terms.  These first tasks took quite a while to complete (and weren’t flawless), but as the days progressed, our efficiency and precision increased impressively.

By the end of the week, we were amazed at how comfortable we were with the work and by how much we had learned.  Yes, we did learn fun facts with a few physics and algebra lessons thrown in the mix, but what I’m really talking about is the type of learning that you can’t locate in the glossary of a textbook.   We learned about teamwork, trust, fixing mistakes, communication, ingenuity, and so much more.  We learned about construction, we learned about ourselves, and we fell in love with that home.  Yes, home.

Just a few streets over, the other group formed a very different relationship with their house, as instead of nurturing it they were tearing it down.  Layers and layers of paint only led to more as the dumpster out front filled steadily.  Averting nails became a skill, and hard hats were the newest fashion.  Even with their entirely different set of tasks and goals, the group let its hearts make their way into the house and found warmth within the cold concrete of the porch steps.

When we reunited after each long day of work, both teams had an endless supply of stories to share with the other, somehow allowing our separation to pull us even closer together.  Reflecting on the whole week, all of us can say that we have made a difference, noting that even some of the little tasks we took on matter, and truly hope that we have impacted the people of the community.  The ability to track the visual progress of our jobs was especially rewarding, as were the stories of the real people we were helping.  No, we did not completely construct nor completely demolish a house in that time, but we did contribute our own piece of the puzzle to these huge projects.  And we formed a family while doing so.


We closed the final day of work with an awesome picnic by the bayou with all of the student volunteers who helped out during the week, including our friends from Rockhurst University.

Thank you, PNOLA, for sharing your time, knowledge, staff, and resources to provide us with this wonderful opportunity none of us will ever forget.

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