Week 2 AmeriCorps Reflect on their BAT Experience
The homes are nearly finished. Flooring, interior painting, and landscaping are taking place at homes around America Street as week two comes to a close, and the AmeriCorps who have made this possible are taking stock of the blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into these homes. This week, NOAHH’s own office AmeriCorps joined their construction coworkers on site, and some old familiar faces also came back during their second term as AmeriCorps in other parts of the country. Whether they’d already fallen in love with New Orleans or whether they were just discovering it for the first time, their experience seems to have left a mark on everyone who has been taking part in Build-A-Thon!
Like last week’s AmeriCorps, those who are used to serving in an office environment found their week on the build site to be a learning experience.
“Anything they threw at me at first, it’s a learning curve,” said Caiden Fratangelo, an AmeriCorps VISTA from the Harrisburg affiliate who works in construction systems, designing collaterals and coordinating recruiting and information. “But I feel really confident. I’ve never been on a two story ladder before, and that was cool to do, or putting on Tyvek. I’ve never done any of that before. It was great. I learned how to do it, and it’s good to know these things for the future.”
Gerardo Rodriguez, a construction crew leader AmeriCorps at Habitat for Humanity Laredo, enjoyed his first time in New Orleans and the new building styles he found during Build-A-Thon. Unlike the Texas affiliate he works for, NOAHH has to take flood levels into consideration, meaning elevated homes, and other little differences mean that even for experienced construction AmeriCorps, it’s still a learning experience.
“It’s a totally different, very beautiful experience,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been great doing different stuff from what I do at my affiliate.”
Veronica Watson has been in New Orleans since the late summer of 2014, serving her term as an AmeriCorps VISTA for NOAHH’s Development department. Build-A-Thon is her first time doing construction work on the build site, and her work as event staff the previousweek had allowed her to see what would she would be doing the next. Though she worried about getting everything done, she had a good teacher on site when it came to the painting. Partner family Michael Lawry, whose home she worked on, joined the volunteers almost every day of Build-A-Thon, working alongside and guiding them.
“I can see it physically happen. I can see it from start to finish,” she said. “I’ll miss that [when she returns to the office].”
She also spoke about the camaraderie of working with other AmeriCorps, noting that she found it interesting how other affiliates did things differently, focusing on rehabs or building different style homes. Caiden Fratangelo expressed his amazement with what they were getting done.
“It’s amazing to see a team come together and see what they can build and make happen in a few days,” said Fratangelo.
Matthew Taurchini spent a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA in New Orleans in 2013-2014 before moving on to work as a construction AmeriCorps in Washington, DC. His first Build-A-Thon was in Wisconsin, and there he met other AmeriCorps who were passionate about the same cause and coming together to build homes for hard working families. He made new friends during the experience, and he could not wait to do it again.
“I knew one person before I came [to the 2015 Build-A-Thon]. I’m going to leave with at least ten new friends from around the country,” he said. “It’s a beautiful feeling.”
They’ve also made connections to the city of New Orleans. Meriam Monroe, an AmeriCorps alumni now working in Family Services for the Dallas affiliate, came to New Orleans for her second Build-A-Thon when she learned that it would be in New Orleans. She had been vacationing in 2005 at one of Hurricane Rita’s points of landfall, and her memories of those days have driven her to help others. A trip to an exhibit in the Louisiana State Museum redoubled her commitment.
“New Orleans has been trying to grow itself,” she said. “They’ve been so resilient. I wanted to contribute the best way that I could. Seeing it on the news where I was was nothing, but to see the exhibit and how catastrophic it was, how it affected the city and residents, it blew my mind. It made me feel like being here was worthwhile regardless of the sweat and being tired. It brought everything full circle.”
The others echoed her sentiments.
“New Orleans has a special place in my heart,” Taurchini said. “It always has, even when I was younger. When Katrina happened, all I wanted to do was come down here and help out, but I was too young at the time… This week has been a life goal coming to fruition. I’m finally in New Orleans, the city I love, building a house for someone to give them a better life.”
“I fell a little bit in love. She’s an awesome city, and I think I’m going to miss her when I leave,” Watson said.
“There’s a unique atmosphere here,” Fratangelo said. “I’ve never seen so much live music in my life, and people are super friendly and hospitable. It’s jut a really welcoming place.”