Over the course of eleven years, a Habitat volunteer can learn a lot. Richard and Mary Dowd began volunteering in 2006, in response to Hurricane Katrina, and on their annual trips to New Orleans, they started learning more and more about the construction process–and learning what they didn’t know.
“We are at different skill levels, and the supervisors have been great because I’m good for little spackling, a little sanding, painting, chop saw,” said Mary. “I’m not good at getting on the roof and ladders, so the nice thing is that the supervisors sort of assess your ability and assign you things that you’re capable of and expand your skill level.”
“One thing that I got out of it is on the roofs,” said Richard. “We had to replace the roof on our house, and by doing it down here, they pointed out the need for flashing, for ventilation. I had quite a few other things, that when it came time to write a specification to redo my house and get bids on it, it was much better because after they started doing the work, I said, ‘this is what you quoted on,’ and I had the specification, and they wouldn’t have put in the flashing.”
When they first started volunteering, they were building in Musicians’ Village. They continued to build at various locations throughout the city over more than a decade, but they say they like what they saw first in Musicians’ Village and now on America Street.
“It seems like what’s happening now is that there’s a bigger concentration of homes in one area, just looking around this area,” said Richard, “and that’s the critical mass that’s needed to bring back New Orleans communities because they’re still kind of baron in terms of grocery stores, that kind of stuff. But I think this particular neighborhood is a good example of what can be done to create a critical mass to encourage other people to develop.”
“It’s been great because we see different neighborhoods” Mary said. “We see people living and rebuilding and communities coming together. A couple years ago, we were in Treme doing a rehab, and it was fascinating how all the people knew each other in the community and in the neighborhood, and you had a sense that almost everyone was relocated, but that’s really not the case. One of the [partner families she worked with], I think her name was Tula. She was a minister, and at the end of each session—you know she was very involved and active in the building—we would do a prayer circle, and she would do a prayer for our safety and our trip and everything. So there were just different meaningful experiences.”