Only in New Orleans would Women Build have a team called “the Brick Freedias.” In preparation for the event, NOAHH recruited local women leaders to help fundraise for Monica’s home. Each team brought together a group of 15 women to raise money and help build. The Brick Freedias were inspired by local bounce superstar and friend of NOAHH Big Freedia.
“We wanted to come up with an amazing name for a bunch of women to get out here,” said Emily Shaya, co-captain of the Brick Freedias, “and one of our idols in New Orleans is Big Freedia. She’s a brick house. We’re trying to be brick houses out here, build some, so we came up with a clever name in the hopes that maybe we’d catch her attention.”
For a lunchtime break during the build, the Queen Diva herself joined NOAHH on site to teach twerking lessons, and the Brick Freedias were happy to learn. For those unfamiliar with the New Orleans-born dance move, twerking is associated with a local genre called bounce. As the Queen of Bounce, Big Freedia is the most popular expert on the move.
“There’s nothing better than learning it from the source,” said Rebecca Maisel, another member of the Brick Freedias. “While I felt like I didn’t really quite complete the moves in thew ay she was instructing, it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. There’s nothing more New Orleanian than learning to twerk with Big Freedia.”
The Brick Freedias came to help build Monica’s home on the third weekend of Women Build, and for them, it was a time for bonding. At the core of NOAHH’s mission is making affordable housing a matter of conscience and action. Volunteers not only help us keep homes affordable by reducing the cost of building, but they also help us spread our mission by connecting to it in a tangible way on site. This happens both when they see the results of their hard work at the end of the day, whether it’s a painted house, a foundation, or a fence, and when they meet the future homeowners and take away a deeper understanding of what owning a home means to individuals and families. They see the impact of their work.
On day eight of this year’s Women Build, the Brick Freedias, led by Riley Kennedy of Woodward Design+Build, helped with painting, exterior and interior trim, and starting on Monica’s fence. Riley brought with her other women from her office and a small group of friends.
“We work at a construction firm,” said Riley, “so there aren’t a whole lot of women in the office and there aren’t a lot of opportunities for them to come out and do something with their hands. I thought it would be super fun. Then I roped in these two beautiful ladies [Emily and Rebecca] to help support bringing other people on board. I also have two friends who came in from DC and New York. It’s cool to see them be able to mix with people from here. We have a whole team of people from Woodwrd Design+Build out who don’t get to be on a work site very often. They’re working their behinds off, and they look great. It’s a great opportunity for us to come together from different parts of the organization and do something great for our community.”
Riley’s co-captain was her friend Emily Shaya, owner of Pret a Fete, joined after learning about the challenges women face in finding affordable housing. With 43.8% of children in New Orleans living in poverty, nearly half of them with single mothers, and with 35% of New Orleanians paying more than half their income for rent, single mothers in New Orleans are often unable to find adequate housing for themselves and their children. Women Build is a chance for women to address those challenges together and uplift each other.
“I was really interested,” said Emily, “because once I read the information about the statistics about how it’s hard for single moms to own property or find an apartment in New Orleans, I thought it was an amazing opportunity to build a house by women for women in new Orleans, especially knowing how hard it is to find a safe place to raise your family.”
Caroline Rosen, Executive Director of the Besh Group, was also on Riley’s team. Knowing the challenges women face, she spoke of how the need to support one another brought her to the build site: “I think that we all need to build each other up and help each other out. This is just another way to do that. I think so often it’s something we’re not able to physically do. I just want to physically do something. This is a way we can physically help towards an end goal.”
For many, the change of pace was a big part of the appeal, as was the chance to learn, to work with close friends, and to see the results of their hard work.
“It’s super fun,” said Riley. “It’s way better than sitting at my desk, for sure. It’s so fun to see the progress. The house looks amazing. The colors are phenomenal. It’s such a beautiful place to live and raise a family. I feel honored to be able to be a part of it.”
“I think it’s fun to see all these strong ladies out here working, digging holes for posts, touching up the paint,” said Emily. “Everyone has a spot where they are comfortable working, whether it’s up on the ladder or touching up paint. I was excited to just get out here with friends and new people and get our hands dirty and tackle some projects. I haven’t ever built a fence before, and I’ve already learned everything I need to build my own at my house.”
“It’s a tangible thing,” said Kristen, “so it’s nice to be able to get your hands dirty and get in there and do what you can.”
On site, they also saw aspects of NOAHH’s program first-hand, giving them new perspectives on the program and their own impact.
“I’m glad Riley roped me into this,” said Rebecca. “I think it’s just a great experience to come out here and get our hands dirty and get involved in community activities. You hear about Habitat but a lot of times maybe you did a build once when you were in high school or a long time ago and you kinda don’t realize and now coming back to it and looking at it and understanding what they do for the homeowner and all the lessons they treach about financing and the way they’re able to have an interest free mortgage and work to pay that back, it’s such a phenomenal organization. I’m jut happy to be able to be involved.”
“I think what’s nice about the opportunity is that it’s something that keeps giving back,” said Kristen, “so it’s a circle of people that just keeps growing and growing and growing. It’s a beautioful thing to know. To be honest, I didn’t know the homeowner got to pick the color of the house. I love this color. I just think it’s nice that there are so many opportunities for personal involvement. I think the thing that people have the most people with sometimes is asking for help. They look at it as a gift that maybe they don’t deserve, which is 100% not true. But to know that you can actually give back and be a part of what is actually happening, it’s a nice personal reflection of the whole community. It’s great.”