McGehee Students Return to America Street

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It takes time to build a house. Usually, it takes a few months for a home to go from floor system to final inspection, and in that time, hundreds of volunteers (including partner families) help to build it. In some cases, the same volunteers join NOAHH staff over the course of days, weeks, or even months, but in the case of the students at Louise S. McGehee School, their return to America Street happened with a gap of several months in between as they took their summer vacations. The experience gave the students a different perspective on the work they did in the spring. When their fall semester began and they returned for Service Learning, they got to see the progress made on the homes they helped build–and to continue that work.

“It was surprising because we helped build walls and put walls up for the whole house,” said Nya, one of several juniors who joined NOAHH on site for the second time. “It’s cool to see the finished project coming together.”

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On their first trip, they worked with Alyson Harding, framing a home on America Street. On this trip, they were painting the interior and working on flooring.

“When we were working here, we were nailing walls together,” said Meghan, another junior who worked on the same home before. “I saw that I actually did something. It didn’t look like we had done much [on our first trip], but we had really had. When we were finished, we were like ‘Oh, I helped do that.’ That’s nice to see my day’s work went into something.”

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For Caroline, who worked on the now-complete 4900 block of America Street, it showed also the impact of their work that went beyond just a single home.

“It feels really rewarding to be able to see our hard work paid off because I know the home is going to a great family,” she said. “I know that is going to benefit not just them, but the community as well.”

NOAHH’s Service Learning program is a partnership with several local high schools that focuses on educating students about affordable housing in New Orleans. Students learn about the need for safe, decent housing, and, when they get to the build site, they have a more hands-on learning experience.

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“[We learned] how to do things, how to build a home, but also about the housing issues in New Orleans,” Caroline said. “I didn’t realize how big of an issue it was, but working with Habitat, it opened up my eyes.”

Erin, another McGehee junior, recognized how her own volunteer experienced compared to the effort put in by partner families in the homeownership program, “You see how much hard work [partner families] have to do to get these houses built.”

Their return trip was an assurance that the work they had done mattered. Few of the students had any construction experience before their build day in the spring. “At first we were a little nervous because we didn’t know if we were going to mess up the house,” Erin said.

Instead, they found the work they had begun was coming close to completion.

“I love doing this,” Nya said, “helping others and seeing the finished home.”