Kicking Off Build-A-Thon With VMware

Syrena Johnson’s voice didn’t carry quite like the others. She stood on the floor system of her in-progress home and thanked the crowd of about 400 volunteers from VMware for making her dream of homeownership come true, quietly speaking about how she is honored to be able to achieve her dream at such a young age. She clutched the microphone and spoke of her life. Despite only being in her early 20s, Syrena has accomplished much. She was the first recipient of the Chefs Move! Scholarship, which sent her to culinary school in New York before she returned to New Orleans to study under some of the city’s best. She has traveled to Europe to learn new skills, and she has worked with some of the best new chefs in the city’s culinary scene. And she is well on her way to earning her own home through NOAHH’s homeownership program.

After she finished thanking the crowd, VMware volunteers joined her for the highlight of the build day: raising the walls on her new home. By the end of the day, the volunteers would have finished framing the home, making significant progress in a short time–a testament to their numbers and their enthusiasm–but the wall raising marked a moment of transition in Syrena’s dream. Working hand in hand with the men and women of VMWare, she began to see her dreams becoming reality.
After the wall raising ceremony, most of the VMware volunteers split up into smaller groups to work on homes throughout the America St. area of New Orleans East. Many worked on foundations for the homes that will be part of the AmeriCorps Build-A-Thon this May, prepping the sites for the 10-day, 10-home blitz build that will feature 600 AmeriCorps service members and alumni from Habitat affiliates around the country. Others went to work on homes nearing completion, helping with flooring, painting, and pouring concrete for the sidewalk, among other tasks. Those who remained at Syrena’s home worked side by side with her throughout the day, and at other sites, other NOAHH homeowners joined them, working part of their 350 sweat equity hours and learning about their home as it is built.


After hours of work in the hot sun (a typical New Orleans January day that provided a pleasant contrast to some of the volunteers from colder climates), VMware’s volunteers began to gather for a post-work day beignets and celebration. As cleanup began on the work sites, the singing began. Certain volunteers at every site joined their voices for a rendition of “Down by the Riverside,” and soon, they were leading VMware up America St. to where beignets and coffee were being served. The singers were from a local gospel choir, and they lead the volunteers in gospel classics as they walked past each work site that will be part of Build-A-Thon. Everyone came together at the end of America St. as volunteers, homeowners, and staff enjoyed the music and festivities to cap off an enormously successful build day.

Photo credit: White Donut Productions.