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Service Outside of the Classroom: Habitat for Humanity Build

October 11, 2012

By Matt Durham, Corps Member Proudly Serving on the CSX Team at Langston Hughes Academy

As the old adage goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Earlier this week the City Year New Orleans corps found out that a house isn’t either.

School has been in school since the beginning of August. Last week our network administered their first interim tests to assess our scholars’ progress in this young year. With the stress of tests on both scholar and teacher, school is out of session during the shortened following week.

A break from school does not mean a break from challenges. On Tuesday we traded our pencils and notebooks for ladders and hammers, and set out to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity for the day. Our task? To help fellow Americorps volunteers shore up the walls and frames for a soon-to-be house in one of the more impoverished neighborhoods in our city.

The day began with our team thwack-thwack-thwacking away at the sides of the house, locating studs and sealing up any loose boards. After a quick lunch break we returned to  the slightly more complete home to start reinforcing the frame and interior. Our ladders moved inside, where we cut and measured boards, attached a set of stairs, and gelled  with a group of volunteers we just met that day.

Photo by Raul Marin

I’m a strong believer in the power of manual of labor as a way to grow as an individual, and for us to grow collectively as a team. Even something as simple as driving a nail through a 2 x 4 has a lesson to teach us. Each hit might seem like a trivial or meaningless act. It can feel like you aren’t making any progress, and that your efforts are for naught. But when you look over and see your teammates driving those same nails, drenched in sweat like you are, their necks slowly turning the same lobster red that yours is, it becomes a lot less of a struggle.

Photo by Raul Marin

Throughout the day I recalled a conversation I had on a service trip in college, where a friend and I agreed that working outside in the sun is among the most perfect settings for bonding. That sentiment was only reinforced during our day with Habitat for Humanity. I often look to my teammates for inspiration throughout our time at school, and that habit carried into our work on this house. We carried out every task given to us with enthusiasm and the passion that City Year corps members are known for.


When we finished for the day the building honestly did not look much better than it did when we got there. But it did look better, and that’s what matters. We worked from early morning to late afternoon and did what we could to help those in need.  At school we may not see the results of our work every day, yet we persevere. Our work cannot be measured in the day to day. It must be measured in the long-term impact our lives and our work are having on our communities, nation, and world.

Photo by Raul Marin


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