Building on experience

- June 11, 2008

Some of the Dalhousie students who worked on a Habitat for Humanity project during their study break include: (front row) Kale Harper, Mitch Aker, Rachel Aaron, Daniel Pink; (second row) Samantha Levy, Aaron Vomberg, Miranda McQuade; (third row) Shannon McNally, Kayla Kidd, Rachelle Blackman; (back row) Casey Levene, Katelyn Woodworth.

A trip by Dalhousie students to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans has only made them want to get out the hammers and power drills more often.

“It’s all about lending a helping hand,” says Aaron Vomberg, a co-chair (with Jessica Roy) of the Dalhousie chapter of Habitat for Humanity—DalHabitat for short.

“And learning,” he adds. “Being on a build site is really conducive to learning. You pick up things so quickly.”

Through the summer, DalHabitat is looking to recruit new members. It’s planning a local student build with Halifax-Dartmouth chapter of Habitat for Humanity in the fall and another trip to the American south in 2009.

During study break last February, 51 students with the DalHabitat traveled to New Orleans to pitch in with the construction of the Musicians Village in the upper Ninth Ward, an area slow to recover from Hurricane Katrina. Conceived by Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis, the village will consist of 72 single-family homes for displaced New Orleans musicians and other qualifying Habitat partner families.

Recently, construction has begun on the village's centrepiece — the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, which is named for the jazz pianist and patriarch of the Marsalis family. The centre will include a performance hall and practice rooms and serve as a place for musicians of different ages and genres to mingle.

“To me, it’s so astounding that you can drive for 24 hours and end up in what seems like a totally different world,” says Mr. Vomberg, who helped organize the trip along with Miranda McQuade, Jessica Roy and Shannon McNally.

Some of the finished homes in the Musicians' Village.

The students worked by day alongside the musicians and family members who now live in the homes— about 50 of the 72 homes in the village’s core site are complete—and spent their evenings in the French Quarter soaking up the atmosphere and listening to the music New Orleans is famous for. The modest, clapboard homes were built on stilts, but otherwise “were similar to how we build in Nova Scotia.”

With an interest in urban rejuvenation and housing solutions, the 21-year-old from Waterloo, Ont. says his involvement with Habitat for Humanity enriches his studies in the community design program. In 2007, he spent his study break on a build in Mobile County, Alabama, followed by last February’s trip to New Orleans.

“We worked on a variety of things—roofing, painting, framing, drywalling, etc ... It was an incredible time.”

In addition to Jessica Roy and Aaron Vomberg, the DalHabitat executive also includes Rachel Aaron and Iain Arseneau. To get in touch with DalHabitat, email:

LINK: Habitat for Humanity, Musicians' Village | Dalhousie Habitat for Humanity
VIDEO: Bringing back the music to New Orleans, featuring Harry Connick Jr. and Brandford Marsalis


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus