This spring, the college’s Gracenotes Volunteer Committee sponsored its second annual trip to New Mexico. A group of nine staff and faculty members traveled to Santa Fe to work with Habitat for Humanity. Here, one of the trip participants, Rene Pfister, shares his experience.
By Rene Pfister
When I was younger my brother was accepted into a community program, “People Encouraging People,” that really helped him and his family survive. I remember how awesome it was when Rory got his first apartment and we moved him in. On that day, I promised myself I would do a project like Habitat for Humanity so I could give back in a personal way to give thanks for what my brother’s family received. Creating community is one of the values I hold most important in the theater work I do, so getting out of my comfort zone and actually building community from the ground up with tools felt like the right way to do that.
It had been a while since I wielded a screw gun. I don’t like hammers (they scare me), but I can pretty much do anything else. I packed my masks and paint clothing and I was ready to go, but we had a day of other activities planned first. We all headed out the first morning to Tent Rock Mountain for a hike. It was so awesome. Beautiful rock formations and great conversations all along the way. I got to a quiet place on top and sang an old cowboy song my dad taught me. The view was breathtaking. Then my niece called and asked me to get her a last-minute uber in Baltimore. So there I was on Tent Rock Mountain calling an uber 🙂
The next day we met our hosts Rob, Alexander, Daniel, and Cal who introduced us to Habitat and the history of it. Everyone was so friendly and inviting but it was Cal that struck me the most. She has an infectious energy that makes you as excited about learning about building as she is about sharing it. She talked about “Women’s Week” when women come from around the country to build for Habitat, and I thought about my carpenter friend Jan who would LOVE that! Then Rob explained that Habitat For Humanity offered zero interest loans for people based on their income and that they are building sustainable housing!
Later in the day, I learned about Ram board and its use in building new houses. It is basically cardboard that comes in rolls that you cut and lay down and duct tape to protect the floors. Rachel and I had a difficult time in our section because we also learned that not all posts and 2 x 4s are laid evenly so when you are measuring there is definitely wiggle room with the measurement. All those pesky little sixteenths on a tape measure that I have tried to avoid in my life came back to haunt me! After struggling to cut an appropriately sized cardboard and maintaining our humor about it—Rachel and I decided to start our own fix it show, “How to lay one piece of cardboard in an hour”—I was grateful to have her as my partner and laugh so much.
As the days went on I got into my groove with wielding tools and getting more done. We learned how to use a circular saw and a metal saw. We learned to weld and put up sheathing. We even made an adobe wall and a coyote fence. My favorite day was putting up sheathing. I paired up with Ellen and we had so much fun working hard together in the sun. We measured the boards and then fit them in place in the frames like a puzzle piece. Then we hammered them in. So satisfying. Hammer fear gone. Check! We also got the chance to work alongside the homeowner on that day and that brought into sharp focus for me what Habitat for Humanity is about. I felt so grateful to be with this group of people working on such a labor of love.
I’ve already been spreading the word about “Gracenotes” Habitat trip to my colleagues. I hope they go. Making new friends across the college, seeing a beautiful part of the country and working together towards an achievable goal that makes the world a better place. I couldn’t have asked for a better week.
Rene Pfister’s performances have included over 300 original songs, 30 musical adaptations, and 25 years of cabaret. As Artistic Director of the Berklee Theater Arts Collaborative, Rene has brought together world-renowned Berklee theater faculty to create a training program dedicated to the development and professional success of new musical theater writer/performers. As a member of the voice faculty at Berklee, he teaches classes in musical theater, acting, and directs the Musical Theater Ensemble and the Theater for Young Audiences ensemble. Rene has produced and directed performances on the Berklee Performance Center mainstage since 2011, including the world debut of the new musical The Kiss in 2017 and his own musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Little Mischief in 2015. In 2015 he received the Guilford Residency and created a storybook musical recording of Alice in Wonderland with original music which was released in 2017.