building homes in new orleans

It took about 4 minutes for my son to learn how to work the table saw and cut a 2-by-4 slab of wood by himself.

As I stood there frozen, watching him, and hoping his 12-year-old active body wouldn’t do one of those herky jerky moves in that moment, I noticed that at least he was wearing protective glasses.

Over on the other side of the construction site, my twin 17-year-old girls were holding up a frame in order to lay in a window of this house we were volunteering to help build.

And this scene all happened in our first half hour.


The four of us spent two full days on that worksite, but thankfully it only took me less than an hour to let go of my worries and remember that just because I hadn’t seen my son use a nail gun to slap up a door frame doesn’t mean he couldn’t do it, right?

He could. I kept thinking about how when I was his age, I sat in the back of a station wagon without a seatbelt, facing backwards.

And I turned out relatively fine.

So I shed my over-parenting worrier and sunk into the moment with my 3 kids.



Not only would they be okay mastering power tools on this construction site in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans, they’d be better for it.

What were we doing missing school to sweat in the 95 degree Louisiana heat and learn the construction basics to frame a house?

We were on our 4th annual service trip with the pretty awesome nonprofit, Youth Rebuilding New Orleans (YRNO).

Our first 3 volunteer trips with YRNO were all before Covid. And they were all with a larger group of kids thanks to my bff and former business partner Allison who introduced us to this cause.



It was the only nonprofit Allison could find that allowed kids to work in a hands-on way, starting at 12 years old (which is why Jack jumped right in with that table saw…he’d been waiting for the moment he could join us).

Each year we’ve entered a house in a different phase of the build.

One year, we did exterior siding.

Another year, we painted interiors.

Don’t ask me about the year I learned how to tile a bathtub. Let’s just say that every now and then, I wonder if the person living there notices the space above the hot water faucet, the one I was supposed to curve with cut tile ever so delicately…

It ain’t easy. I gained a whole new respect for my Sicilian family of masons and tile guys. Clearly it’s a skill that is only marginally genetic.

But let’s get back to our house.




This year, we arrived for a project that was in my favorite phase. The beginning. Building the bones of a home.

For two full days, we joined John, Ray, and Prince – the passionate crew at YRNO who fearlessly lead teams of volunteers all year long – and we framed that house with 2-by-6s, 2-by-4s, nail guns, table saws, and all sorts of power tools knowing it would one day provide a home for a family in the lower 9th ward.

YRNO sells the homes only to teachers, health care workers, or families that give back to the community in that great city of New Orleans.

My kids and I are grateful to Allison for introducing us to YRNO as service trips have become a part of our DNA. Or way-of-being so to speak. We also got super geared up for our trip to Honduras to help build playgrounds with School the World later this summer…more on that trip soon.

In truth, I care about a lot of causes, and I try not to convince you towards any particular one. I just wanted to share this with you in case you are interested in service work, volunteering, and all the good stuff that comes with it.

It was only a few days, but we happily pulled out of life’s routine (which is pretty epic for two juniors in high school). Plus, I am an “Explorer” play personality, so of course I’ll say yes to almost anything that means traveling, a new place, or a project.

I also think it was a good idea to press pause on our computers and phones, and instead play a bit by connecting with new people and working with our hands…

And now my son wants to go back to NOLA next week and keep building, so I think in the meantime, I’ll plan a trip to Home Depot on 23rd street.

With fierce love,

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