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10 Years Later: Rebuilding Community in New Orleans

Company, ValuesDebbie Edwards, VP and General Manager of Gap EuropeComment

A first-hand account, from the Vice President and General Manager of Gap Europe, Debbie Edwards, of a poignant week volunteering in New Orleans.

When I arrived in New Orleans, I was joined by an amazing team of employees from around the world who'd be working alongside me to build a house with Habitat for Humanity. It was so much fun getting to know the team and listening to their incredible stories of how they are making a difference in the communities where they live.

That team was this year's Community Corps: a group of 25 volunteers, all Gap Inc. employees, ready to get their hands dirty.

I will never forget the scene when we arrived on site for the first time — freshly laid foundations, piles of wood, boxes of nails and power tools everywhere. All I can remember thinking to myself at the time was, “I've never built a house before, and how am I going to do this?!”

And then we met Kim. Kim and her family were going to live in the house that we were building — and they suddenly became our motivation.

Our task was to build the framework of their home, putting into place the exterior walls and interior rooms — this involved a lot of wood and nails. Many of us hadn't experienced this type of work before, but every single member of the team was up for the challenge. By the end of day one, we'd all mastered using power tools, cutting wood, hammering nails and climbing ladders. I can't begin to tell you how much wood I'd carried — but it was a lot.

Throughout the task, the team was incredible, supportive and just so passionate. At times, the going got really tough in the 80-degree heat. And when you just couldn't get that nail to bang in straight or a joint right, there was always someone by your side giving you encouragement. Someone would just call out, “You got that, Debbie.” I can't tell you how much I needed that to help me focus and get it right.

When the first wall went up, we just had to stop and celebrate the occasion by having a wall-raising ceremony, which was a personal highlight for me; it really marked how far the team had come in such a short space of time. Our team also now had a name, the Global Dream Builders, as we felt this represented what we stood for during this week.

By the end of our time in New Orleans, the house had really taken shape, and you could walk from room to room and start to picture it as Kim and her family's home. It's incredible to think we started with nothing but the foundation in place. 

The last day of the build was very emotional. When I said goodbye to Kim, the Habitat for Humanity team and our small but mighty team of Gap Inc. employees, I felt my eyes filling up and my heart swelling with pride. We really did make a difference, and we created something really amazing together — which resulted in a special bond being formed within the team.

It was a physically, emotionally exhausting experience, but I wouldn't change it for the world. It was an honour and education to represent the company on this life-changing experience. I can't wait for Kim to share pictures of when her family move into their new home. And I'm looking forward to hearing the career journeys and community stories of the Global Dream Builders as we go back to our lives and jobs around the world.