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Back to basics: Architect couple bonds over building

In the city where they met, two AmeriCorps members share a commitment to service during Build-a-Thon 2012
By Soyia Ellison

 

Bridget Basham left a full-time job in New York to join AmeriCorps. Photo by Soyia Ellison

 

Paul Matys is lending his muscle and architectural skills to rehabbing houses in L.A. this week. Photo by Soyia Ellison

   

Bridget Basham is from Melbourne, Australia.

Paul Matys is from New Britain, Connecticut.

They met in 2006 at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles. She was doing a semester abroad, and he was working on a graduate degree.

Was it love at first sight?

“For me it was,” she says, laughing. “It took him a little while.”

It must not have taken too long. They were married in a Las Vegas chapel before he even finished his degree.

After school, they moved to New York and found jobs with architectural firms. When he was laid off at Christmastime in 2008, she showed her characteristic boldness and quit her job so that the two of them could join AmeriCorps.

“She just decided to quit,” he says, admiringly. “She was working for a firm that was designing the World Trade Center Memorial Museum.”

She shrugs off any notion of bravery: “It was a case of, ‘We’re young. Why not do this now?’ ”

This week, Bridget’s digging a trench for an irrigation system at a house Habitat for Humanity of Greater L.A. is rehabbing in Lynwood.

Though it might sound less glamorous, she says the work she’s done on this and other Habitat construction sites has taught her things about the intricacies of building that her former classmates may never know.

“I had no idea,” she says. “Architects, I don’t know what we’re doing in school, but we don’t learn how to build.”

Not only has working with AmeriCorps given her and Paul a chance to learn construction, it’s also given them a chance to meet people of all types, and make a difference in the lives of others.

The couple spent their first year working with the Habitat affiliate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“The people were really lovely, really hospitable,” Bridget says. “We had jambalaya on site every day.”

When their year of service ended, they went to Australia to spend time with her family. (From there, they sent their friends at the Baton Rouge affiliate a Christmas care package complete with kangaroo jerky.) Thinking about all the friends they had made through Habitat made the decision to return for another year with AmeriCorps easy.

“It’s the relationships we’ve made that stand out,” Paul says. “It’s about the homeowners and the volunteers and the community. That’s what got us to come back for a second year.”

This time they’re working with Habitat for Humanity East Bay in Oakland, California. And they’re getting to use their training.

Like the L.A. affiliate, East Bay Habitat for Humanity is rehabbing foreclosed houses through a government initiative known as the Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2. Bridget and Paul are acting as the architects on East Bay’s rehabbed homes, drawing up plans for renewal.

“It’s a great opportunity for us and for the affiliate,” Paul says.

The couple — now 29 and 34 — have decided they like Northern California and hope to find jobs there when their second year of service ends.

But for now they’re enjoying spending the week with their new AmeriCorps friends, in the city where they fell in love.