Building Faith through Volunteer Power: The Values of a Jewish Home Repair Organization

March 18th, 2015

Building Faith through Volunteer Power: The Values of a Jewish Home Repair Organization

Exodus 38: 21-40 is about sanctifying time and space through building the Mishkan—aka the tabernacle aka the portable sanctuary for G-D to dwell in. The work on the Mishkan follows an architectural blueprint provided by G-D. Once the people start working on the Mishkan, they are incredibly inspired. They provide more and more resources and more and more volunteer power… They are SOOO excited to be building this portable sanctuary that Moses actually has to tell the people to calm down.  Moses tells the volunteers to stop making donations because they have more than they need for the project.

Could you imagine if we could inspire people in our community in that way??!

When we do creative work for the good of others we allow G-D into our lives, by connecting the physical and the divine. This is especially true for my organization, Yachad. At Yachad, we invite G-D into our lives by repairing the homes of low-income families throughout DC.

Yachad is a long-term home repair program. Our work focuses on long term health and safety repairs—plumbing, electrical, roofing, drywall, and accessibility modifications. Yachad means together and that is how we do our work—through partnerships with synagogues, Hillels, churches, other organizations, professional contractors, and YOU!

We work on 30 houses per year—this spring we’re working on 16 projects with over 20 different volunteer groups and for the first time, we are focusing the work in two neighborhoods.

We all know that affordable housing and the crisis in homelessness in DC is an issue that threatens the safety, security, and success of families in DC. Yachad’s answer for the past 23 years is to preserve existing housing owned by lower income families who don’t have the resources to keep up with costly repairs and to help them get back on their feet. These homes provide critically needed housing for multiple generations of family and family members. These are the families that fall below the radar screen of public policy and dollars.

How many of you have heard the parable of the starfish? The story goes that there was a man walking up and down the beach, where hundreds of starfish had washed to shore and were dying. He picked them up one by one and threw them back to safety. A woman walked over and said, “What difference are you going to make? You can’t help all of those starfish!.” The man picked up another starfish, threw it in the water, and responded, “Well, I helped that starfish!”

Just the other day, we met with a woman who has MS, is recently in a wheel chair, and is need of a ramp. She has 5 of her own children living in the home and took in 5 grandchildren; the youngest is 2 years old—just so that they didn’t have to go into the foster care system. When we told this woman that we could build a ramp for her AND that it would come at no cost, she said: “Why would you help me? I’m no one.”

I immediately thought of the starfish parable…we know that the work we do will transform lives… one family at a time, and that’s enough for us. These families are our starfish.

Now, lets go back to the Torah portion…

In modern times, we know that G-D doesn’t dwell in the holy tabernacle, or mishkan. G-D is with us wherever we want G-D to be. Now the home is often the center of Jewish ritual. We no longer do temple sacrifice or old ritual practices, but we do celebrate Shabbat around the dining room table. We light candles, we do motzi, and Kiddush…

This is all centered on the family and the table we share our meals around. We tell the families we work with that their homes should be like a sanctuary too… that the home is a holy place.

Just like in the building of the tabernacle, and to make sure that every home can remain a sanctuary, we want you to be SO excited to repair the homes of these amazing families, b’yachad (together!!).

For volunteer opportunities with Yachad, make sure you visit our website at yachad-dc.org or call 202-296-8563.

Written by Kaety Ritchie, an Avodah Corps member (2014-2015) and Program Associate for Yachad.

Sukkot in Spring Homeowners Workshop

March 11th, 2015

Last Sunday was a beautiful spring day… It was also our first homeowners workshop for Sukkot in Spring! There were bright and excited faces all around, as we introduced our new homeowners to the program.

eunice long

homeowners workshop

(New homeowners learn about the program from a former participant during our first workshop at the Francis A. Gregory library in Southeast D.C.)

Thank you to all of our homeowners, our speaker from the DC Energy Office, and the Francis A. Gregory Public Library for making it such a success! There will be two more workshops this month–a finance day and a basic home repair day.

We look forward to the continued enthusiasm, support, and appreciation of what we can all do together–B’yachad.


Yachad Helps Families Stay Warm This Winter

January 14th, 2015

“A Home for the Holidays”

Gives Yachad Families A Special Holiday Gift

Yachad’s “A Home for the Holidays” program

is coming to a close just in time for the winter weather.

Some great work was done that we’d like to share with you:

(A handrail on these wooden stairs made for a safer holiday)

A few days before Christmas, our Handy Mensch team installed a custom handrail in a family home. Before, the steep and slippery wooden stairs were dangerous for the toddler and new baby in the family. Thank you to our Handy Mensch for giving the gift of safety and security just in time for the holidays.

With the help of our many partners and volunteers over the last few months, we replaced kitchen appliances, fixed furnaces, replaced drywall, updated electricity and plumbing, and repaired leaking roofs, making sure that our homeowners would have a safe and secure home this winter.

Sukkot in Spring is almost here!

Although it doesn’t feel like Spring yet, we will welcome our “Sukkot in Spring” homeowners before you know it! “Sukkot in Spring” is a time for the entire community to get involved. If you’d like to join in on a meaningful project this spring, sign up to volunteer today!

We’ll leave you with a winter tip from Robin Renner, our Construction Manager:

Winter Warm Up Tip #1: Insulate with shower curtains! Heavy curtains are great at insulating windows, but are expensive. Try pinning a cheap shower curtain to the inside of your existing curtains to make a quick and easy draft blocker. Close at night, but open during the day so the sun can help warm the room.


Stay warm and drink hot cocoa,

The Yachad Staff
Audrey, Mitch, Robin, and Kaety

Meet Mitch!

December 2nd, 2014

We welcome Mitch Liebeskind:

Hello all,

My name is Mitch Liebeskind and I am the new Program and Outreach Coordinator here at Yachad. I am excited to meet many of you and create real change in the city I was born in and in the lives of our homeowners.

From a young age the synagogue congregation I grew up, placed me on a path of, as Rabbi Heschel said, “praying with my feet.” Yachad is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to pray with our feet, come together to better communities in our city, and so many lives within it. Through the work of our partners, volunteers, community members, and homeowners, Yachad is able to move forward to the better world we all know is out there. I am excited to take the next steps with you.

I am a graduate of The University of Maryland and came to Yachad from the BBYO world. I love history, baseball, exploring new restaurants, and city life. When we meet, please let me know where you think the turning point was of World War I, why you think the DH has no place in the game, or where your favorite tacos are in the city. And don’t worry I don’t wear a tuxedo and bow tie when I paint.

I can be reached at 202.296.8563 or mitch@yachad-dc.org.

The Bash 2014: Making a Positive Impact Together

November 21st, 2014

The Community Builders Bash 2014

“The Community Builders Bash is a chance for me to network with my professional cohorts, celebrate the life of a community leader and raise funds for Yachad to ensure that the great work we do can continue.”

–Sam Hollman, The JBG Companies, Financial Analyst, Acquisition

This year’s Community Builders Bash celebrated Irma Poretsky…

Thank you Irma for all you have done, what you will continue to do, and for being the amazing community leader that you are!

An additional thank you to all who attended the Community Builders Bash and helped celebrate our volunteers–including but not limited to synagogues who have been working with Yachad for 20 years and Hillels who are just beginning this meaningful partnership.

We appreciate your hard work and continued support.

Thank you for helping us celebrate your commitment to making a positive impact together!

The following vendors helped Yachad make the night meaningful, delicious, and beautiful! THANK YOU!

Katzen Arts Center at American University, Rickie Niceta at Design Cuisine, Frost Lighting, Amaryllis Florist, Ace Beverage, Georgetown Cupcake, Print1, Epstein Creative, KRPR, the photogrpahy of Sue Dorfman, Oxman Studios, and event photography by Nygel Brown.

Want more pictures from the night?

Check the Facebook album or send us an email for your group photo. We’ll be happy to send them your way!

It was great seeing you at The Bash.

–The Yachad Family

On your marks, get set, go!

September 16th, 2014

On your marks, get set, go! Yachad runs a marathon, not a sprint.

Hello everyone.  I’m Kaety, Yachad’s newest AVODAH Corps Member.  I’ll be a part of the Yachad team for the next year and am so looking forward to doing my part in building happy and safe homes and connecting with all of you who support our work.

Nearing the end of my first month here, I have a pretty good understanding of how things work.   What stands out the most to me is that what we do at Yachad is like running a marathon–let me expand on this.  We train all year long by taking applications, getting to know our homeowners, and building relationships.  We also stay focused on long term results, maintain a steady pace, and realize that winning the race isn’t dependent on how fast we can sprint through projects, but on the strong work and effort that we put in from the starting line all the way to the end, when we can burst through the finish line tape and close a home that we feel good about.

The last few weeks, we’ve been prepping for our marathon with a strong start and our long term goals in mind.  We’ve even started picking up speed along the way with our Fall program, ‘A Home for the Holidays.’  Highlights include the addition of a new AVODAH Corps Member (me!), our Homeowners Workshops getting started, and our excitement about the annual Community Builders Bash that is coming up soon.  With these projects starting up strong, I’d say we’re more than ready to ‘run’ with what we’ve got!

Homeowners Workshops

Past homeowner from Sukkot in Spring 2013, Crystal Jones, speaks about her own experience with the program.

The past two Sundays we’ve come together at the MLK Memorial Library for our Homeowners Workshop.  The workshop brought out 8 of our families and 17 people all together.  We met the families over snacks and prepared them for the work we will be doing together throughout the next few months.  Everyone enjoyed getting to know each other and the grandchildren who tagged along even got to play some games together in the children’s library.  These homeowners will be a part of our ‘Home for the Holidays’ program.  The workshops guarantee that our partnership and the repairs made to homes will be successful and lasting, and also offer the tools for homeowners to actively maintain these repairs.  In all, there will be three workshops that the ‘Home for the Holidays’ families will attend. We’re looking forward to next week’s workshop!

We’re getting excited about the Community Builders Bash–and hope you are too!

Mark your calendars: the Community Builders Bash will be Sunday, November 9th!
Every year, Yachad celebrates the accomplishments and dedication of a local leader who embodies the spirit of “community building” with the Rabbi Joseph P. Weinberg Community Builders Award.  The award is named for a devoted spiritual leader and one of the original Yachad Founders.  This celebration is a chance to honor the achievements of a community leader and come together as a community of real estate and building professionals, nonprofit leaders, community activists and supporters of Yachad to raise funds for Yachad’s programming.

This year, we will honor Irma Poretsky with the Rabbi Joseph P. Weinberg 2014 Community Builder Award.  Two years ago, Irma launched Yachad’s Neighbor to Neighbor Initiative which in its first year raised $100,000 to repair many of Yachad’s homes.  Her own gift went to renovate a home in Anacostia to make it fully accessible for the homeowner who had suffered a debilitating incident. When it was time to celebrate the project’s completion, Irma joined the backyard barbeque party on a muggy August afternoon to help cut the ribbon.  We want to acknowledge Irma for her compassion and philanthropic generosity, which she notes is motivated by her experience of coming from very humble beginnings.  Irma has been a large part of Yachad’s work since her husband Lester Porestsky z”l, first served on the Board of Directors a decade ago.

We will also present special honors to five synagogues and their leaders who have partnered with Yachad as part of Sukkot in Spring for the past 20 years.  We also welcome and acknowledge Hillel leaders at area universities who are the latest new partners with Yachad.

Adas Israel Congregation: Joel Fishman, Edward Kopf, Jerry Levine; Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation: Jayme Epstein, Julie Farkas, Rebecca Farkas, Hope Gleicher, Alan Kanner, Louis Tenenbaum; Temple Micah: Roberta Goren, Rochelle and Edward Grossman, Douglas Meyer, William Page; Temple Rodef Shalom: John Huennekens, David Lawrence, Russ Roseman, Curt Sandler; Washington Hebrew Congregation: Rabbi Aaron Miller; American University: Jason Benkendorf, Erine Jones-Avni; University of Maryland: Amy Weiss; Georgetown University: Rabbi Rachel Gartner; George Washington University: Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth, Nicole Hollander.

We thank all of these volunteers for their meaningful contribution to Yachad’s work.  We can’t wait to celebrate with you all at the November 9th Community Builders Bash.

We’re putting on our running shoes

The staff here have all put on their running shoes and we’re ready to start this marathon the Yachad way, keeping you updated and involved along the run.  We’re looking forward to a meaningful season full of rebuilding!

With a smile,

Kaety and the Yachad team

Reflecting on Ramp it Up!

July 30th, 2014

This year’s Ramp it Up! participants contributed reflections about their time building a ramp and what they learned from the experience. Ramper Isaac Goldman participated in this year’s Ramp it Up! for his second summer, and shared his thoughtful essay on how the experience impacted him. Take a look at his reflection below:

“Ramp it Up” has been a fantastic part of my summers the past two years. The first year I did not know what to expect. I came in knowing that it was a construction project but I did not know about the long hours of demanding work in the heat. The service project both last year and this year gave me a fun workout in the sun and a good amount of community service hours. However, this year’s project was last year’s project on steroids. There were at least double the amount of holes to dig, which means double the cement, and each day consistently reached the high 90’s. This overwhelming challenge of digging holes and working outside in major heat gave me the opportunity to find out more about myself, more about working on a construction project in the heat of summer, and more about Yachad’s amazing work.

The most important thing I learned through Yachad’s Ramp It Up project this year was that in order to reach a goal you need to work with the people around you. Nobody could have built a ramp by themselves and in order for the project to move along each day, each camper needed to help out. One particular day, I was tired from a baseball game the past night and I needed help from a fellow camper to mix cement. I put aside my pride and asked him very politely and he responded with an emphatic “Yes, I would love to.” Through that small interaction, I learned about myself that I should never shy away from asking someone for help because just that small action of helping me mix cement, expedited the whole process and the other camper and I realized how efficient we were.

Secondly, I do not work on a construction site very often, as my carpentry skills showed, so I learned a lot about hammering, drilling, and doing anything necessary to help out to reach a final goal. Some days I provided motivational support because I knew I could not dig well and some days I was very involved: mixing up cement to put in the holes. Both my friend and I found out the best way to mix cement and put it in the hole so that we were the most time efficient. I had not learned the skill before and though I do not use it much in daily life, it was very useful on the project.

Lastly, through the service project, I was able to learn more about the important work that Yachad does. In the education sessions during lunch, we discussed poverty in DC and Sarah mentioned the work that Yachad does in order to try and eliminate some of the poverty. So, to work on a project, knowing that I am a part of an incredible organization trying to help out people with physical disabilities was a key part of the experience. Also being able to see a member of the community was moving because she was so thankful that we were helping out. She had seen the struggle that the disabled people had gone through and she could not have appreciated our work more.

Doing ordinary community service such as packing lunches is not the same meaningful experience that Yachad provides. Through both years of work, I learned many things about Yachad and to participate in Yachad’s Ramp It Up project twice encouraged me to continue to help out in my community.

Holey Moley: Participants in Ramp it Up! 2014 Build a Beautiful Accessibility Ramp for Local Community Center

July 17th, 2014

Two weeks, twenty-two teens, power tools, lots of hot sun… and one accessibility ramp!

High school teens volunteering in this summer’s Ramp it Up! program braved heat and humidity to build a beautiful, sturdy ramp for Rising Sun Baptist Church’s community center in Northeast, DC. The center provides free food, clothing, HIV/AIDS counseling, services for children with incarcerated parents, and other services to the community. However, due to the steps in front and back of the center, there were community members unable to access services. One family had a daughter who would wait outside in a wheelchair as the rest of the family entered the building. Now, this individual and many others will have the opportunity to participate fully as members of the community.

The students in the first session of camp did foundation work to provide a solid base for the ramp. They worked extremely hard digging holes for the ramp footings, mixing and pouring cement, and beginning carpentry work. The second session of rampers picked up where they left off with sawing, hammering, drilling, and other carpentry work that built the structure of the ramp from porch to ground. Rampers completed the work with enthusiasm and dedication, even in the heat of ninety-degree days, and were always eager to help out their peers and work as a team to get the job done.

At the end of two weeks of hard work, there was a new, beautiful ramp at the center. A special thank you goes out to the rampers whose work made the ramp possible, as well as construction manager Roy Thillberg of Loudoun Contracting, who expertly instructed the students along with his assistant, Jose.

Here is a letter Pastor Mitchell of Rising Sun Baptist Church wrote to express his appreciation for the ramp:

Dear Ms. Lyon:

We want to thank you, once again, for the service that Yachad has rendered to us to further our ministry. Through your Summer Camp, a ramp was built on our adjoining property — a house used to provide free food, clothing, HIV and AID services and social activities for children in the area whom we sponsor on behalf of their incarcerated parent(s). Some of these individuals are wheelchair bound and have been unable to access our services. Now, with the help of Yachad, these services are available to all.

I am extremely proud and grateful to be associated with you and this wonderful organization. Yachad embodies the qualities that we strive to demonstrate in our ministry — a G-dly love, hope, community and unity. I pray G-d’s continued blessings on your varied endeavors and projects.

Also, please convey our deep appreciation to Lindsey for her coordinative efforts, to Sarah for her hands-on, day-to-day presence at the site, to Roy and his assistant Jose for their time and professional skills and talents and, of course, to the young men who volunteered and gave of themselves this summer to build for others. This collaborative effort yielded a bountiful harvest and a beautiful ramp.

Sincerely,
Rev. Marlow L. Mitchell
Pastor


No More Pots and Pans: Reflecting on Sukkot in Spring 2014

July 14th, 2014

The fireflies, ice cream cones, and red, white, and blue indicate that we’re already well into summer. Some nice summer relaxation by the pool wouldn’t be complete without reflection on what’s been accomplished in the last few months. So, dive in to learn more about the huge amount of work completed this past Sukkot in Spring. It’s hard to believe what skilled professionals, many dedicated volunteers, and a paintbrush or two can do to transform a home.

This Sukkot in Spring…

286 volunteers from 23 volunteer groups donated 1,500 hours of service…

To transform 14 houses and 1 community center

And change the lives of 78 people.

Recently, there was a heavy rain, and Mrs. Edwards yelled downstairs to her husband to bring up some pots and pans to cover up the leaks. Then she stopped, laughed, and realized that she no longer needs to bring out the pots and pans when it rains. Instead, she put her energy into inviting friends and family over for a 4th of July barbecue for the first time. This mother of many, who has spent her life working and raising seven children and twenty-one grandchildren, now wakes up on Mother’s Day to a yard filled with roses, patched walls, and working plumbing in the bathroom.

The transformation of her home has even inspired neighbors to fix up their own homes and stop by the street to admire the appearance of her home. Her grandchildren have commented on the brand new walls and state of the house in which they live, and have eagerly played in the fresh grass in the yard. Clearly, the impact of the work completed in the home has been dramatic and far-reaching.

How was the transformation possible? While appearing almost magical, it took a lot of coordination, collaboration, hard work, and resources to make the transformation happen. First, Yachad evaluated the repair needs and partnered with YouthBuild Public Charter School students to complete extensive drywall repairs throughout the entire home. Work continued to be possible in the home thanks to the sponsorship of the Cora and John H. Davis Foundation, which funded the work of University of Maryland Hillel volunteers, who painted throughout the home to cover all of the drywall patches and dirt that had accumulated on the walls over the years. These repairs did an enormous amount to repair and brighten up the home, but there was still a long way to go before the repairs were complete.

That’s when Weissberg Corporation and The Rappaport Companies teamed up to bring in a slew of other volunteers and skilled professionals into the home. They brought in Level Green Landscaping, who completely revitalized the Edwards’ front yard, and even leveled the yard and repaired outdoor draining to reduce basement flooding. Weissberg and Rappaport also brought in Select Floors, Inc., who installed beautiful flooring in the Edwards’ living room. Weissberg and Rappaport also sponsored drywall work in the basement including removing unsafe mold and installing new drywall. Additionally, Weissberg and Rappaport brought in their own volunteers, who built new porch steps, installed light fixtures, and conducted many other repairs throughout the home.

Next, Yachad brought in skilled professionals to fix plumbing, electrical, and roofing in the home. The shutoff valve on the one toilet in the home had to be adjusted every time someone had to use the restroom, and plumbing in the sink and shower also did not work properly. Now, there is a fully functioning bathroom that is also much cleaner, brighter, and more comfortable to use. A great deal of electrical and roofing work also makes it easier for the family to see and for the family to stay dry when it rains. Furthermore, YouthBuild continued work in the home, including repairing siding along the whole back portion of the home.

Now imagine this process happening for many homes and community centers in the course of a spring. This is what Yachad’s work is all about. Take a look at this video to learn more about what was accomplished throughout the 14 homes and community center this spring.

A special thank you to everyone who made this season possible:

Contractors:
Acker & Sons Plumbing and Heating
CMI Companies Lighting and Electrical
Feldwood Construction
JKJ Electric
Level Green Landscaping, LLC
Select Floors
Springfield Roofing
Wood and Whitacre Roofing
Youthbuild Public Charter School

Sponsors:
Cora and John Davis Foundation
Daniel Ehrenberg Family
Deborah Ratner Salzberg and Michael Salzberg
JBG Companies
Joseph and Lynn Horning
Rappaport Companies
Weissberg Corp
Yachad Board

Volunteer Groups:
Girl Scouts of America Troop #228
JBG Companies
Klein Hornig LLC
Rappaport Companies
Weissberg Corp
Adas Israel Congregation
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation
Ben Gurion Society of Greater Washington Jewish Federation
Birthright Alumni
Congregation Etz Hayim
Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School
Fabrangen
Temple Micah
Temple Rodef Shalom
Temple Sinai
Tifereth Israel
Washington Hebrew Congregation
Yachad United
6th and I, Not Your Bubbe’s Sisterhood
Area Hillels:
American University
Georgetown University
George Washington University
University of Maryland

Photos Courtesy of Sue Dorfman

Handymensches in the Kitchen and Klein Hornig’s in the House!

June 10th, 2014

Photo Courtesy of Sue Dorfman

Yachad volunteers have been busy cooking up some great repairs, including a transformation of the Mahmoud kitchen. These volunteers were Yachad’s first participants in our new “Handymensch” program, which recruits semi-skilled volunteers to tackle repair projects under a skilled supervisor. The volunteers at the Mahmoud house did just that, installing new kitchen cabinets and adding shelving for extra storage. Ms. Mahmoud was thrilled about the renovated and newly functioning kitchen, which includes a new oven to replace the hot plate she had been using, and she will be eagerly moving her pots, pans, and other cooking supplies from the basement into her new cabinets.

Photo Courtesy of Sue Dorfman

For more information about becoming a Handymensch, e-mail Robin, Yachad’s Construction Manager, at robin@yachad-dc.org.

On Thursday, Yachad Board President Dan Ehrenberg and Klein Hornig, LLP were hard at work at the Nichols home. Ms. Michelle Nichols lives in the home with her sister, Josephine, and her granddaughter often visits the home. When the rent in Northwest DC was steadily increasing, Ms. Nichols purchased her home through the help of DC’s Home Purchase Assistance Program, which helps first-time homebuyers to buy a home. Ms. Nichols has lived in the home for thirteen years, and over time there have been serious repair needs that she was unable to address on her own.

Through the generous financial sponsorship of Dan Ehrenberg, Ms. Nichols’ roof, electrical and plumbing will all be repaired. With the help of the hard working volunteers of Klein Hornig, numerous less skilled repairs were accomplished as well as a major interior paint job. A big thank you to Klein Hornig and Dan Ehrenberg for their partnership in making the Nichols house feel more like home!