Volunteer Spotlight: Cancer Researcher and Handyman

April 27th, 2020

by Lisa Hershey, Community Outreach Director

April is National Volunteer Month and Yachad is shining a spotlight on Larry Baizer, a long-time volunteer, who has been helping us for about 15 years. He started off as a participant in our Sukkot in Spring annual home repair program, and over the years stepped into the leadership role of House Captain, and then joined our HandyMensch team of year-round advanced-skilled volunteers. Yachad is lucky to have enthusiastic, talented volunteers like Larry involved in our organization. Come and meet him.

image of volunteer next to homeowner
Larry helping one of Yachad’s clients

Tell us about your day job.

I am a Program Director at the National Cancer Institute–National Institutes of Health. In that position I coordinate clinical trials of new treatments for cancer.

What is something about you that most people don’t know?

I am an avid musician and sang tenor in a Jewish community choir for 10 years. More recently I have begun playing the violin again after a 50-year hiatus. I take weekly lessons and have joined a community orchestra associated with the NIH.

What do you get out of volunteering with Yachad?

I enjoy working on the homes of Yachad’s clients, helping with repairs that are sometimes simple, sometimes more complex but always improve quality of life. I also like working with the HandyMensch and always look forward to trading stories and repair tips with them.

Have you learned new skills while volunteering with us?

Through working with Robin, Yachad’s Construction Director, I have learned a lot of new carpentry techniques and have become sufficiently proficient at some of them to be able to teach others. 

What is one of your favorite past projects ?

Last June we worked at L’Arche, a group house for intellectually challenged adults in Arlington. The residents were great fun to chat with and it was really an impressive facility with a strong sense of community.

What keeps you involved with Yachad after all these years?

The Yachad people are just wonderful and I really enjoy working with them and with the HandyMensch volunteers. Robin is a great leader and teacher and is so helpful in guiding the projects and gently correcting any errors. I always feel that we have made the houses we worked on brighter and a more appealing place for the families to live.

What is your favorite tool that you can’t live without?

Electric drill is probably the first choice.

How-to Drywall

April 15th, 2020

by Robin Renner, Director of Construction

Are dings and dents in your wall starting to stick out like a sore thumb?  

With the coronavirus keeping most of us homebound these days, you are probably noticing things around your house that need fixing. If you’ve got extra time on your hands, why not learn and practice some new skills and give simple repairs a go. I’m taking this time to start or complete projects around my own home, and I thought I could share some of my favorite links for DIY skills. 

Let’s start with some basic drywall skills. 

Working with drywall gets easier the more you learn and practice. I recommend checking out Home Depot and Lowe’s websites, which have sections focusing on Do-It-Yourself skills. You’ll find short videos and guides for home repair and maintenance. Start with the drywall repair section. I’m always on the lookout for tricks, tips, and new ideas to improve my drywall skills. I guarantee you’ll learn something, whether you’re a beginner or an old hand at drywall repair!  

Video Links:

The videos linked below have tips and techniques that will really up your game. When you do pick up the drywall tools, you’ll be better prepared for a smooth and flawless drywall patch.

Home Depot: How to Patch Drywall

Lowe’s: How to Patch and Repair Drywall

Vancouver Carpenter: Taping and Mudding 101

Vocabulary:

Also take a moment to familiarize yourself with the jargon of drywall. Download my Drywall Glossary with links to examples, so you will be in the know.

  • “Mud” is the shorthand name for drywall taping compound or joint compound. It’s a gypsum-based paste used to finish drywall joints and corners in new drywall installations and for general repairs such as repairing cracks and holes in existing drywall and plaster surfaces. All are easy to sand with sandpaper or a wet sponge. (Learn about different kinds of mud in the Drywall Glossary.)

  • Joint tape is used to repair seams and cracks. There are several choices: mesh and paper.

Tips:

  • YACHAD ALWAYS RECOMMENDS WET-SANDING FOR SAFETY.
  • Avoid ‘spackle’ or other patching compounds. They are meant for very small holes, are difficult to apply, and are often hard to sand.

Now get to work and watch a few of the videos. Then, get out your tools and practice repairing the cracks, dings, and holes in your own house.

Post a photo of your work on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tag us @yachaddc. Check back soon for more How-to Tips.

Home as Sanctuary

February 7th, 2020

by Audrey Lyon, Yachad Executive Director

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is well known for linking prayer with social activism. “Praying with our feet,” is how he described participating in protest marches on Shabbat. Less well known is how Heschel likens prayer as a home for the soul and body. Prayer is the infrastructure for our body and soul. At Yachad we take that idea one step further and say that our homes are like a sanctuary for that prayer. 

“For the soul, Heschel states, “home is where prayer is. In their home, even the poorest person may bid defiance to misery and malice. That home may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow though it, the storms may enter it, but that is where the soul expects to be understood. Just as the body is in need, so is the soul in need of a home.”

Yachad’s work to make homes less frail—healthier and functional– also restores a family’s dignity and resilience to life’s challenges. As we continue to pray with our feet, we must also work to see that homes in our community offer comfort and sanctuary for our body and souls.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, “On Prayer,” Conservative Judaism, Vol.225, No. 1970. Page 2.

“I hated the word rain…”

October 4th, 2019

“It was a stressful and scary situation. I kept thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ We would put out buckets and pray for the best.“– Ms. Siles

It may be true that into each life a little rain must fall. But for the Siles family, a little rain became crisis management.

The roof no longer kept the rain out. Water made its way into bedrooms and closets dripping through walls and ceilings. The homeowner managed the leak as best she could with a tarp over the roof and plastic bags taped to the ceiling covering areas where drywall had fallen away exposing insulation. The major roof leak was causing severe water and moisture damage leading to mold.

For most people mold is a nuisance. But for this family with two children, one who has asthma, mold is life-threatening. Mold spores can trigger an asthma attack causing airways to restrict, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It was imperative that their roof get fixed. Our partner, IMPACT DC Asthma Clinic, sent this family to us for home remediation.

Yachad got to work and fixed the expansive roof damage giving this family more than a dry home–giving them a healthy space for their children.

Thank you, thank you. You took a big stress off me. You all have been a true blessing to my family and myself. — Ms. Siles

Thank you to the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation for supporting our home remediation work in Prince George’s County.

repaired roof
The repaired roof gives a peace of mind

“I thought, ‘What am I going to do?'”

September 4th, 2019

Charlene was at the end of her rope by the time she called Yachad. She and her daughter were living with water leaking from the ceilings into their bedrooms for over four years. Charlene knew her roof needed repairing but she could not afford it.

“Every time the wind blew it sounded like it would blow the rest of the roof off.” She was scared and nervous and didn’t know what to do.

The leaky roof was only one of several problems.

The family hired a contractor to create an accessible bathroom on the first floor for their aunt who lived with them after suffering a stroke. Sadly, the project was not finished after the workers unexpectedly left the job. The family was left with an unfinished bathroom and unusable bathtub. Health issues plagued her daughter. Mold from the roof and other plumbing leaks, plus the old carpet throughout the home, were triggering her allergies. The house was literally making her sick.

Yachad’s health remediation work was needed.

Over the past few months, Yachad’s tradespeople addressed the serious repairs. Volunteers pitched in to complete the aunt’s bathroom and remove the old carpet.

Work wrapped up this month and the house is now better than ever. “I just thank, thank, thank everyone and am so grateful and happy for everything,” declared Charlene, who is no longer anxious when it rains.

BEFORE–unusable tub

AFTER–the finished bathroom makes daily life easier

Can We Do It? Yes, We Can!

March 12th, 2019

The training was full of information that I needed and will use. I can’t wait to start working on projects/problems as they occur as opposed to waiting until I save up and hire someone from outside to do the job. The demonstrations and hands on material were also eye-opening. Thanks so much.
Charlene, Yachad Homeowner

This weekend Yachad’s Construction Director, Robin Renner, led a DIY Home Repair workshop for our spring homeowners. She shared easy and inexpensive solutions for addressing common household repairs and maintenance. Topics ranged from how to use a caulk gun to providing examples of weatherstripping products to advice on unclogging drains.

photo credit: Ray Alvareztorres

Thirteen homeowners—all women—soon found themselves leaning over pieces of drywall getting the hang of fixing holes using spackle and a putty knife. “Making the session hands-on is important,” says Robin— “It is a chance for our clients, who are predominantly older women, to see that they don’t have to be intimidated by minor home repairs.”  Lana, one of our participants, said “I learned so many tips that I can use to keep my home safe. The hands-on task of repairing small holes in the drywall was good…having the right tools and the knowledge to try was powerful.”

A key approach to overcoming unease about home maintenance is to simply understand how your house works. For this reason, Robin carefully reviewed how toilets, sinks, and electrical outlets work. There was even a chance to examine the inside of an electrical outlet and a ceiling light fixture, which were passed around, plus the underside of a sink drain.

As the workshop came to an end, Robin stressed the importance of three things:

  • Keep your house sealed up: This will prevent bug/pests and pollution from coming in and prevent hot/cold air from leaking in or out.
  • Keep your house clean.
  • Keep your house dry: Fix plumbing leaks and mop up water promptly.

The homeowners left the workshop with special Yachad swag, really cool drain cleaning tools and heavy-duty kitchen cleansers, but more importantly, they left with increased knowledge and self-confidence.

Thank you to the Howard Stanfield Memorial Fund for the generous support of our homeowner workshops. And, a special thank you to THEARC and Building Bridges Across the River for hosting our program.

photo credit: Ray Alvareztorres

Human Rights & Jewish Values: Right to Property

December 17th, 2018

In honor of the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

by Audrey Lyon, Yachad Executive Director

Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 17:
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

The first biblical record of property ownership can be found in Parashat Chayei Sarah. In this parasha, Sarah has died, and Abraham seeks to obtain an appropriate burial place for his beloved wife. Abraham understands the importance of purchasing a plot of land. It is not enough that he find a place for Sarah to be buried. The text describes in detail the contractual negotiations that take place to secure legal ownership of the land in perpetuity.

Abraham was making sure that the legal claim to this piece of land would be recognized for generations.Continuing in Parashat Vayechi Chapter 47:28-31, Jacob calls to his son Joseph and says, “Do not bury me now in Egypt. I will lie with my forefathers, and you shall carry me out of Egypt, and you shall bury me in their grave.”

Fast forward 4,000 years. The importance of property ownership — in particular, owning one’s own home – is a fundamental way to acquire and build wealth, to secure family stability and most important, as a foundation for a successful life. As Matthew Desmond writes in his 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Evicted, Poverty and Profit in the American City, “The home is the center of life. It is the refuge from the grind of work, and the pressure of school…. It is where our identity takes root and blossoms. Decent affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”

Unfortunately, the prevalence of housing inequities affecting lower-income neighborhoods in the District of Columbia and greater metropolitan area, which are primarily communities of color, reflects a history of structural racism hat has created barriers for these communities to maintain reasonable living conditions and access wealth. Today, the legacy of these structural obstacles has left many black families financially vulnerable. As communities experience rapidly  rising property values and housing costs, many are confronted with the threat of displacement and have fewer options for quality, affordable housing.

At both the individual and neighborhood levels, preserving existing housing and improving the quality of life for lower-income residents and communities of color addresses the poor housing conditions which contribute to significant inequities in health and well-being. By improving existing single-family homes, these efforts can create new wealth in newly found home equity, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods where home values are rising substantially.

Abraham knew that owning property was the way to insure the “family” legacy and inheritance. L’dor v’dor there would be a home in the Land. Similarly, modern day home ownership creates family legacy and inheritance. Dr. Erica Brown writes, “A person needs a home, an anchor of stability; in this changing chaotic world, every soul needs to be an island of repose.”

May it be so.

A Mensch with a Wrench: A Reflection

October 11th, 2018

Matthew Flyer, Yachad’s Construction Manager, reflects on his experience as a Yachad volunteer-turned staff member.

By Matthew Flyer, Construction Manager

Today I want to talk about my transition from the corporate world to what I refer to as the real world.  I spent the past 35 years working for large, multi-national corporations in various positions, first as an engineer and finally in the management ranks.  While I enjoyed my time, I look back on how progress was measured – productivity, efficiency, return on investment, shareholder value and all those good things you normally think of when you think of corporations. 

When I stopped working a few years ago, I felt it was time to try something different.  I felt if I spent my career being tough and bottom line driven; it was time to start being nice and compassionate.  I have always admired individuals with careers in the service professions.  My mother was a nurse, my wife and sister-in-law educators, and they always seemed fulfilled in their mission.  I was looking for some of that passion.  

I dabbled in a few projects and fully expected to just volunteer here and there but then ended up with an organization called YACHAD – Hebrew for together.   

What began as volunteering to paint, build ramps and pull out carpeting a weekend or two a month, evolved into being a member of their board and ultimately a position as Construction Manager, or as my wife like to refer to me – “a mensch with a wrench.”   

I haven’t totally disavowed all my corporate skills.  In helping the organization grow, they’ve enabled me in areas such as supporting new grants, new programs and with organizational development. Like a corporation, missions keep changing and there is always a need to follow the money. However, my way of measuring progress no longer has corporate overtones, rather it’s measured by smiles and hugs.   

In talking about my transition, I want to touch on three aspects – the organization, the work and its impact, and what is has meant for me.  

What led me to YACHAD was their mission and how they focus on it. 

For generations of white American families, homeownership has been a fundamental means of accumulating wealth… serving as an asset against which they can borrow for education or other purposes.  But others have been shut out of programs that promoted homeownership financial well-being.  

This missed opportunity to amass wealth that white Americans took for granted is evident to this day with a black-white wealth gap and an even worse gap in health, living conditions, and educational opportunities. 

I know this is true because I now see it every day.  Less than 20 minutes away from where we are, here, in our nation’s capital, poor families are living in overcrowded houses with roofs that leak into bedrooms and onto dining room tables, through lighting fixtures and through drywall. Electricity comes from one extension cord snaked through the house. 

Open stoves are often the only source of heat during the winter, and residents have to fill up buckets of water just to flush their toilets. Again, I’m talking about Washington, D.C., not some underdeveloped country thousands of miles from here. 

For those who live in these conditions every day, often for many years, this is not just a “social problem,” it’s a personal crisis.  

Yachad’s mission is to help bridge this gap by assisting homeowners to stay in their homes and build on what it means for their personal situations. 

As the Construction Manager at Yachad, I, along with hundreds of dedicated volunteers, provide direct services to low-income families who are living in overcrowded, dangerous, and substandard housing. 

At Yachad, while we use many skilled tradespeople, we rely on skilled and unskilled volunteers to work alongside these families to repair untenable living conditions. Most of our clients are one roof leak, one electrical or plumbing failure away from being homeless. And, even as they hang valiantly on to a dwelling that’s crumbling around them, their existence isn’t even close to what we in this room would consider normal and nurturing. 

These families are often providing housing to their children and grandchildren. The aging and deteriorating housing stock they live in is the last line of “affordable” housing in the region. Losing these units would pose another serious threat to the dwindling supply of housing available to low and even moderate-income families. 

What is so different is the way I looked at social issues in the past versus now. Now I see it first-hand. It’s one thing to raise money for a cause, donate money or work behind the scenes.  But at YACHAD, I’ve approached it differently. I now see those in need every day.   

I am invited into their homes, I work with them hand-in-hand to help improve their lives.  I hear stories about their families and life. Seeing their smiles and offers of thanks creates a completely different perspective for me. 

Just this week, I visited a home of a single mother with two children with special needs.  She had some health concerns which caused her to lose her job, and she is now in jeopardy of losing her home.  Her home has major repair needs: the roof is leaking, there is no viable heating system, and mold is a serious health hazard.  These conditions are compromising her health condition, which then impacts her ability to hold down a job.  As I assessed her house to determine eligibility for our program, she was apologetic for her home’s disarray, when in fact I was amazed at what a great job she was doing trying to keep things in check.  She’s a perfect fit for our program.  There are no state or federal programs to provide assistance and without our help she’ll be forced to leave her home.   

One of the most interesting conversations I had was with a skeptical homeowner whose home we were working on.  When I showed up with a small group to do some repairs that our sub-contractors could not do, he very assertively asked, “Why are you doing this?”  It caught me by surprise and I fumbled a bit – it was the usual answers of tzedakah and Jewish values. None of us gave very convincing answers.   

He continued with his view on how he was raised, “it’s every man for himself and God will sort it all out in the end.” He admitted he hadn’t seen the best in people, especially at his current position as a prison guard.   

While he continued to look for the “strings-attached,” in the end, I think we won him over. 

On the other side of the spectrum I was working with a women well into her eighties, still the matriarch of a multi-generational family.  Her home was in desperate need of repairs.  When trying to set up our next visit she was overwhelmed with the help we were offering but a little embarrassed by her only request – could we not work on Tuesdays since that was her day to work in the church’s soup kitchen.   

This has been a common thread. I see many people in need, yet they themselves are always giving back. 

The impact of our program is far-reaching.  Two recipients come to mind.  Once their homes were stabilized, they were able to focus their efforts on self-improvement and being successful in the job market.  One went on to be employed by the DC government in a position that helps others in need.  The other went to school and has launched a career in social services.  Both exemplify the impact of a stable home environment. 

Even what may appear to be minor, impacts lives every day – things that we naively take for granted – a mother who can finally cook dinner for her family, another states “with her new floors she can now sleep lying down and without her nebulizer,” a new access ramp now allows a child to go outside – the stories can be endless. 

Beyond the homeowners there is also an impact on the volunteers, who develop such a sense of rapport and satisfaction.  We have a group of guys who started a project and now their monthly get-together is doing repair work on a new house; one woman celebrates her birthday by adopting a home and bringing her friends to do repairs; and a contractor donates a new kitchen every year – again, these stories can be endless. 

The combination of homeowners and volunteers truly embraces the meaning of YACHAD – together, a real sense of community. 

I find I have grown a bit in my transition:

  • Although my wife may disagree, I think I’ve become a little more patient and a bit less judgmental.  Standing on the outside, we are always quick to develop an opinion, but when you get intimately involved you learn quickly that there is a lot more to the story.
  • I’m surprised by how many people out there are trying to help.  From the families I work with, who they themselves are helping others, the volunteers who are busy yet finding time, and the range in ages and backgrounds of all our volunteers.
  • I’ve seen how much difference a little boost can make.  Once a person’s home situation is stabilized, it allows them to expend their energy in so many other areas.
  • I’ve learned that people have a lot more in common than we would think.  What they want for themselves and their families is no different than us. 

I want to finish up by referring back to the homeowner who asked “Why would I do this?”   

…………………….. I think my answer now is “Why wouldn’t I?” 

 Shanah Tovah! 

Ramp It Up! 2018 Reflection

July 13th, 2018

Yachad’s Ramp It Up! summer program offers high school students an opportunity to build a wheelchair ramp for a local family. One of the students reflects on his experience.

By Isaac, Ramp It Up! 2018 participant

The first day of camp we all arrived and introduced ourselves, we also discussed what we were going to start doing and the overall plan. The first day was the hardest because we started by drilling into concrete, and it was also difficult to get used to the flow of building. It was hard to start meeting new people. At the end of the day, I made lots of new friends and was very
exhausted. At first, It was hard to visualize the ramp because after two days of work all we had where a bunch of posts sticking out of the ground.

The hardest part of the building process was putting in the posts since we didn’t know how to put the metal rods in and hammering nails into a post inside a small hole is very hard. The day we started to get the first deck put in it started to rain which cut our work early. The next day all the mounds of dirt where turned into mud and the holes were full of water. After that, I
always came home covered in mud. Although it was very dirty it was a lot of fun and we accepted the dirt and continued with our jobs.

Every day I came home exhausted and dirty, but I had a sense of accomplishment and eagerness to go back the next day. After the first deck was finished it was a lot easier to visualize what we were doing and soon we had the first ramp finished and decked. Next, we put up post for a railing but to tighten the post we needed to get underneath the ramp. Underneath the ramp, there was a lot of mud and sawdust. Although it was hard, when we finished I felt very accomplished and proud. It was also nice to have other people who were just as tired as you were working with you.

I had a great time at Yachad and made lots of new friends, and although the work was hard, it was very rewarding.  I learned a lot of valuable skills about building, and I was informed about disabilities and housing costs. Overall I really enjoyed my time during Yachad and I had lots of fun.

Helping Families Breathe Easier

May 1st, 2018

by Robin Renner, Yachad’s Director of Construction

[On May 1st World Asthma Day, Yachad highlights the importance of making homes healthier for families with asthma.]

Asthma is the leading chronic disease in children. It is also the top reason for missed school days.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Asthma in Schools.

When my children were in elementary school a friend of theirs died from an asthma attack. It was devastating to everyone and affected the whole community. The child had a history of asthma. His parents lacked health insurance and managed his symptoms with emergency room visits since they couldn’t afford regular care. They were good parents but lived in an apartment building with poor maintenance. Since then I’ve found out how much living conditions affect children with asthma. My work at Yachad helps me to address this serious health and housing issue.

A child’s home should be a safe place, a place of rest and comfort. If it’s hard to breath, or you always have a cold or cough, it’s hard to be comfortable. Children living in poorly maintained housing are more likely to have chronic health issues, particularly asthma. “Exposure to the things that stimulate asthma is probably greater in poor households. Cockroaches in inner city homes, air pollution in industrial neighborhoods, gas and other chemical fumes, lack of air conditioning, and inability to modify the home environment (for example, unable to take up a bedroom carpet or correct water leaks into a moldy basement) are some of the ways that poverty might predispose to worsen asthmatic inflammation of the bronchial tubes.” Partners Asthma Center

A few years ago, Yachad’s work focused on a family’s home where respiratory triggers were causing severe wheezing and coughing fits for the entire household. We pulled up all the carpeting, replaced moldy drywall, patched the roof and exterminated the house. The coughing and wheezing stopped, especially for the children. Everyone was better. This is just one example of Yachad’s work. Our homeowners almost always report less colds in the family, less problems with asthma and respiratory conditions, and general overall improvement in the health of the family. We make homes safe and healthy, so folks can live their best life.

Help us do more—be a Yachad healthy housing advocate and volunteer.