Letter to the Editor re: “Stay and Wait” story

April 15th, 2015

A Letter to the Editor: by Audrey Lyon, Yachad Executive Director

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Letter to the Editor re: Metro Section story: “Stay and Wait” by Frederick Kunkle

Frederick Kunkle’s (Metro, April 13, 2015) reporting about the problems plaguing the D.C. Government’s Single Family Home Repair Program shines a welcome light on the challenges many of the city’s seniors face when they need critical home repair. As troubling as the programs delays and poorly performed repairs are, I can say from my perspective as the head of nonprofit local home-repair organization that the problem is far more wide-spread than even this article describes. The consequences for our city’s most economically fragile lower-income homeowners and on the communities around them are enormous. These homes are providing the last bastion of affordable housing to multiple generations of family members often within one home. Much attention is given to people without homes at all, but lurking just below this crisis is the serious and largely overlooked problem of dangerous and substandard housing in many of our city’s neighborhoods. This problem is underreported because there is no new unit of housing to point to or a family unit to show moving out of a homeless shelter. However, these families are in a silent crisis too.

This is housing that is often older, and has been owned by families for multiple generations. It will be gone either through on-going deferred repairs or gentrification. It is grandparents living with children, grandchildren and others in homes where the family is one step away from homelessness due to leaking roofs, dangerous electrical issues, toilets and sinks that don’t work.

Unfortunately, there are precious few resources and attention given to working with these families to ensure functional homes.

We need DHCD’s Single Family Home Repair Program with its significant resources to run efficiently and safely to help not only our city’s seniors but the hundreds of other families where a functional home is the first step to insuring a family’s success.

Audrey Lyon
Executive Director
Yachad, Inc.

About Yachad:
Yachad’s mission is to bring communities together by preserving affordable homes and revitalizing neighborhoods throughout the District of Columbia and the greater metropolitan area. Yachad means “together” in Hebrew, and that is how we do our work through partnerships with homeowners, houses of worship, nonprofits, and other community stakeholders. We mobilize skilled and unskilled volunteers, invest financial resources, and, through our work together, transform people and properties. Our mission is rooted in the Jewish commitment to seek justice by engaging in acts of loving kindness. We welcome people of all faiths to share in our work to keep our communities diverse and vital.
www.yachad-dc.org

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Get to know our neighborhoods

April 14th, 2015

Yachad’s homeowners make our work special

We want you to get to know the neighborhoods we’ll be working in this Sukkot in Spring!

Get to know our neighborhoods…
Over the next few months, we will repair the homes of families in two DC neighborhoods. Together, we can keep these neighborhoods diverse and thriving and can give homeowners the safety and security that they deserve.

Lamond-Riggs, NE

Lamond-Riggs is home to four of our homeowners, rich with history and alive with new energy! The neighborhood is right off of the Fort Totten metro stop and is energized by the abundance of family friendly public space. It is home to a historic public library, the Lamond Recreational Center, Riggs Park, and Food and Friends.

Lamond-Riggs is the neighborhood of Mayor Muriel Bowser. When meeting with homeowners here, they proudly told us that the Mayor lives a few streets down!

This is a community that values public space! Click here for more on the history and fight for the Lamond-Riggs Library!

Skyland, SE

The tight-knit Skyland community is home to eleven of our homeowners and is in the heart of Historic Anacostia: once home to Frederick Douglass, Ezra Pound, Marvin Gaye, and the former mayor of D.C., Marion Barry. Here you can visit the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum, the Frederick Douglass House, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, new public libraries and good eats…just to name a few!

The big chair is a well-known DC landmark. For generations, people have flocked to this tourist attraction, claiming to be ‘the largest chair in the world.’ Musicians and activists alike have been featured here.

Want to try a new neighborhood restaurant while you’re in the area?
Check out Nurish Food & Drink!

Volunteer for Sukkot in Spring and explore these neighborhoods on your own: Meet our homeowners and their families, and be an active part in keeping these DC neighborhoods thriving! Join us April 26th and/or May 3rd to volunteer. Contact your group leader or the staff at Yachad to sign up for Sukkot in Spring and please specify your home repair skill level.

See you around the neighborhood!

Our homeowners know how to repair!

March 31st, 2015

After three weeks of Homeowners Workshops, we are confident that our homeowners know how to repair and maintain their homes! Now, even when Yachad’s work is complete, they’ll be able to keep their homes in the best condition for their families.

eunice long

Thank you to XML Financial for meeting 1 on 1 with our homeowners and ensuring that they’re getting the most for their money and to one of our past homeowners, Ms. Long, for speaking about her own experience with Yachad. This past Sunday, our construction manager, Robin taught a hands-on DIY workshop on home repair!

The group learned to drywall during the workshop and left with a full tool kit and how-to book!

Jewish tradition teaches that it is more valuable to help a person become self-supporting than it is to give the person any kind of handout. We are commanded to help those less fortunate than us on the path to self-sufficiency so that one day they will not need assistance at all.

Thank you for supporting our work and our Homeowners Workshops!

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.