Archive for April, 2016

Sukkot in Spring Meets Pesach in April

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

a note from Audrey Lyon, our Executive Director

As the Executive Director of Yachad, I have had the privilege over the past several Sundays to see Yachad’s mission in action. Volunteers of all ages mobilized throughout DC neighborhoods and did a tremendous amount of work to insure that family homes are made safe and functional once again. In many of these neighborhoods, our work guarantees that long-standing residents are able to withstand real estate development pressures and can continue living in their family homes for years to come. To make sure this happens, we repair dangerous and hazardous conditions such as leaky roofs, failing electrical and plumbing and give lots of TLC.

As we prepare our homes for the Pesach festival, there is a Jewish custom to give tzedakah before beginning the seder. There is a moment when we open our doors and invite others in. When we begin to retell the Exodus story, we say, “All who are hungry come and eat.” There is a beautiful message here: we were once slaves; poor and hungry, and we remember our redemption by sharing what we have with others.

This year, I invite you to consider making a 100% charitable gift to Yachad to see that even more families can share their holiday meals, from any faith tradition, in a safe and habitable home. More than ever, your continued financial support and partnership is an example of the very real impact donors make every day.

From our Yachad family to yours,
Chag Sameach

Audrey Lyon
Executive Director

A Sukkot in Spring Story

Friday, April 8th, 2016

By Rochelle Stanfield

If the weather is warm and the daffodils are blooming, it must be time for Sukkot in Spring, Yachad’s oldest and best known volunteer housing rehabilitation program. A lot has changed in the 22 years since Yachad began the program, then called Sukkot in April. What has remained constant, however, is the eager participation of volunteers who get down and dirty with hammer and nails, paint cans and rollers, scrub brushes, garbage bags and gardening tools—and the fun and satisfaction they get out of doing it.

When it began 22 years ago, Sukkot in April took place on a Sunday in April—thus the name. An individual synagogue or two collaborating temples sponsored the repair work on the rickety home of a low income homeowner who could not afford to maintain the dwelling. A small group of do-it-yourselfers from the synagogues served as house captains. They visited the house, planned the scope of work, purchased the materials and recruited and organized their fellow congregants to do the work.

A surprising array of talents surfaced among the workers. Here was a lawyer rebuilding a porch, there a stay-at-home mom fixing a toilet and upstairs a journalist was rewiring a circuit while a scientist spackled and painted a bedroom. Of course, then as now such advanced skills weren’t required to participate. There was always plenty to do for the enthusiastic amateurs, many of whom learned a lot about home repair over years of taking part in the program. Some even became house captains.

Over the years, Sukkot in April morphed into Sukkot in Spring as the work also took place in March, May and June. Other institutions—Hillels, non-profit groups, corporations—began to sponsor houses and involve their members or employees in the volunteer work. Yachad itself grew and professionalized. Now a construction director does most of the planning and purchasing. Other Yachad programs like the Hard Hats and Helping Hands Repair Program that aim at construction professionals take on the advanced jobs such as repairing the roof or doing major electrical and plumbing work. The veteran do-it-yourselfers continue to participate in Sukkot in Spring. They’re just relieved of some of the planning and organization so they can get right to work doing-it-themselves. And there’s a new Yachad program just for them: Handymenshers. They help on projects that don’t need a licensed professional but do require someone who knows how to make repairs correctly and efficiently.

It’s the end of a Sukkot in Spring workday. The volunteers are cleaning paintbrushes, folding tarps, packing up tool boxes. They’re a little dirty. There’s paint in one volunteer’s hair. Another has a smudge on the cheek. They’re also tired, looking forward to home and a hot shower. But they look around at the house they’ve been working on all day. The new kitchen sparkles. The dingy bedroom is bright yellow. The bannister that had been broken for years is solidly in place. The house is beautiful! And the homeowner—her smile as she gratefully hugs the volunteers is priceless. A spring returns to the volunteer’s steps. They’ll be back to work on another house next year.

Thoughts on Parashat Shemini

Friday, April 1st, 2016

In parashat Shemini, the Tabernacle is completed and the high priests make their first offerings. Aaron makes his offering, but then tragedy strikes when the two elder sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, “offered a strange fire, that had not been commanded” (Lev. 10: 1). A fire comes forth and consumes them.

This is an important incident as the Torah mentions it multiple times throughout the Torah. Rabbi Jonathan Saks points out that each time their death is mentioned, “the Torah says merely that they offered ‘unauthorized fire.’ The sin was that they did something that had not been commanded.”

Rabbi Saks uses this incident to talk about the dangers of over-enthusiasm. This rings true for Yachad’s experiences working with volunteers and homeowners. Our staff and volunteers are passionate about helping individual families as well as ending larger policies that impact affordable housing in DC and the nation; however, sometimes this enthusiasm can overwhelm our homeowners. As anyone who has had work done in their home can attest to, having contractors come in and out of a house is a disruption and it is a challenge to schedule availability for all of the workers. This becomes even more overwhelming when there are twenty excited volunteers descending upon your house.

As we wrote last week, it is important to work with homeowners and recognize that—similar to the sacrifices—there are protocols that we must follow to make sure that we do the most good. By recognizing this, we make sure we are helping and not harming as well as keeps our work sustainable for our volunteers so they don’t ‘burn out’ on the work.

Sunday officially begins Sukkot in Spring volunteering with repairs happening at two different homes across DC. We are all very excited for what this spring season will bring and we can’t wait to see our volunteers in the field.

Shabbat Shalom