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.