Our Jewish Service Corps Fellow on Building, Volunteering and Connecting

by Rose Cranna
Today is Rose’s last day as the Behrend Builders/Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service coordinator. Rose held this year-long position as part of her participation in Avodah—The Jewish Service Corps. I asked her to reflect on her year working on Behrend projects and her experiences as an Avodah Fellow.

Last fall, a woman e-mailed me. She had met Behrend volunteers at the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition rally at the Fishing School that August. After several severe storms, a tree had fallen on her roof and the top floor of her house was being destroyed by water damage. AVODAH volunteers repair a homeHer back porch had also collapsed. Her insurance company not only denied her claim within less than one week, but completely canceled her policy, leading to her mortgage company immediately denying her refinancing process. In the last line of her e-mail to me, she wrote: “This is an urgent plea for help.”

After our initial site visit, we had to tell her that, although Behrend Builders cannot do roof repairs, we could connect her with a partner agency that could do the roof. Once she found someone to do the roof, we would be able to come in and begin repairing the interior rooms. Months went by and we did not hear from her. Many attempts to contact her failed. Then, in April we spoke with our partner, Yachad, who informed us that they had found a contractor to fix her roof at very little cost to her. This was the message we were waiting for because it meant that we could bring a group to begin the interior. After a second site visit, we saw that it was in far worse condition after the winter – in certain corners of the ceiling, sunlight was streaming in.

Now, it was a matter of finding just the right group for the job.

In AVODAH, we make monthly Site Visits to each others’ placements (my fellow Corps members work at other anti-poverty non-profits throughout DC and Maryland). It’s a great opportunity to see not only where our housemates spend the bulk of their days, but to see how interconnected the work we each do really is. Often in the social services, one can feel extremely isolated, so this is an opportunity to realize the incredible network available.  It just so happened that my Behrend Builders Site Visit fell in June. You can guess how easy that decision was.

My friends and I spent the Site Visit working with her; clearing out her basement, pulling moldy drywall off the ceilings and walls, priming and painting the rooms, and clearing brush from the backyard. The chance to work alongside the homeowner and to see first-hand the devastating conditions she was living in was an eye-opening experience for many of my housemates. In the weeks since our project, many of them still ask me how she is doing and when Behrend Builders will return to continue the project, which shows that, even though I was lucky enough to spend my AVODAH year as the Behrend Builders Coordinator, they all care deeply about helping others, and understand what it takes to be a Behrend Builder.


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