Painting with a Purpose

February seems to be a busy birthday month! How do you celebrate your birthday when you hit a milestone? This month Lloyd turned 60 and Josh turned 40, and on two separate occasions we coordinated Behrend Builders projects for them.
It just so happens that Lloyd is a fabulous photographer and has artist friends. With the help of his friend Judy Beth they drew an amazing mural on one of the walls at Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV). With images of its founder Mitch Snyder and other community members surrounded by a colorful tapestry, there was so much to paint that Lloyd’s 50 birthday party guests didn’t get the mural finished. Though the mural is still a work in progress, all 50 guests had a great time and felt like they really made a difference for the residents. The mural fills one of the residential hallways, and the inhabitants that came in and out throughout the day were thrilled to see the bright colors as opposed to the usual white wall.

Bright colors weren’t the request at Transitional Housing Corporation’s (THC) Partner Arms I. This amazing facility is one of THC’s many apartment buildings focused on helping the homeless become self-sufficient. THC asked for a clean coat of crisp white paint through the apartment building, and that’s what Josh and his party guests gave them. We provided supplies, connections and support for the project while Josh and his wife brought their friends, pizza and a cake to celebrate his birthday.

Both parties were a great way to not only celebrate milestone birthdays but a way to give back to the community. While Lloyd and his partner Ruth made a donation to help support the costs of the project, Josh asked his friends, in lieu of gifts, to please make a donation to Behrend Builders. It was a win-win for everyone!

Keep Behrend Builders and the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service in your mind for celebrations. We can custom make a project to your wants and needs. It’s a great way to give back to the community, celebrate your birthday, bat mitzvah, retirement and have fun all at the same time. For more information contact Erica Steen at

A Time for Learning

For a recent Coastal-transplant like myself, there’s nothing more beautiful in the District right now than watching the trees change from green to yellow to red in a kaleidoscope of Crayola colors that I’ve hitherto never experienced. As autumn moves onward and the weather continues to cool, many of my fellow Avodahniks are finally settling into a comfortable routine at their job placements, getting prepared for a long winter in the office. Not so here at Behrend Builders! We’ve had five great projects here in the past three weeks alone and the work has just begun.

These five projects, all of which have been staffed almost entirely by volunteers, have required painting, sanding, caulking, scraping, taping, sweeping, scrubbing, and a whole lot of learning. As it turns out, most high school freshman have never painted anything before; consequently, most of the scrubbing that happens results from at least one student tracking green paint through three floors of white carpet (it’s like a leaf design, it’s artsy! No? ok…) As a result, I am slowly learning to adapt my leadership development experience and facilitation skills to help volunteers not only recognize their positions of privilege and explore the class differences in their community, but also to help them become empowered through properly protecting floors, ceilings, and furniture.

Nevertheless, the time I spend teaching Behrend’s volunteers about the refined art of window caulking is definitely repaid to me through the enlightening and engaging dialogues I’ve had with those same people. For instance, last weekend during Behrend Builders’ Open Build I was simultaneously painting a door and having a talk about racial identity with some young Howard University women. One woman in particular, Mary, described to me a frustrating situation that she has recently found herself in. While Mary looks African-American, she actually self-identifies as Afro-Caribbean (specifically, Haitian). She explained to me that this puts her in a strange position on campus because, while she looks African American and is thus treated as such by society, she is often excluded from African American community events on campus because she self-identifies as something else. Mary thus feels like she is unable to engage with and be supported by a campus community of people with similar experiences while maintaining her own sense of self.

This struggle to make a place for one’s self in a community while also maintaining one’s sense of self is something I struggle with all the time. Whether it’s choosing between a job with better pay or a job that lines up with my ideals, making friends with new neighbors, or even something as simple (for some) as deciding whether or not to go out with friends on Shabbat, I am constantly trying to strike a balance between building relationships with others and building a strong relationship with myself. As the autumn progresses and Behrend Builders’ projects continue, I hope that my routine, as often as it includes physical work, continues to include conversations with others that lead to more considerations and reflections like this one as well.

To New Beginnings

by Michal Rosenoer, Behrend Builders Coordinator and Avodah Fellow

I’ve picked up a lot of new identities in this past month. Not passports or aliases, but rather identity-markers like “recent graduate” and “young Jewish professional” that are both new and strange to me. Since I moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area just over a month ago, I’ve been in the process of re-writing myself and, incidentally, re-shaping the way I see the world.  

Michal Rosenoer, Avodah Fellow at Behrend BuildersBefore I go further into this note, I would like to not-so-formally introduce myself. My name is Michal Rosenoer and I am the new Program Coordinator for Behrend Builders here at the Washington DC JCC. I took over this position in early September upon my acceptance into AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, which places a fellow in this position each year. As I mentioned earlier, I just moved to the District in late August from California where I was born, raised, and attended the University of California at Berkeley (go Bears!) As I’ve begun to make the transition from one coastline to another and from college-student to professional within the last 30 days, I can honestly say that I’m currently experiencing one of the busiest and most exciting times of my (albeit short) life. So what does it feel like to pick up all these identities at once?

Emotionally exhausting.

In college, I was just your average run-of-the-mill “liberal outdoorsy female.” Now, in a city where nametags, business cards, and even zip codes are defining features of a person, I am those things and so much more. In addition to the identifiers listed above, I have also recently become an AVODAH fellow, a housemate in an intentionally-Jewish communal home, a JCC employee, and a West Coaster (commonly identified by a lack of solid footwear in inclement weather, apparently). Coming to terms with my new life here in D.C. means not only adjusting to the pressures and expectations from each of these new titles, but also asking big questions like, “what does it mean to be doing social justice work in the city’s capital,” or “how is Shabbat a radical practice,” and of course, the ever-ongoing debate, “are these shoes work-appropriate?” Some of these discussions are entirely internal, but some have been facilitated by my peers, the AVODAH staff, and of course, my new colleagues here at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center.

Right now I am struggling to answer many of these questions for myself. Sometimes I even struggle to hold them all in my head at once, but I am quickly learning that responding to these queries is an ongoing process (I think they call this personal growth); just accepting the existence of the questions and all the facets of my new life is a step in the right direction. Baby steps are key, I am told.

Fortunately, I like where these baby steps are getting me thus far. While I am still adjusting to a Hekshered-kosher vegetarian kitchen and working a 40-hour work week, I think the most daunting new identity of them all – “adult” –  is becoming a little less intimidating. I look forward to sharing part of my journey here, with the DC JCC community.

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.


Report from the Set of the DC-area Extreme Makeover Home Edition

by Erica Steen, Director of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service

After meeting the “Extreme Team” location staff last week, they enlisted our Behrend Builder volunteers to construct the plywood floors for the food tents (craft services for those of you in “the biz”). Sunday was the day and what a day it was! My colleague Randy Bacon (Behrend Builders’ Director) and I took a group of 18 volunteers to help out the Location Crew on the sets of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. It was a day to remember. We arrived at registration where we all received our hard hats and bright blue Extreme shirts. We grabbed our tools and were off to work.

There was a lot of “hurry up and wait” at first since our supplies weren’t there yet, but our drills and saws were charged and we were ready to go. It only took our rockin’ group of volunteers about an hour and a half to build the first floor that was housed under the VIP food tent. And then we waited again. What’s with these TV people anyway? Don’t they do this over and over and over again?

Ty Pennington

He Likes Me?

It was OK, we got more than we bargained for in a good way! In the sun and heat we waited and waited for the second round of supplies…meanwhile we watched Ty Pennington and his crew film the demolition of the Trip family house. It was pretty cool cheering the big honkin’ excavators.  Double-bonus, it seemed the other volunteers for the day hadn’t made it, so when the film crew needed extras…GO Washington DCJCC! Yes, we were there to step in. Our volunteers really do whatever we need of them. At one point though I did get in a bit of a kerfuffle with the guy in charge of extras. Our supplies had finally arrived and he just didn’t understand that we needed to build a floor and didn’t have so much time to mill around (yes, those were our directions) and be on camera. In the end, we got to do both. But, I don’t think he was so happy with me.

Now, there’s no telling if we’ll make air or end up on the cutting room floor, but sometime in November, you might just see a familiar Washington DCJCC volunteer or staff face on ABC.

So, I had a very busy Sunday. Together we built 3 ply-wood floors, cheered on two demolitions and helped put up a tent. Four of our volunteers filmed a scene with Paulie  (they’ll be acting like fish…watch for them) and we all counted down from 10, three different times so that they could get the best count-down for the demolition scene. And yes, for those that are interested…I did meet Ty Pennington and he made me a bracelet of twigs and leaves. I think he likes me.

Extreme Makeover Home Edition Comes to the Washington DCJCC

by Erica Steen, Director of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service

ExtremeMakeoverWaddyaknow? They actually do get the house built in 7 days. I’m not sure I would have believed it before. With all of the lights and cameras for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition I assumed they cut and spliced their way through a month or so of building and just made it look like a week. But, a week it really is. Better than that, you can see for yourself if you  join our group from the Washington DCJCC to volunteer at the Extreme Makeover work site in DC between August 22 – September 2. However, the registration deadline is Monday, August 17 at 4pm, so if you’re reading this after that, you’ll have to catch it when it airs.

The producers, builders, sponsors, donors and even some volunteers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition had a rally yesterday in the Washington DCJCC’s  Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater. Yes, we hosted the pre-show rally that brought everyone together. It was pretty cool.

For years I watched the show and it always brought me to tears. I finally stopped watching. I thought this is ridiculous; it’s reality TV that has been scripted. Well, I don’t know anything about a script, but from just sitting in our theater and listing to Conrad, the show’s Executive Producer, I was yet again in tears hearing about the difference each build makes.

As the Director of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service I know that sometimes we make just as much of an impact on our volunteers as we do on the people we are trying to help. For some reason I hadn’t thought about the impact that this show also makes. The fact that whole neighborhoods pitch-in, that volunteers are literally used around the clock (yes, 24 hours a day) and that a home, or in DC’s case, a home and community center are rebuilt, touches the lives of so many.

For a show I stopped watching because I wondered how much was true, I am back to supporting it. I look forward to getting our volunteers involved and can’t wait to be a part of making a difference and doing what we do, volunteering.

And if Ty Pennington needs help applying sunscreen to his washboard abs, I’ll gladly make myself available.

What is the Washington DCJCC? Our Departing Avodahnik Figures it Out.

by Adam Levine

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, which is about as far from Washington, DC as you can get while still in the United States. Coming from the suburbs of a mid-sized city an hour south of Seattle, I wasn’t exposed to the same American Jewish culture that a lot of other American Jews (from larger cities) grew up with. The closest JCC to me was a 45-minute drive north to Mercer Island, an affluent and very Jewish suburb of Seattle. Most of my friends from Jewish sleepover camp grew up in that area. They went to the JCC and to them it was just a part of being an American Jew. “You don’t have a JCC?” they would ask me in surprise and confusion. “You mean you don’t have a place to go to Hebrew High on Wednesday nights?” they would say.

The answer is simple: No, I did not frequent a JCC growing up. I had never heard of a Jewish Day School until I roomed with other American Jews while living in Israel. And the idea of having Jewish friends outside of those I met at summer camp was completely foreign to me. I envied my friends for having so much more exposure to a Jewish community; for being able to attend the same high school as their Jewish friends. This was something I just didn’t have growing up.

September 2nd, 2008 marked my first day of work at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. Ironically enough, it also marked the first day I ever stepped foot into a JCC. I had no idea what the JCC was and didn’t really know what to expect. The fact that the building has a gym, a preschool, a café, a theatre, an art gallery, a library, a conference hall, and numerous offices all under one roof was all too overwhelming for me. After weeks and weeks of working here I still asked myself, what is this place?

Although the answer still isn’t completely clear, I now have a much better idea of what the Washington DCJCC is and its overall mission. The DCJCC is unique unto its own. For one thing, it is only one of three urban Jewish Community Centers in the country. Aside from the abundance of programs, events and opportunities it provides, it is also a place of great diversity. I have never walked into this building only to find people of one age group, one race, or one religious background. And that’s one thing I love about this place. I love that it can bring both Jews and non-Jews together. Together for athletics, theatre productions, literature readings, community service events, parties (and the list goes on and on).

So, in some ways, there’s no wonder why I was so confused and overwhelmed when I first came here. But now I know what this place is for. This place is here to provide Jews and non-Jews alike a place for community. I place to participate in anything and everything that comes through these four walls, right in the heart of Washington, DC. For a city with so much hope, so much drive and so much diversity, the Washington DCJCC is a place that welcomes it all, and that is what I will miss most about this place.

Adam Levine spent the last year in Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps working in the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service’s Behrend Builders program.

Volunteer in DC – Unextreme Home Makeover

I think that Randy Bacon and Adam Levine have the best jobs at the Washington DCJCC.  Don’t get me wrong, I like my job. More to the point, I couldn’t do their job. Randy is the director of Behrend Builders, our year-round shelter repair program, and Adam is our Fellow from Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps. Together they run volunteer projects for the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service that perform needed improvements in homeless shelters, schools, low-income housing and community organizations all around the District of Columbia.

I am going to tell the following story, not because it is extraordinary, but because it is very, very ordinary. The kind of story that could be told any day of the week simply by asking Randy and Adam, “So, what are you up to?”


The referral came from Neighborhood Legal Services.  Peggy turned to them when a city inspector showed up at her house citing her for various code violations, fining her, and giving her seven days to make the repairs. Peggy, a senior who earns less than $12,000 a year, didn’t have the money. And seven days later the inspector would show up once more, and fine her again for the repairs which Peggy was unable to make. The next week, same story. The bill kept getting larger. This went on until Peggy had accrued $9500 in fines. More than 75% of what her total income for the year is.

Once NLS connected Peggy with Behrend Builders, Randy and Adam got to work. After about a month, this is the report.

They got a new inspector assigned to Peggy’s case and with a letter of intent to complete all repairs within 120 days, were able to stop the weekly fines from mounting up. They’ve already brought in several teams of volunteers and performed about $1500 worth of construction on her home, including replacing the stairs (pictured below), removing a crumbling retaining wall and hauling it away. Randy estimates that her property probably needs another $8,000 of repair work including sheet-rock and flooring. At some point, her roof will need to be dealt with as well.

And every week, Randy and Adam bring another group of volunteers out to Southeast and get a little more done.

steps-png-finalIt is literally Tikkun Olam. One step at a time.

To learn how you can volunteer, click here to sign up for the Volunteer View, our eNewsletter.

Remembering Katrina

One of the families helped by Behrend Builders in New Orleans with (former) Behrend Coordinator Annie Mehlman and Director Randy Bacon.

One of the families helped by Behrend Builders in New Orleans with (former) Behrend Coordinator Annie Mehlman and Director Randy Bacon.

It has been three years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans, so we sent the following questions to Randy Bacon, a New Orleans native and director of the Behrend Builders Shelter Repair program at the Washington DCJCC. Randy led a group of volunteers to New Orleans in May/June of 2006.

Where were you when Katrina hit? How did your family in New Orleans do both before and after the levees broke.
When Katrina hit New Orleans I was here in DC and watching the television non-stop to see what was going on.  My family waited until about 12 hours before the storm actually hit New Orleans before leaving.   They took 11 different cars filled with parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, spouses, nieces and nephews.  At some point I lost contact with every family member and once the storm made landfall they lost all cell phone reception.  It wasn’t until 6 days later that I was finally able to talk to one of my brothers.  He explained that everyone in my family was okay but scattered around at different hotels in different states.  He explained that they were running into problems accessing money from ATMs and wouldn’t be able to purchase food or pay for the hotels once all the cash on hand was gone.

What was it like the first time you went back to New Orleans after Katrina?

The first time I went back to New Orleans was when Behrend Builders orchestrated a volunteer project on which we took a total of 14 people from the DC area to go do some relief work in the hardest hit areas of New Orleans.  We intended on gutting 2 houses for families that had 8 to 12 feet of water inside the homes, but our volunteers pushed themselves and we did a total of 4 houses.  Each gutting job probably saved the families around $10,000 dollars per home.  We began by removing all personal items and then started at the ceiling and didn’t stop until we could see the concrete on the floor and in some cases the grass underneath the raised homes.  I have been back since and all of the houses we gutted have been repaired and are once again a HOME.

How did the Behrend Builder’s trip to New Orleans come-about?
The Behrend Builder trip came about when the previous Coordinator (Annie Mehlman) approached me to see how she could help me or my family.  I said we would be fine and she suggested we plan a relief trip to help those in need.
What do you think will happen if Gustav lands on the city? Is your family staying?

My family hasn’t made a decision on what they will do this time.   They will decide early tomorrow morning.

UPDATE: Randy emailed me this evening to say that his parents have decided to leave New Orleans and ride out the storm from a safer distance. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his parents and everyone along the Gulf Coast.

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