We Asked You To Drive, And You Did

by Erica Steen, director of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service at the Washington DCJCC

Bone Marrow DonationsHave you ever had an experience that at the time didn’t seem like much but afterwards you were flabbergasted by it? That’s what last week’s Bone Marrow Drive was like.

At 4:00pm 8 volunteers arrived. They discussed the plan for the evening and how they would organize themselves along with the supplies. They hung up a banner, set out fliers and questionnaires and took the time to register themselves.

I got nervous, it was pouring rain. Would anyone really come out of their way to swab their cheek with an extra large cotton swab? Gift of Life had sent us 100 kits to register donors and after 150 people registered in-advance to stop-by we called and asked for more. Our contact giggled and said we were very ambitious and that 100 would be plenty. In fact he reminded us to send back the unused kits along with those that had been filled out. To ease our minds a bit, one of the volunteers had an extra 25 kits from a drive she’d run. She brought them just in case.

The evening ran like clockwork. A stead flow of community members came in, asked the front desk where to go and then headed over to the J café area to fill out their paperwork and swab. Some people asked what motivated the drive and many of the volunteers spoke of their friend Elissa, a vibrant 26 year old living in our community. Everyone was cheerful, feeling good about being a part of this effort and to be out of the torrential rain outside.

Congresswoman Donna EdwardsThere was steady flow of registrants from throughout the DC area. We even had a VIP guest, Congresswoman Donna Edwards stopped by to add her name to the Bone Marrow Registry. It was nice to know the word spread!

And believe it or not, by 7:00 pm, 125 kits had been completed and we were having to turn people away. OK, we didn’t actually turn them away; we invited them back on September 15 for our Patriot’s Day event that will include among other things, a bone marrow registration.

After leaving the event, it hit me. What a wonderful thing our community did. In a matter of 2 hours we added 125 names to the National Bone Marrow Registry. Without batting an eye! Through word of mouth, the Washington DCJCC website and Facebook we may have saved a life. My fingers are crossed; let’s hope we’ve found a match for Elissa and maybe someone else. You never know!


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.


Sheryl A. Rosenthal z”l

Sheryl Rosenthal z'l

Sad news from our friend Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi who sent us the following rememberance:

Sheryl A. Rosenthal, 50, co-founder of the Washington District of Columbia Jewish Community Center’s Community Service Program died Tuesday, January 5, 2010. Sheryl’s vision and persistence initiated a program where Jewish volunteers went regularly to visit AIDS babies at DC General Hospital. At the time most people with AIDs had a short life expectancy.  Many wrongly thought that AIDS could be easily caught by touching someone’s skin. Thus, AIDS babies – often children of parents who got AIDs through infected needles – were all too often abandoned.

Sheryl loved children.  Her goal in the program was to show these babies love and warmth – no matter their potential life expectancy. She worked with the hospital to get them to allow the volunteers to come – not such an easy task. Then she recruited volunteers and went through the challenging process of explaining that the risks of volunteers getting AIDS from holding the babies was not real. Sheryl planned activities and got stuffed animals to give out to the kids. She created warmth and love for babies whose existence basically was one of cold white rooms in a sad public hospital for poor people. Because of Sheryl these babies had a little dignity, some great hugs and smiles in their lives. She made a real difference. She showed them that they mattered.

During Sheryl’s involvement in the Washington DCJCC Community Service Program it was recognized as a “Best Program in North America” by Moment Magazine. It also was made a “Point of Light” by President George H.W. Bush.  To Sheryl though it was just a part of her way of making the world a better place.

May her family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
May her memory be for a blessing.


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