Repairing Homes, Repairing Lives

Mickey Levine never imagined he’d be spending his Sundays doing home construction and repairs. He’s not a professional contractor. But now? “I do it all. I’ve retiled, put in sinks, put in ramps, painted, patched ceilings,” he said. All because he answered a Federation call for volunteers to help install a floor in a group home for Jews with disabilities.

About a decade ago, members of Mickey’s local Federation created an initiative to connect their community with new opportunities for tikkun olam, repairing the world. They found a tremendous need in both Jewish and nondenominational social services organizations for facilities repairs, and they set to work.

Since that first project at the group home, both the pool of volunteers and the list of recipients have grown.

Now with a cadre of over 700 volunteers of varying skill levels, the initiative works on its own and with other rebuilding agencies to improve Federation facilities, religious buildings, senior apartments, homeless shelters and countless individual homes.

But what’s more impactful—and more personal—for volunteers is the connection they feel with the people they’re helping. Last year, Mickey and his cousin Stan helped build a two-story addition onto a house to help a girl with severe cerebral palsy more easily navigate her family’s cramped living space. “She was basically isolated from everyone in the house,” Stan said. “Just opening up the home, from a layout standpoint, allowed her to be more a part of her own family.”

And sometimes it’s simpler projects that make all the difference. “It could be a small thing—we could put a grab bar in the bathroom so someone can get into the shower,” Mickey said. “But we make a difference in one way, shape or form in someone’s life. That’s why we all do it: because we help someone.”

So what’s next for these builders? “Our latest focus is on b’nai mitzvah children,” Stan said. “We need to get these kids thinking about how they can give back to the community. You can do something. You don’t have to wait. You are actually able to make a real difference. And that message is resonating.”