Rebuilding Together Jersey City

Last April, Bill and Nancy Barry of Jersey City, welcomed three dozen volunteer workers into their home. The workers were there to do much needed repairs on the Barry’s home as part of a program called Rebuilding Together Jersey City. Bill Barry is retired and his wife Nancy is disabled. By the time the day was over the volunteer workers had built a small bathroom for Nancy, painted, installed new windows and cabinets and accomplished a dozen other repairs. “When we first applied for the program they asked us what our wish list would be when it came to work on our house. They surpassed our wildest dreams when it came to the amount of work they did for us,” Mr. Barry said. Both Nancy and Bill Barry are deeply grateful for the work done on their home and think that Rebuilding Together Jersey City is a wonderful program. “They were just so friendly and courteous to us and they never treated us like we were a charity case or anything like that, we even tried to give them a donation but they wouldn’t hear of it,” Mr. Barry explained. “These are really wonderful people, which make it a wonderful program.” A few weeks after the work was completed on their home the Barry’s sent a letter thanking Rebuilding Together Jersey City and said, “You made our golden years platinum.”

On Saturday, April 14th, hundreds of caring citizens and employees of companies in Hudson County and elsewhere will volunteer their time to do much needed repairs on other homes in Jersey City. Rebuilding Together Jersey City is part of a national program, Rebuilding Together, the nation’s largest volunteer-based provider of home-repair services. For over a decade their mission has been to rehabilitate the homes of low-income, elderly or disabled persons, or families with children, at no cost to them, so they may live in safety, warmth and independence. This year it’s marking the rehabilitation of its 100,000th house with a six-month-plus celebration that highlights rebuilding events in cities and communities throughout America.

The “100,000th House Celebration,” which involves the participation of affiliates across the nation, was launched Oct. 14, 2006, the celebration will culminate with media events across the country on National Rebuilding Day, April 28, 2007. The goal is to focus attention on the work done by more than 3 million volunteers and the delivery of approximately $1 billion in home rehabilitation services since the creation of Rebuilding Together 18 years ago.

Joan Kowalski, the co-president of Rebuilding Together Jersey City, has been involved with the program for eleven years, along with her husband. This year, Ms. Kowalski expects at least five hundred or more volunteers, which has been the average for the past five years. “We get the local unions, businesses, law firms, developers, banks, and financial firms. And of course we get individual volunteers from around the area. We are very grateful for the support from companies and individuals.” The staging area where volunteers meet is St. Patrick’s School on Bramhall Avenue in Jersey City. “They allow us to store our supplies there as well as allow us to use the school as a staging area for our volunteers. And, we actually do work on the school as well,” Ms. Kowalski said.

When it comes to why people and companies do volunteer work like this in their own community Ms. Kowalski believes it’s just being good neighbors. “It’s great team building. It’s a way to see no matter what kind of projects you are working on that you need to come together as a team to complete the project and it’s truly helping your neighbor. I think people really learn to take stock and appreciate what they have when they go into the homes they are working on and see how some people are living.”

There is a pre-screening application each year available to Jersey City homeowners who are interested in being considered for the program. “We look at the financials and make sure they fit our mission and then we go to the house and create a wish list. As people age we really like to keep them in their homes so we try to fix their houses for both comfort and safety,” Ms. Kowalski explained. This year Rebuilding Together Jersey City received thirty-four applications. They expect to repair eleven homes and three or four not-for profits.

Rebuilding Together Jersey City would not be possible without the financial help of a number of local and national businesses and organizations like the Jerramiah T. Healy Charitable Foundation for a Better Jersey City. The foundation is a non-profit with the mission to help needy individuals and causes within the city limits. True to that mission, the foundation recently gave Rebuilding Together Jersey City, a generous grant.

Provident Bank, a responsible business neighbor in Hudson County for years has also been a sponsor in supporting Rebuilding Together Jersey City for about ten years. Mike Parcell, a vice president at Provident Bank in Jersey City has been involved in the program with other Provident employees. “Each year Provident donates money to Rebuilding Together Jersey City. We also have employees of Provident who give their time and work on renovating one of the homes. It’s a great cause, and it just makes people feel good.”

One of the most generous grants (30,000 dollars) came from the Jersey City Division of Community Development. Ms. Darice Toon-Bell, its director, believes that Rebuilding Together Jersey City is a very worthwhile program. “This program helps low income families, disabled people and senior citizens to make critical repairs to their homes and without this assistance these homeowners would probably not be able to bring their properties up to code.” JC Division of Community Development which handles both federal and state entitlement grants has been helping this program for a number of years. “We give them money to help purchase supplies for repairs, and the wonderful thing about this is that we get a lot of bang for the buck. We give them what I would consider a small amount of money but they are able to leverage this money with sweat equity, which is the bottom line. It’s a perfect marriage.”

Some of the other local institutions that volunteer their time and donate money are United Water, Morgan Stanley, Pershing, Honeywell and others.

If you are interested in volunteering your time or donating money for Rebuilding Together Jersey City please call 201-222-2636 for more information

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