Last April, 29-year old volunteer Sam Master was ready to get his hands dirty for some strenuous home repair work for senior citizens in Northeast Philadelphia. Instead, Sam and his NextGen friends were a little surprised — and touched — to spend much of their day doing just basic home maintenance, like putting in air conditioning units and window screens, changing light bulbs and flipping mattresses. “Just sort of little things a lot of us take for granted when we’re young and healthy,” he says, which made the volunteers especially glad to help. The best part, he remembers, was just talking to the homeowners — people who are often isolated and glad to chat with a new friend.
“One older gentleman had lived in his house for like 50 years, but now he was unable to take care of it the way he always had,” says Sam. “He was so appreciative that we would walk into a stranger’s house, help him, have a conversation with him and treat him like the person he was.”
Pennsylvania has one of the nation’s highest older adult populations and in Philadelphia, much of those that are low-income (earning less than $35,000 annually) are concentrated in the Northeast. As these seniors age in their homes, they often have trouble doing routine maintenance. To enable seniors to remain at home and live independently, the Jewish Federation deploys a robust network of volunteers to provide the necessary resources. NextGen, the Jewish Federation’s affinity group for ages 21-45, helps to lead the effort with its Rebuild project. Now in its 4th year, NextGen Rebuild’s partnership with the Northeast NORC and KleinLife community center brings together a critical mass of volunteers to help residents and their homes prepare for the changing seasons.
On Sunday September 17th, NextGen will partner with Northeast NORC, KleinLife, Habitat for Humanity for its next Rebuild Project. JFRE, Jewish Federation’s real estate affinity, has generously provided a $40,000 donation to facilitate the daylong effort. In order to prepare homes for winter in the Bells Corner neighborhood of Northeast Philly, more than 100 volunteers will roll up their sleeves. While seven homes are in need of extensive repair, NextGen ensures there is always a project for everyone at any skill level.
Volunteer Sam Master affirms that the end result is worth it. “It was fun. At the end of the day we were exhausted, but you have a special feeling of having accomplished something important for someone else,” he says. “You don’t even realize how important it is.”