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March 11, 2010

Rebuilding Together comes to Blair

by Jenny Sholar, Managing Features Editor
A new school chapter of Rebuilding Together recently began efforts to assist local low-income homeowners through home repair and assistance.

The club, which first met on Feb. 25, will work with an affiliated chapter at Bethesda-Chevy Chase (B-CC) to assist an elderly woman with a condemned home on National Rebuilding Day, April 24 this year, according to social studies teacher and club sponsor Margaret Jessell.

Across the country, Rebuilding Together repairs approximately 10,000 homes a year, according to Lee Shaw, director of development for Rebuilding Together Montgomery County. The Montgomery County chapter rebuilt 112 homes and buildings for seven nonprofit organizations in 2009, said Shaw.

National Rebuilding Day volunteers repaired roughly 7,500 homes and buildings throughout the country in the past year, said Shaw. “The idea is to blitz repair,” she said. “We do a lot of work in a short amount of time.”

Together with B-CC, the Blair group will make their assigned home livable again. “We’ll be repairing and partially rebuilding her house,” said Jessell.

Because the club is sharing the house with B-CC, it will receive just one time slot on National Rebuilding Day, meaning that only 15 to 20 Blazers will be able to volunteer, said senior club member Mehrit Tekeste.
Students will receive student service learning hours for their work, which may include tasks like painting, cleaning up debris, repairing roof leaks and yard work, said Tekeste.

Jessell first found out about the organization when the sponsor of B-CC’s chapter e-mailed other teachers in the county, inviting them to get involved at their own schools. Members of the Psychology Club, which Jessell also sponsors, had previously expressed interest in service work, so Jessell agreed to start a Rebuilding Together club at Blair.

The nationwide Rebuilding Together also sponsors a number of community-oriented projects throughout the year, as well as organizing a fall rebuilding day. The Blair chapter plans to focus mostly on the spring project day, said Jessell, but Tekeste hopes that in upcoming years the club will expand their reach.

The Blair chapter is teaming up with B-CC because when Blair’s club formed, it was too late for Blair to organize and raise funds for a project of its own. The cost of a project ranges from $1,500 to $2,500, said Jessell.

The funds pay for building supplies and professional services if Rebuilding Together cannot secure skilled volunteers for electrical, plumbing and other skilled jobs, said Shaw.

After April 24, the club will plan for next year’s project. The group hopes to work on its own house next year, Jessel said.

Tekeste said that she also hopes the club will grow and gain support in the future. “My goal for this year is to get the club out there,” she said. “We want to get a lot of people involved.”

Rebuilding Together was started in 1973 in Texas, when a church group decided to assist an older woman living in the community by spending an entire weekend repairing her house, said Shaw. The group modified the concept of “barn raising,” where an entire community comes together to construct a neighbor’s home, to modern needs.

According to Shaw, the national headquarters opened in Washington, D.C., in 1988 and the first Montgomery County chapter of the organization opened the following year.

Other local schools and institutions involved with Rebuilding Together include Magruder, Georgetown Preparatory Academy, Montgomery College and the University of Maryland-College Park, said Shaw.

The Rebuilding Together club meets Thursdays during 5A lunch. For more information, see Ms. Jessell in room 147.



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