When Bonim was created in 2002, it brought together volunteers of all skill levels to fix, renovate, and refurbish homes for Jewish families and individuals who could not afford to do it themselves.
Over the years, the group’s mission has not changed, though the number of individuals, families, and groups it helps has grown each year, surpassing 100 at last count. What has changed, however, is Bonim’s official home.
As of July 1, Bonim — formally called Bonim Builders, though “bonim,” in fact, means builders — will become part of the Jewish Home Family, based in Rockleigh, moving from its longtime home at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
Carol Silver Elliott, president and CEO of Jewish Home Family, sees the new placement as “ideal.”
“We have an organization under our umbrella, Jewish Home at Home, that is responsible for home- and community-based services, geriatric care management, medical day care, and private duty home care,” she said. “Home modification is a vital part of helping people age in community.” And that — helping people age in community — is Bonim’s specialty,” Ms. Elliott said.
“We had already been talking about expanding our Jewish Home at Home,” she added. “Research shows how significant a role home modification plays in keeping people safe at home. Older adults can stay in their homes for as long as 13 additional months from simple things like grab bars and changing the lighting, so that the path from the bed to the bathroom is clear.”
Other improvements might include installing outdoor accessibility ramps and railings, installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and winterizing houses.
When the opportunity arose to add Bonim to their suite of services, the Jewish Home happily embraced it, Ms. Elliott said. “As changes were taking place at federation and there was an opportunity for Bonim to become part of the Jewish Home organization, we saw it as an ideal step.”
Ms. Elliott said that Stacey Orden, Bonim’s project coordinator, will move the operation to Rockleigh, as an employee of the Jewish Home, but Bonim itself will continue to rely on volunteers. “The model doesn’t change,” she said, noting that the builders group already has done significant work for the Jewish Home, following up on referrals made by geriatric care managers.
Ms. Orden said the upcoming move “dovetails with the Bonim mission. Jewish Home at Home is designed to help the elderly meet the challenges of aging in one’s own home — helping seniors remain at home, well cared for, and secure, while maintaining the highest level of independence and quality of life.”
Bonim shares those goals. With the tagline “Repairing the World, One House at a Time,” the organization uses its members’ skills to build and rehabilitate facilities for low-income families, the physically disabled, and seniors in the northern New Jersey area.
“We’ll essentially be continuing our mission,” Ms. Orden said, noting that Bonim will “continue to do projects that we’ve been traditionally tackling,” helping in emergency situations — think Hurricane Sandy, or less dramatically, meeting seasonal needs. Those needs include putting up sukkot, performing critical repairs and renovations for low-income home owners, and assisting other nonprofit agencies.
“We’ll continue to welcome volunteers of all skill levels, from an experienced contractor to a novice,” Ms. Orden said. “Our more experienced volunteers try to teach the lesser-skilled what they know to improve their skills.”
Bonim also will continue helping bar and bat mitzvah students find volunteer opportunities with the “many local agencies who are in need of repairs, landscaping, painting, and who do not have the funds to perform these tasks. The bar/bat mitzvah child can roll up his or her sleeves and be part of the planning from the ground up.”
As it happens, much of Bonim’s work is with the elderly “so the work we do is much more aligned with the work of the Jewish Home at Home,” said Ms. Orden, who approached Ms. Elliott in December to discuss a possible move.
Ms. Orden, who started out with Bonim as a volunteer, said the federation’s newly formed Volunteer Center will help the building group find new workers.
“We’re looking forward to collaborating with the center and continuing to engage with volunteers who are interested in performing tikkun olam,” she said. In addition, since the Jewish Home is considered a beneficiary of the federation, “we’ll still be part of the federation family,” she said. She already has begun packing up and moving her files and her tools, she added
Scott Leibowitz, JFNNJ’s managing director of marketing and communications, said that the move is a “really good fit, especially since Bonim’s focus is increasingly where the Jewish Home focus is,” helping the elderly homebound.
A statement from the federation noted that “Hundreds of committed Bonim Builders’ volunteers — teens and adults alike — have performed critical repairs and renovations over the last 14 years. Additionally, Bonim Builders has worked with many local non-profit agencies to benefit individuals and groups in need of help. Bonim Builders will continue to work with these agencies as they move to their new offices at Jewish Home at Home.”