By Chris Little
Rebuilding Together Frederick County mobilizes volunteers to revitalize homes, neighborhoods and the spirit of community
Imagine you’ve just spent the weekend raking leaves, mowing the yard or making multiple trips to Lowe’s to buy supplies to replace frayed weather stripping or fix a leaky toilet. It takes a lot of work — and cash — to keep up with your home maintenance. But what if you couldn’t afford to do that? Or what if you simply weren’t physically able?For some low-income homeowners, financial or physical constraints can lead to deteriorating, unsafe conditions in their houses, to the point where some lose their homes entirely. But each year on the last Saturday in April, volunteers with Rebuilding Together Frederick County (RTFC), a local affiliate of the national nonprofit organization Rebuilding Together, fan out across the county to provide free home repair and renovation services in observance of a somewhat obscure holiday known as National Rebuilding Day. Armed with rakes and paintbrushes, these community volunteers pitch in together to spruce up the residences of neighbors who aren’t able to do the work themselves.
“Typically, we do about 10 to 12 homes a year,” says RTFC board president Bill Raymond, vice president of Summit Construction, Inc. in Frederick. He has been volunteering with RTFC for nearly seven years. “Our projects range from putting handrails [on fixtures] in a bathroom to painting, to energy improvements like caulking and weather stripping.”
Most of RTFC’s clients are elderly, but the group also reaches out to low-income military veterans and families with young children. Homeowners must have incomes that fall below the federal poverty line to qualify, and they must submit an application.
RTFC receives about 20 applications annually, says RTFC board treasurer Jennifer Barrett, an auditor with the Frederick accounting group McLean, Koehler, Sparks & Hammond. The challenge is putting the money together to do the work — which typically costs about $2,000 per house. “We have lots of great people in the community who are willing to help,” she says, “but, unfortunately, it’s been difficult to raise the funds to support the work we want to do at these homes.”
RTFC receives no funding from the national organization, although it’s eligible for grants from the group’s sponsorship partners. Still, “those donations have really dwindled in recent years,” Raymond observes. “It’s hard to serve everyone in need.” He’s grateful for local support from the Ausherman Family Foundation and The Community Foundation of Frederick County.
Frederick-area contractor Mike Jacobs has been working with RTFC for three years, leading a crew of volunteers from St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Libertytown. “We usually start out at eight o’clock,” he says. “I have all the materials there on site. I set assignments out according to what people can do.” Some volunteers come equipped with technical skills in plumbing or wiring, but most just bring elbow grease and a willingness to help out. The group puts in a full day, usually working until 4 p.m. Thanks to donations from local groceries like Food Lion, Wegmans and Weis Markets, no one goes hungry.
Not surprisingly, volunteers report that they’re more than repaid for their efforts. “One of the best things is the instant gratification of knowing that you helped somebody out who’s less fortunate,” says Jacobs. “It’s the look on their face when you’re done with the whole project.”
Barrett echoes that sentiment adding, “Everybody is really appreciative. The homeowners try to help out every way they can. It’s a great group.”
All that good will lends a festive atmosphere to Rebuilding Day. “A lot of times, we’ll have 20 to 50 volunteers on a job,” says Raymond, noting that it’s not unusual for groups to gather at one of the job sites at the end of the day for barbecue and live music.
That sense of community is important to Walkersville contractor Joey Romagnoli. He got involved with RTFC 18 years ago through his church, All Saints’ Episcopal, in Frederick. “It’s a bonding thing. We’re doing something good, and then the next day, we’re all wearing our Rebuilding Together T-shirts and we’re all feeling good,” he says.
Romagnoli brings his local Boy Scout troop to do work on the sites as well. He notes that RTFC is unique for welcoming youth and families to volunteer. “It’s been an excellent opportunity for fathers and sons and mothers and daughters to be side by side working on a project and teaching the kids how to paint, how to fix a leak,” he observes.
But the point, of course, is helping those in need. Raymond is still stunned at times by the poverty he sees. “I’m a lifelong Frederick County resident. I always thought Frederick County was pretty well off, and everybody kind of got along, and you don’t see poverty firsthand,” he says. “But it’s right around the corner from where I live now, from where I grew up, from where I work. These are good people. They just need help.”
You Can Help Rebuild Frederick County, Too
Want to find out more about volunteering with Rebuilding Together Frederick County? Maybe you’d like to help underwrite some of the costs of revitalizing a home? Check out the group’s website at www.rebuildingtogetherfrederick.org.
The Frederick Giving Project Serves the Community By Being a Community of Good-Humored Givers
By Chris Little
Photos by Casey Martin
Could be that when you hear the word philanthropist, what pops into your head is a stodgy old One Percenter writing a big check to a dusty museum in exchange for his name on a brass plate in the lobby. Well, time to think again. At The Frederick Giving Project, the philanthropists are young. They’re not (necessarily) wealthy, and they’re too busy having snowball fights, kickball games and happy hours to even consider being stuffy. Oh yeah – they’re also making a real difference in the Frederick community through both their financial largesse and volunteerism. Not a brass plate in sight.
Here’s how it works: $100 makes you a member of The Frederick Giving Project (i.e., a “Giver”). The Giving Project pools all Giver contributions into an account at the Community Foundation of Frederick County, the tax-exempt umbrella organization that manages assets for a variety of local charitable funds. Then, once a year, Givers vote to choose a local nonprofit as their beneficiary (“Grantee”). Givers also commit to some volunteer work for that nonprofit during the next calendar year.
The concept, known as a “giving circle,” is becoming an increasingly popular way for like-minded people of modest means to make an impact in causes they care about. Although there’s no age requirement, The Frederick Giving Project targets young professionals connected to the Frederick community.
“We say you have to be young at heart,” explains Rebecca Southers, chair of the group (or, according to its website, “Empress”). “If our events appeal to you – our happy hours and general silliness, everything from a community-wide snowball fight to a supper club – you’re our target audience. We do tend to be irreverent in our philanthropy. If you want to give back to your community playfully, you might want to check us out.”
Southers founded The Frederick Giving Project with an old friend from Hood College, Melissa Sines, with whom she reconnected at a nonprofit seminar. “We were both sitting in a workshop about giving circles, talking about them theoretically. It sounded like what I was searching for, and I was so excited about it,” Southers says.
At one point, she saw Sines on the other side of the room raise her hand to ask a question, prefacing it with: “I’ve heard a lot about giving circles and I’ve always wanted to start one ….”
That’s when lightning struck for Southers. “I looked at her and thought, ‘We are doing this.’” Southers tracked down Sines afterward, and within the month, the two were planning how to set up a giving circle in Frederick, and they were pulling in other people.
That was March 2009. Southers and Sines, now the group’s vice chair (“Organizer Extraordinaire”), set up a fund at the Community Foundation and threw their launch party in December 2009. The two gathered members and donations throughout 2010, and by that December, the group’s Givers awarded $8,000 to Cakes for Cause. In 2011, the group volunteered at Cakes for Cause, which provides job and life skills training to youth aging out of foster care through internships at the Moxie Bakery & Café on North Market Street. They also staffed its farmer’s market stand and hosted happy hours and supper clubs at Moxie to raise funds for their grantee.
“Generally what the Giving Project does is make philanthropy accessible for younger people,” says Cakes for Cause Executive Director Elin Ross. “It gives young people who may not have been exposed to philanthropy an opportunity to figure out what fits for them.”
Since the young professionals running the Giving Project come from the nonprofit world and are deeply familiar with the travails of grant writing, the group strives to make it as easy as possible for a nonprofit to become a Grantee. They start by soliciting a one-page letter of inquiry, then winnow them down to five finalists who are invited to submit a detailed proposal. Abbreviated versions are sent to Givers via an email survey. Each Giver gets one vote, no matter how much he or she has donated.
Out of 27 applicants last year, the group voted to make the Frederick Arts Council their 2012 grantee, donating more than $8,000 and volunteering in any capacity, including staffing the Frederick Festival of the Arts.
“Working with the Giving Project is pretty exceptional,” says Susie Miller, the arts council’s acting executive director. “Not only do they provide funds, which are greatly appreciated, but more so, they volunteer their time and their expertise. That, for a nonprofit organization, is huge.” Miller notes that the Giving Project’s up-and-coming philanthropists’ willingness to commit their time and money to a local nonprofit is one aspect that sets this giving circle apart from other organizations. “It’s a great partnership. They’re using their knowledge and enthusiasm to help not just this nonprofit, but all the nonprofits they work with,” she says.
Southers believes The Frederick Giving Project serves the Frederick community in another way too. “People in our generation want to feel connected,” she says. “We commute long distances and converse virtually. There’s a common feeling that we’ve lost connection, and a deep need to reestablish it.” Staying connected to a giving circle fulfills that desire for community, Southers says. “Just donating to a charity is so abstract. This is a social network of people who care and want to help. It’s a way to build friendships with other giving people.”
For more information about The Frederick Giving Project, its events and ways to get involved, visit www.frederickgivingproject.org.
Honoring Frederick Professionals while raising funds
By Sally Alt
Photos by David Arthur
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s campaign proves that successful fundraising is possible even in a tough economy. The foundation recently celebrated the completion of a four-month campaign called Frederick’s Finest, in which 10 young professionals raised funds to cure cystic fibrosis. The fundraisers were honored by the foundation at a gala at the Linganore Winecellars on November 11 in Mount Airy.
Local Rotarians change lives, give hope and act selflessly
By Mary Ellen Mitchell
Photos furnished by Frederick Rotarians
German beer, music and food? Bring it on! For nine years, Frederick has toasted its German sister cities, Schifferstadt and Morzheim, with an Oktoberfest celebration of its own. This year will be no different.
But the event isn’t only about reveling. Oktoberfest is one of the largest annual events that any Frederick County
Rotary club sponsors. Six hundred volunteers gave about 3,500 hours and raised more than $100,000 after expenses in two days during the 2010 Oktoberfest, says Jasmine Sneed, Frederick business development consultant and Rotary Club of Carroll Creek’s Oktoberfest sponsorship and marketing committee/PR chair.