Whether it’s a broken heating system or a leaky roof, a house in need of critical repair can be debilitating and dangerous. For many, repairing their house is as simple as calling a roofer or plumber. But for some, house repairs are too costly and therefore, delayed.
Roger Rothman of Rockville, Maryland, has been working to fix that. By volunteering with Rebuilding Together Montgomery County (RTMC) for the past 30 years, Roger has helped to provide critical home repairs to the community’s most vulnerable homeowners, including seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and others.
Roger first became involved with RTMC in the early 1990s through his synagogue, Temple Beth Ami.
“I saw a flyer asking for volunteers to come and work on a house,” the 72-year-old said. “So I went down and worked for 4-5 hours on this very old house in downtown Washington, D.C., and I kind of got hooked.”
Since then, Roger has signed up to volunteer every year, climbing the ranks to become Assistant House Captain in the late 1990s, then House Captain in 2001 — a position he continues to hold today. He has also served as a board member and board president.
“Being a House Captain is kind of like being the general contractor. I find the volunteers, coordinate the purchase of materials,” Roger said. “I am not super skilled in construction. I would not be able to replace a roof or repair a challenging electrical or plumbing project, but what I am good at is organizing and leadership.”
So far, Roger has volunteered for 40 home repair projects, including one for a homeowner who uses a wheelchair, a renovation that’s especially memorable to Roger.
“When we got to the house that this man had lived in for many years, we found that there was no safe way for him to leave his home. There was a piece of plywood put down as a ramp, but it was really dangerous for him to leave his house that way,” Roger said. “The bathroom was also not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.”
After seeing all the difficulties this homeowner was facing, Roger and his team went to work. They built a wheelchair ramp. They widened the bathroom door, built him a roll-in shower and installed grab bars next to the toilet.
House repairs of this magnitude usually take weeks, but Roger and his team complete most projects in three days, working on just the Sundays of the last two weeks of April and the first Sunday of May.
“By the end of the third Sunday, I’m exhausted. It’s intense,” Roger said. “We start working at 8:00 in the morning till 6:00 in the afternoon, all day long. But when we have the emotional, positive feedback from the homeowners, it’s worth it.”
Another reason he keeps coming back to volunteer is because of the change he can see before his eyes.
“I’m a mental health clinical social worker. And a lot of the times, I work with people for a long, long time. But working on a house, within two hours, we’ve cut the bush down or painted the front of the house or installed a toilet. It starts happening right away, so having that tangible result at the end of three weeks is also extremely gratifying.”
On top of his volunteer work as a House Captain, Roger has raised thousands of dollars in donations for RTMC by sending out an annual year-end appeal letter to his family and friends. He also recruits new volunteers from his synagogue and circle of friends.
“Roger is like our North Star,” said Maury Peterson, executive director of RTMC. “He’s inspiring to everybody he volunteers with…. And our homeowners love working with him because he takes the time to listen to what they need and makes them feel comfortable. He really is the embodiment of our mission.”
Even with 30 years of volunteering under his belt, Roger shows no sign of slowing down. His advice for those wanting to start volunteering is to just show up.
“You don’t have to be a master plumber or carpenter. Just show up and we’ll find something for you to do.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Roger? Find local volunteer opportunities.