For the past 34 years, a modest crew of volunteers has been helping elderly and disabled residents of Bergen County stay right where they want to be – home.
The handymen and women of the Volunteer Center of Bergen County’s Chore Program travel around the county performing minor repairs and installations that allow residents to safely stay in their homes.
“Our most popular request is installing grab bars in bathrooms, but we also fix leaky faucets, flip mattresses, hang curtains, do minor electrical work, take air conditioners and screens in and out, fix drawers and cabinets, install smoke detectors, and other projects like that,” said John Gardner, a Mahwah resident who has been volunteering with Chore since he retired in 2005.
Gardner, a former teacher in Ridgewood, said the program has three vans that go out everyday, responding to calls of county residents. Each van has a crew of two to four volunteers, and every volunteer dedicates one day a week, from about 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Each van gets in an average of three to five jobs a day, he said.
“Our clients are not charged for labor, only for parts, so it is a tremendous savings for them, especially since so many of the people we help are on fixed incomes."
However, for the clients, saving money is not the best thing about their friendly, helpful Chore visitors.
“They have been an immeasurable help to me – installing grab bars, hanging my drapes, fixing the freezer, cabinet doors, the handles on the microwave," said Marie Penna, A Mahwah resident who suffered several mini strokes a few years ago. "I don’t know what I would have done without them,”
“My husband died, and I came to the point where I had to make a decision of going to a nursing home or staying here," continued Penna, who has lived in her home for 60 years. "With Chore’s help, I was able to stay in my house."
“That’s the thing about it,” Gardner said. “Some of these people have lived in their homes for so long. And these facilities are new and beautiful, but they’re not home. I’m happy every time we can help someone stay home.”
Gardner said the most rewarding part of his weekly volunteer work is interacting with his clients.
“The clients are always just so happy to see you, and they are so grateful," he said. "They often request the same crew they’ve had in the past, and you build relationships with them. Knowing you’re helping them is the most satisfying part.”
Gardner also said he has forged relationships with the other members of his crew, whom he didn’t know before joining the Chore Program.
“It sounds clichéd, but it’s true, you really do get so much more out of it than you put into it,” he said.
According to the Volunteer Center of Bergen County, every year Chore serves 2,000 clients, completes over 4,000 repairs and logs in over 10,000 hours of service. But the Center always needs more volunteers to help keep up with the repairs.
They are looking for handypeople who are either retired or have flexible schedules, or who are interested in back-up handyman work.
For more information on volunteering, to make a monetary donation to the program, or to schedule a repair, call (201) 489-7790.