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Spotlight on a [Re]Builder: Roger Rothman

Roger Rothman (pictured above on the far right) is a treasure in our organization and a longtime friend of RTMC. A psychotherapist by profession and a DMV resident for 46 years, Roger moved to Montgomery County in 1978 and became involved with RTMC soon after. For more than a quarter of a century, Roger’s dedication to furthering our mission and serving vulnerable homeowners has been astounding. Over the years, Roger has served in a variety of volunteer capacities, including House Captain, RTMC Board Member and Board President. He leads volunteers from his synagogue, Temple Beth Ami, every year during National Rebuilding Day and,together, they have helped countless neighbors in need over the years. Roger even sends out an annual year end appeal to his friends and family to encourage them to donate to RTMC. Thanks to Roger’s efforts, thousands of funds have been raised to support our mission. 

We spoke with Roger last week about his instrumental role in RTMC, here is what he had to say:

Q: How did you become involved with RTMC?

RR: I became involved with my synagogue, Temple Beth Ami, located in Rockville and they have a very large social action and social justice focus. Through them, I connected with RTMC, which was at the time called Christmas in April. There were many different service projects. For one of them, we had a group to repair someone’s house- and that sounded like a really cool opportunity to try something working with the temple but also in the community to do something worthwhile. And so I went down there and worked for about 4-5 hours on a Sunday afternoon in ‘92 or ‘93 and I really enjoyed it. I am a psychotherapist, and sometimes in my work the results are not evident immediately. It takes time. But by the end of the day this job was done. I could walk out of that house and say that I really helped, and there is a tangible result of it. That really interested me and hooked me into the idea. 

Q: What positions have you held within RTMC?

RR: Every subsequent year I would sign up to volunteer. The current House Captain at the time noticed my enthusiasm and picked up on my interest in volunteering. That’s when I became Assistant House Captain for a few years in the end of the 90’s. Then around 2001, I assumed the position of House Captain. Now I have held that position for over 20 years. I was also a RTMC Board member from 2009-2011. 

Q: What do you like about volunteering with us?

RR: My skills in construction and planning are marginal. What has made this really work for me has been finding people who fit the roles we need within the group. They do very good and complicated work on very needed projects. I’m not a trained carpenter or plumber, but I’ve been good at finding skilled people. People who I would trust to fix my own house. I’ve also been able to connect us with strong leaders and donors. We’ve been able to get material and monetary donations to complete heavy projects. We have been completing heavy projects for 15 years and are known as one of the groups who can get heavy projects done. 

Q: How would you like to see RTMC develop moving forward?

RR: Normally at the beginning of March my Co-Captains and I would be going to homes, talking to homeowners, and figuring out how to put projects together. This time last year we were at a gentleman’s house trying to see what we could do to help him but the project was shut down. What I’ve been thinking about is how we will be able to do this moving forward. On a given Sunday with the synagogue we would get 30-40 people to volunteer but we can’t do that currently. We’re going to figure out what to do and it’ll have to be different. 

Something I would like to see in the future of RTMC is working on finding as many green approaches to home repairs as possible to help people reduce their utility bills and reduce other matters that we can prevent financially from happening to them. I’ve walked into houses where people have astronomical utility bills because they don’t have enough insulation, or they have broken pipes and leaks. 

In Judaism we have a call to protect the planet through these green initiatives and charitable acts. Tikkun Olam is a tenet of Judaism. It  is a Hebrew phrase that translates to world repair, or repair of the world. One way that I might understand it is world repair through human actions in all communities. It’s not just world repair in the Jewish community, its world repair in the community of all societies. 

Q: What keeps you coming back to support and volunteer with us?

The thing that keeps me coming back goes in two directions. One of them being that i have never worked with a better group of volunteers than what we have. These are people who would do anything. I sent a guy into a pit underneath a house to install a pipe about 10 years ago that was the most disgusting area you had ever seen, but this is an example of what our people are willing to do. We have a really great team of planners who have a good time doing this and do a lot of good stuff. 

The other thing is that we have done some fantastic repairs on houses that were in really dire need of service. Sometimes we bring in high schoolers who are used to middle class surroundings. When they come into houses that haven’t had heat or are in disrepair, you can tell they’ve never seen anything like it and it changes their perspective. Coming back every year is two fold. It is very rewarding to see these projects work out and be successful but we also see a huge impact on the homeowners and volunteers involved. Everyone is incredibly grateful. That’s what brings my volunteers back too. In order to have good volunteers you have to have a good volunteer experience, which we have. Everyone is coming from a different background but we come together for a collaborative community building experience.