NJMS Orthopaedics Department Builds A House
You could say the orthopaedics department at UMDNJ–New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) is familiar with the building process. After all, they are in the business of reconstructing limbs. Now, the department is involved in construction of another sort. They have teamed with Habitat for Humanity to build a house in Newark.
Habitat, a nonprofit
organization, aims to eliminate substandard housing and homelessness by
providing decent shelter to those who need it. Since 1976, they have built
more than 150,000 homes around the world, 60,000 of them in the U.S. Homes
are built through volunteer labor, with donations of money and materials.
They are sold to families at no profit, and financed with no-interest
Carolyn Suzuki, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at NJMS, was the catalyst who brought Habitat and orthopaedics together. She is actively involved in Habitat’s fundraising and development efforts. “I became aware of Habitat-Newark a few years ago when driving past their office, which is located right near the medical school,” she says. “The neighborhood surrounding the university is so neglected. I thought that by getting involved with Habitat I could make a meaningful contribution to improving the community.” When Suzuki became aware of Behrens’ interest in Habitat, she introduced him to Jim Tierney, executive director of Habitat-Newark. And thus, a house was born.
There are currently 50 Habitat homes in Newark, all located in a three-square-block area just off South Orange Avenue-right near UMDNJ’s Newark campus. The Orthopaedics House is the 51st. The Habitat houses are purposely grouped together to build a strong neighborhood.
Sponsoring a Habitat house involves substantial donations of time and money. Sponsor organizations must raise $80,000 and volunteer their time in helping to construct the house. "We teach volunteers how to do everything, from running a circular saw to installing wallboard," says Tierney."It's just a matter of learning the skills."
Members of the orthopaedics department are organized into crews and go to the work site every Saturday to help with the construction. "Everybody is involved, including faculty, residents, department staff, and nurses," Behrens explains. "People we work with in other departments have contributed their time as well, including radiology and laboratory technicians. It's an equal opportunity workplace: The secretary may hammer the nails while the faculty member fetches things." Photos are taken each week to document their progress.
During the week, other volunteer crews work on Habitat homes. "We have youth, church, and corporate groups that come regularly, and many retired people volunteer week after week," says Tierney. "Walk-ons are always welcome too, but let us know ahead of time when you are coming."
Finding people to work on the house is not hard, says Behrens. What has proven more difficult is raising the money. "None of us is too rich, but none is too poor to get involved, either," he points out. Thus far the department has raised $40,000. They are working hard to raise the additional $40,000. Habitat in turn puts up $40,000. Of the money raised by sponsors, $2,000 is sent to Guatemala, where it is used to support Habitat initiatives. "A dollar goes a lot farther in Guatamala than it does in Newark," quipped Tierney.
The woman who will live in the orthopaedics house is a single mother of three, employed by PSE&G. Like all Habitat homeowners, she must contribute at least 400 volunteer hours herself. Seventy percent of Habitat homeowners are single parents, and 98 percent of those are single mothers. Typically, Habitat families have been living in substandard, crowded housing. Habitat holds the mortgage on the new home, and the homeowner does not have to make a down payment, other than the 400 hours of "sweat equity." The homeowner must also join the neighborhood homeowners' association.
"What we're trying to do is provide decent, simple housing for families," says Tierney. "It's been proven that people who live in stable homes do better in school, at work, and in other aspects of their lives. So Habitat is not just about houses—it’s about families."
Anyone in the University community who is interested in contributing or volunteering at the orthopaedics home should contact Abby Schwalb at 973-972-3860 or a.schwalb@ umdnj.edu.
For more information or to schedule a work day, call Jim Tierney or Jean Bell at Habitat–Newark: 973-624-3330.
The magazine of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey