‘Fixers of meaningful things’

| 13 Jul 2017 | 06:33

— What kind of people give up a Saturday to fix “meaningful things” for folks they don’t even know? Guys and gals with big hearts and a variety of technical skills who volunteer to make repairs at the Orange County Repair Café sponsored by Sustainable Warwick. The Repair Coaches will gather again on Saturday, July 15, at the Senior Center, behind Warwick’s Town Hall Complex, 132 Kings Highway.
You don’t have to live in Warwick to bring in an item that needs fixing.
The first Repair Café was held in Amsterdam in 2009. According to the Repair Café Foundation, “While politicians worldwide are talking about a better environment, volunteers are repairing over 18,000 items under the Repair Café’s flag every month,” in more than 30 countries and 11 U.S. states.
The Hudson Valley currently hosts eight cafes, www.repaircafehv.org, all organized and staffed by unpaid volunteers.
Why do they do it? The common thread among volunteers is a strong sense of community, a keen interest in sustainability, the desire to solve problems, acquire new skills, and share the ones they have, plus the camaraderie and fun.
Like the 40-50 people toting “beloved but broken things” who travel to every Orange County Repair Café from Campbell Hall, Chester, Goshen, Greenwood Lake, Hamptonburgh, Middletown, Monroe, New Hampton, Pine Island, Sugar Loaf, Warwick and Wawayanda, as well as Highland Lakes, Sussex, Vernon or Wantage, N.J., the coaches call a variety of places home and come from all walks of life.
Gerardo (Jerry) Fischetti was the first to answer Repair Café organizer Elizabeth Knight Moss’ request for skilled volunteers when she spoke to a Warwick Senior Club. Born in Southern Italy, Jerry emigrated to Brooklyn at age 18 with his mother and sister to reunite with his father who was working there.
He attended Manual Training High School, learned the English language and graduated with honors. Following a stint in the United States Army, Fischetti worked as a tool and die maker in Brooklyn before moving his young family to Warwick. Later, he served as operation supervisor for Reynolds Aluminum in Middletown and for Casco Corp. in Sussex, N.J., where he redesigned and upgraded high-speed production equipment.
When he retired, Fischetti began a new career as a volunteer for Warwick’s St. Anthony Community Hospital, his church and The Knights of Columbus, among many other organizations. He celebrated his 88th birthday on Nov. 19, 2016 by repairing lamps at the inaugural Orange County Repair Café.
Jerry’s motto is: “It’s all about giving back and I find it very rewarding.”
Barbara Barron of Warwick works in the Warwick Valley School District’s Transportation Department. She learned to repair rare lamps at her mother’s shop, Oriental Horizons, in Ramsey, N.J.
Now, she volunteers to fix lamps, jewelry or sewn items.
“Random acts of kindness make me feel good,” she said. “I enjoy fixing things and putting a smile on someone’s face.”
‘Can do’Bob Berkowitz - aka Fix It Bob - lives in Monroe. He worked for Orange & Rockland Utilities Inc. as assistant general maintenance supervisor, and retired as the manager of purchasing.
After retirement, he started Fixit Bob, a business dedicated to small home repairs.
Prior to working for O&R, he served in the U.S. Navy “SeaBees” (Construction Battalion) where he received advanced training for the operation and maintenance of nuclear reactors for power generation at remote military sites.
“You had to fix what was broken because there were no local hardware store to go get a new one,” he said. “Hence the SeaBee motto: ‘Can Do.’”
At the Repair Cafe, he “will attempt to repair any type of electrical or mechanical equipment that can be hand-carried into the repair location. It’s a great way to give back to the community, to provide an avenue for the community to get repairs made at no cost to them and as a means of networking for future jobs for Fixit Bob,” he added. “I enjoy seeing items brought in for repair that I’ve never seen before, I enjoy the camaraderie among the Repair Coaches. I love, love to see children and grown ups thrilled that a personal and sentimental item has been repaired and brought back to life.”
Joan Bono hails from Highland Lakes, N.J. JoBo Bears is the name of her one-of-a-kind custom, hand-crafted teddy bear business. Recruited by fellow sewing coach, Deanne Singer, Joan wields a needle at the Repair Café to reapply torn limbs and other missing bits to stuffed animals and cloth dolls.
“I love the people, I love fixing, and I love the faces of the children when they receive their repaired toy,” she said. “It’s priceless.”
Mary Bono of Warwick worked as a designer for decades - graphics, illustration, children’s books - now makes vintage button bracelets and crocheted tote bags made with “plarn” cut from plastic bags, that she sells at Sugar Loaf’s Bliss, a women’s art cooperative and online at www.snoozecrafts.etsy.com.
Mary makes hand-sewn clothing and textile repairs. Her husband Glenn Bono volunteers to fix small electrics and sings with the Warwick Valley Chorale.
‘Share our common interests’Steve Carras lives in Warwick. Using a whetstone, Carras hand sharpens as many as 43 knives and 10 tools including scissors, clippers and loppers in a single session.
After he sharpened her knife, one happy customer exclaimed, “Now, all we need is a roast beef!”
“I am happy and proud to be a part of this,” Carras said. “It was a good opportunity to meet new people and share our common interest in sustainability.”
Kim Garrison, a retired physics teacher who lives in Warwick, is pleased to have a place to make the kinds of repairs he’s been doing all his life – everything from metal toys to electrical and mechanical items.
Ab Hamdoun lives in Newburgh and serves as the Network Engineer at the Warwick Valley School District. He provides IT support and technology-related repairs on everything from phones to paper-shredders at the Repair Cafe.
Ab “enjoys helping others and feeling a part of a community that values cooperation, respect and friendship. “
Raheli Harper of Campbell Hall is a self-described “stay-at-home mother, fiber artist and homesteader” who has taught sewing classes and written for DIRT Magazine. She repairs clothing and other textiles by machine or hand.
“We, as a culture, rely too heavily on disposable goods and have begun to assume that all goods are disposable and replaceable,” Harper said. “It takes so little to keep a shirt usable, just a needle, thread and patience. The Repair Cafe is a place where people can come together to admire each other’s handiwork, instead of our consumer choices.”
Jim Harper, Raheli’s husband, is one of the supervisors of the Kid’s Take It Apart Table. Putting things back together is not required.
Fix stuff, make people happyFor seven years, Cathe Linton owned a store selling her own hand-crafted jewelry designs, as well as Native American Jewelry on Warwick’s Main Street. Then and now, Linton repairs jewelry including replacing jump rings or clasps; untangling knotted chains. “Some things only take two minutes,” she said, “but a jewelry store would charge $15-$20.”
She volunteers to “serve community, to stay in touch, to meet other ‘Fixers of meaningful things.’ All these fixers fill that room with hope and joy. Most people leave with a now usable treasure - something that will not go in the landfill. And I have a list of skillful buddies who can do paid repairs when I need them in between Repair Café months.”
Jim Luce is a retired chemical engineer who lives in Warwick. He likes to repair appliances and gadgets and describes the Repair Café experience as “Gratifying and fun, but not busy enough.”
Susanne O’Brien of Oh Susanna Designs & Moonshine Jewelry (www.etsy.com/shop/ohsusannadesigns) resides in Warwick with her husband, Mike O’Brien, a lawyer and musician who plays guitar in duos and a band.
O’Brien, who has worked as a product developer and visual merchandiser, “deconstructs, then reconstruct bits and pieces of vintage jewelry and found objects, refashioning them into fresh one-of-a-kind statement pieces to wear.
She volunteers to provide basic jewelry repairs and suggests creative solutions for odd pieces. Mike works on everything from warped wooden bird houses to vintage stained glass lamps.
“People sure are happy when you fix their stuff,” O’Brien said.
Deanne Singer of Warwick was a retired college marketing teacher at Suffern High School looking for something creative to do.
The result is the Mending Maven, a business she started to make alterations for others.
Singer’s other volunteer activities include the Warwick Friendly Visitors Program and the Warwick Valley Garden Club. She said she finds it a “pleasure to work with the other women helping in the sewing area. We’re all so compatible, sharing ideas and supplies, yet have different areas of expertise.”
Richard White of Chester will make his debut at the July 15 Repair Café to offer basic bike repairs.
Edwin Winstanley lived in the United Kingdom before moving to Warwick. A clinical chemist, he retired from a job that involved starting up new companies on behalf of major Swiss and Swedish companies.
Winstanley is an active volunteer with the Catskill Mountain Railroad and the Empire State Railroad Museum. He said he “quite likes fixing and restoring electrical items and broken wooden things as well as meeting new people and sharing the repair experience with other volunteers.”
Carol Pinkowski lives in Warwick. Her at home sewing consists of repairs, drapes, curtains and casual slip covers, and she’s working on items for the Warwick Handmade Market. Pinkowski, who brings her own sewing machine to the Repair Café, likes “seeing projects take on life.
She also said that she and finds it “interesting that people want to have items repaired rather than trashing them, and knowing that repairs can be done locally is helpful to many families.”
This article was provided by Repair Cafe organizer Elizabeth Knight Moss.