MARBLEHEAD – Jason Garry, the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore’s facilities director, has been drawn to fixing things for most of his life.
With the center’s maintenance staff underutilized because of the coronavirus pandemic and members shying away from using the center, the Beverly resident came up with the bright idea to create a “Handyman Help at Home” service to keep workers busy.
Got a shed that needs to be built, a ceiling that needs to be patched, a room that needs to be painted, a basement that need to be cleaned out, or a door that needs to be removed? The center’s maintenance staff is now making house calls at $35 an hour.
The program may be just the right fix to help the center and Garry’s staff build a bridge to the new normal and allow some of them to avoid unemployment, he said.
Garry, 43, is a Beverly native and married father of an 11-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. And while he’s not Jewish, he has learned quite a bit about the faith since starting at the center eight years ago.
“I didn’t know what a sukkah was, you know, so now I do,” Garry laughed. “We build a beautiful one every year.”
After high school, Garry earned a degree from Salem State University in public relations, but his career path took him in a different direction.
“If something is broken, I’m always drawn to fixing it,” he said.
During college, he worked part time for Beverly contractor David Sabatini, learning the trade while earning a degree.
Also while at Salem State, he worked at the Enterprise Center, a business incubator on campus, doing PR and marketing for the Salem Trolley. However, he was also drawn to figuring out how the trolleys operate, and learning about their maintenance, repair, and design.
After college, Garry helped build houses with Sabatini and also worked in facilities maintenance for the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, where he met some famous people, including Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers. He started his own small construction company, and after that, he helped maintain the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston.
Then, he spotted an ad for the facilities director’s job at the Jewish Community Center in Marblehead, which was closer to home and would reduce his commute.
With the JCC struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic, Garry proposed the handyman program to executive director Marty Schneer and chief financial officer Tom Cheatham, who said he was “tickled” by the idea.
“First of all, it turns a dollar,” said Cheatham. “We are losing money every day, that is the reality.” He described the program as a “bright light” that has generated about $10,000 in gross receipts since its inception two months ago.
“I think it’s like helping yourself and helping the J at the same time,” Cheatham said.
Garry said there are about seven or eight workers who are part of the program, four who work at the center.
Garry also draws from subcontractors to help on jobs, and he does a lot of the work himself.
“We have a cleaning company that we use here, but there is also a couple of those guys that are capable of doing things. So, we pull those guys in as needed and then we use our guys as needed,” Garry said.
“The greatest part is, in my opinion, is keeping our guys going during this time. Because, ultimately, when we get back to where we were, hopefully soon, these guys will keep their hours and stay employed by the center. If it wasn’t for this handyman operation, two out of the four guys that I talked about would have had hours cut or been laid off.”
One satisfied customer is Marlaine Potter, a Marblehead resident and JCCNS member. “I was very happy, from the get-go,” said Potter, who responded to an email promotion about the handyman program. Before Thanksgiving, Potter said she contacted Garry, who got back to her right away and came over to look at the job and provide her with an estimate.
At the time, the case numbers for COVID-19 were going down.
She said workers wore masks and practiced social distancing as they painted a bedroom and removed an extra door in the room. They installed drywall to cover the door opening, and installed baseboard trim on both sides of the new wall.
“Jason gave me an estimate and they stayed true to their estimate. They were great,” Potter said.
Garry said after the pandemic is over, he hopes the handyman program will continue.
“If we need to hire a couple more guys to fill that need, that would be amazing, because we are putting more people on our staff and that means more growth and the economy is doing great and we’re doing great,” Garry said.