Gary Metz and Ayman Nassar have this in common: They are both men of faith, both active in their Howard County congregations, and they're fully willing to take on the dirty work of helping the less privileged.
Nassar is a Muslim, and Metz is a Jew, but it was the similarities that brought them together at a home renovation project in Mount Airy on Sunday. Both reject stereotypes; both view education and cooperation as the path toward shattering them.
As Metz oversaw a crew of volunteer painters from local synagogues, Nassar corralled a group of teenagers from his mosque to dismantle an old shed out back. By the time the collection of about 50 Jewish and Muslim volunteers finish, the home will be more livable for Geraldine Dorsey, they said, who uses a wheelchair. And perhaps the workers and the community will have gained some insight into the values they share.
"With what's going on between the Jewish and Muslim communities in Israel, I thought, ‘Hey, we need to work together,' " said Metz, a volunteer from the Bet Aviv and Beth Shalom synagogues in Columbia.
"A big part of Islam is unity — when God talks to the believers in the Quran, he always uses plural," said Nassar, a volunteer from the Dar Al Taqwa mosque in Ellicott City. "Ignorance is dangerous. It's good for everyone for us to be here together."
As the volunteers in matching T-shirts toiled around the Shaffersville Road home, Rick Dorsey — a Christian who lives there with his 75-year-old disabled mother — leaned on a pickax and marveled at the whirlwind of good deeds.
"My mother and I are blessed to have every one of them here," he said.
The renovation work at the Dorseys' home was just one of 23 projects in Howard County on Sunday sponsored by the national housing advocacy group Rebuilding Together. Through its local office, Rebuilding Together volunteers spent much of this year screening and interviewing elderly, disabled or low-income homeowners who could benefit from the donation of the group's renovation services and materials.
Dorsey's mother, Geraldine, has lived in the Mount Airy home since it was built nearly 40 years ago, and the demands of maintenance and repair have outpaced her means. Adhesive tiles on the kitchen floor had peeled away. The front door was inoperative and insulated with plastic grocery bags. Little of the house could accommodate her motorized wheelchair — even the ramp out the back door, which ended a half-foot off the ground.
Once selected, the Dorsey project was offered to volunteer groups. The groups pay a $2,500 sponsorship fee, and the money goes into a pool used to buy lumber and other supplies.
Metz began organizing his group last year, within his own congregations and with the Kol Shalom synagogue in Rockville. He contacted the mosque, and the volunteer group quickly became one organized as much around the needs of families like the Dorseys as the need to promote education and tolerance between Muslims and Jews.
The shared goals were evident Sunday, from the men nailing new flooring in the kitchen, to the women pulling weeds and moving plants outside, to the teenagers hauling ladders and supplies, to the men fixing the basement door and the downspouts.
"It's so easy to read the news and think the worst of someone you don't know," said Rabbi Susan Grossman of the Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia. "But when you see a face and work side by side, you understand how much we all share the same commitment to good deeds in the world.
"That's so important today. A lot of good things are happening here on a lot of levels."