Joliet Junior College Repair Cafe brings new life to broken items

Repair Cafe events originated 15 years ago in Holland

Peter Kiefer, a retired JJC teacher, right, repairs a lamp during the Repair Cafe event at the Joliet Junior College Romeoville campus on Saturday, April 13, 2024.

Sam Bretz, a Joliet Junior College culinary alumna, brought her floor fan to JJC’s Repair Café.

Bretz said the fan powers up but doesn’t move air. A new fan could cost $50 to $60, she said. But Bretz wasn’t concerned about the expense.

“I don’t want to add to landfills,” Bretz said.

Joliet Junior College held its first official Repair Cafe on Saturday at its Romeoville campus after testing a pilot event at its main campus in October. Repair Cafe connects skilled volunteers with people who need someone with those skills to repair certain items and keep them out of landfills. No money is exchanged for repairs.

Saturday’s Repair Cafe included stations for fixing electrical appliances, clothing and other textiles, furniture, toys, bicycles, carts, jewelry and items that needed simple repairs with glue, string and tape.

Repair Cafe events originated 15 years ago in Holland and there are more than 2,500 Repair Cafés across the world, according to its website. JJC’s Repair Cafe is the sixth in Illinois.

Maria Anna Rayfac, a professor of architecture and sustainability at JJC and the school’s sustainability coordinator, organized the Repair Café with Ashely Klinder of Minooka, a JJC biology student and student sustainability intern.

Klinder was on-site Saturday, sewing a patch onto a shirt that belonged to Yolanda Zenawick, who works in JJC’s records department. Klinder said she does “creative mending” and that her favorite items are things she’s fixed.

Janna Stub, a JJC Fine Art student with a focus on Costume Design, replaces buttons on a dress during the Repair Cafe event at the Joliet Junior College Romeoville campus on Saturday, April 13, 2024.

Repair Cafe events keep materials out of landfills and allow people to share their knowledge, Klinder said. On Saturday, Klinder simultaneously managed the event while repairing clothes.

“It’s interesting,” Klinder said of her dual role, smiling and sewing as she talked.

Zenawick said she supports sustainability. Whenever she needs to make a purchase, Zenawick said she scours thrift stores first, in case she can find the desired item there.

A shirt Zenawick brought for repair is very versatile. Zenawick said she’s worn it to work and also to social events.

Wearing a repaired shirt does not bother her.

“I can rock a patch on the elbow,” Zenawick said and added, “If you are secure in who you are, you can rock anything.”

Carter Davis, right, stands with his grandmother Pam Watkins as his bike is being repaired during the Repair Cafe event at the Joliet Junior College Romeoville campus on Saturday, April 13, 2024.

Chuck Kwasniewski of Joliet brought one of the more unusual items, a Zenith Trans-Oceanic radio that he said he bought six months ago at a garage sale. Kwasniewski brought it to the Repair Cafe, hoping someone could fix it or direct him to a person who could.

Pete Kiefert, a retired JJC instructor who once taught in the electrical/electronic automated systems program, said if the filaments are “out” in any of the tubes, it’s likely all of them are out. Kiefert said he wished he had a tube tester.

He said he had a tube tester in the 1970s when he repaired lots of TVs. “but not anymore.”

Eric Gorder of Joliet, an associate professor of arts at JJC, said he was fixing ceramics with his wife, Elise Kendrot, and occasionally glanced up to see how the other stations in his room were faring.

Both the jewelry and the bicycle stations had repaired three items an hour or so into the event, but “electronics needs more help,” Gorder said.

Pat Asher, a retired JJC teacher, left, repairs Cindy Weber’s childhood musical rocking chair during the Repair Cafe event at the Joliet Junior College Romeoville campus on Saturday, April 13, 2024.

“I even brought in a bag of my own to get repaired,” Gorder said, “a very nice canvas bag I purchased in Japan.”

Melanie Hallam of Minooka saw the event on Facebook, “thought it was a cool idea” and volunteered her services, talking as she steadily sewed a T-shirt patch on the favorite knit sweater of Toni Budzinski of Mokena.

“I sew, embroider,” Hallam said as the reason why she offered her skills for the Repair Cafe. “I used to sew my kids random things.”

Budzinski said she learned of the event from her husband, Jim Budzinski, a member of JJC’s board of trustees. So Toni Budzinski let her co-workers know and came out with her favorite sweater.

Toni Budzinski said she saw others bringing their favorite sentimental items to the Repair Cafe, hoping for their repair. She was excited to wear her favorite sweater once again, although she said she wasn’t parting with it if no one could repair it.

“It was just going to sit in my closet, and I was going to smile at it.”