The Jona Foundation is a particularly good example of how a small impulse and rather awkward, groping first steps can become a great work. Maybe that has something to do with the story of how it came about, maybe also with the spirit behind it: Angelika Bier and her late husband Jürgen were both professors and surgeons at the Charité. “Baptized as a Protestant,” she says, but it was only later that they really got involved with their faith in different ways. This resulted in the desire to do something: “We can, must, want to help.”
They initially thought of the children from Bahnhof Zoo or dental help for the homeless, and spoke to various facilities and institutions, such as the city mission. “We really had no idea,” remembers Angelika Bier.
Over time, it became clear that they wanted to do something with children. They ended up in Spandau via a city report: the youth councilor there handed them a stack of papers with brief portraits of youth facilities and the note that 40 percent of them would have to be closed anyway. The couple then looked at a different youth facility in Spandau every weekend.
They got to know children and their wishes, marveled at their mobility and the sadness when they didn’t know where to go at the weekend. Until they finally stood in front of a beautifully situated clubhouse in Staaken, which was originally a village school. At first they didn’t recognize many of the pitfalls: the partly barred windows, the graffiti, the dilapidated roof. They didn’t even notice the violent teenagers who were in charge there and scared the small children.
[From Staaken to Siemensstadt, from Hakenfelde to Kladow – and always specific: The big Spandau newsletter with district news, dates, tips is bundled once a week here: leute.tagesspiegel.de]
In December 2005 they established their foundation. In August 2006 they took over the house. Many people helped to repair the building. Angelika Bier still remembers a city councilor who poured the concrete floor. And the first Christmas. How the children were amazed because they came into contact with a completely foreign world. There were people they took to church, who changed because it was Christmas, who gave them presents. “That really was Christmas,” they said to themselves on the way home, which they started “completely happy”. Her husband, 1.98 meters tall, took care of the teenagers, and she took care of the little children who were “really scared of the big ones”.
Soon there was noticeable progress in “Jona’s Haus”, which was now a children’s and youth center open 365 days a year. Jürgen Bier asked a boy who was already on the verge of becoming a criminal and was involved in a knife fight: “Do you want to help us?”. This was a turning point, because the boy was apparently so touched by the fact that he was asked for help that he began to be useful in the project. “We gradually integrated the teenagers.” Her husband helped a boy who had been expelled from school to get an apprenticeship at Siemens. From then on, this boy also helped to manage the house. “Both of them were always informed about what was going on,” remembers Angelika Bier.
It became more difficult when her husband became seriously ill and died soon after. In the case of an independent foundation, the state is then quickly on the spot to check whether the will of the founder would also be fulfilled in the future. In addition to private grief, there was stress. “We didn’t have insurance for the Management Board and my husband’s position was supposed to be filled within three months,” remembers Angelika Bier. “Such a foundation is then like a fatherless child.”
She sat down on the phone, finally found a friend who filled in. The work for the Jona Foundation had long since become part of my life. There hasn’t been a holiday since she got the house. She hasn’t worked as a surgeon for about ten years, but is only there for the children. She also does a large part of the administrative work herself. She remembers how to submit applications from her time as a scientist. That helped her when she had to learn to “pull underfunding grants,” which is as complicated as it sounds, but necessary.
They founded the foundation back then because it seemed the easiest way to get something off the ground. There has long been a support association and friends who support the project, in which more than 100 children feel at home. Angelika Bier does not know how many there have been over the years. In the meantime, Jona’s children’s residential group is also part of it. Some of them keep coming back, even when they are older, with wishes, worries, problems and the thought: “Oh, you can ask Angelika about that.” An 18-year-old girl who was severely auto-aggressive, injured himself with the iron, for example, temporarily took her to his home. Now the young woman is healthy.
She has always been amazed at how well children have developed. Especially the German children from blended families with constantly changing fathers often lacked basic trust. At first they screamed and broke everything. “But it’s not their fault,” says the founder. And then there was always a turning point from which they developed wonderfully, trust and the realization that they had found a home from which they no longer have to run away developed.
In 2015, refugees also came to the house. One of them works there today as an educator. Children and young people from Ukraine are currently also taking part. Angelika Bier finds it “incredible the will to survive that children have after a long flight. Girls bloom like little flowers.” This also applies to the children from Staaken. “They’re already grown up when they’re 7 or 8 years old,” she observed repeatedly at first. What does that give you over the years? You shouldn’t wait for a thank you, she says. “Then you burn out.” On the contrary, there are always complaints from children who feel they have been treated unfairly because someone else got more than they did.
Angelika Bier has a very strong feeling today that she is in exactly the right place, where she is supposed to be and where she is needed. “I’m supposed to do this, and I’m doing it. That’s fulfillment in itself.” For her, that’s enough. It could also be something else somewhere else tomorrow. “When I’m outside, I’m difficult to reach,” she says, referring to the house in Staaken. At night she wakes up when a Whatsapp arrives. Because then it could be something important. This is not the case with emails in the same way. Sometimes she slept on the fold-out bed in the clubhouse’s theater room.
The professor is absorbed in this work, uses her personal networks, her contacts in science, for example for a successful project on media skills. She herself is on Instagram and all sorts of channels to raise additional funds. More than 30 employees are now working on the project. And the enthusiasm of the founders is still contagious.