Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region completed their very first rural project with a house dedication on May 31. Wellesley resident Larry Bisch instigated the project over a year and a half ago when he approached Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region with the plans for a semi-detached on a lot he owned.
Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region (HabitatWR) has built 127 homes in Waterloo Region, with six more in the works, but never one in Wellesley. They were in for a pleasant surprise.
“When HabitatWR first approached the mayor, Joe Nowak, we considered changing the name of the Wellesley Project to "Wow Joe" as it was challenging to keep pace with his enthusiastic, can-do response,” said HabitatWR’s CEO Karen Redman. “In Wellesley, we experienced welcoming people led by the faith community, the mayor and council, the restaurateurs, the business community, and the population."
“These are the people who, according to regional statistics, volunteer at an even higher rate than the rest of the region. They have generous hearts and strong backs. In Wellesley specifically, over 4100 volunteer hours were given to complete the project.“
Mayor Nowak echoes Redman’s sentiment, “The community went gung-ho on this. It was a total community effort. Everyone got involved in one way or another, from the ministerial association as well as all service clubs and many businesses.”
Two partner families are now enjoying homeownership on Queens Bush Road. One family, the Winklers, have roots in the area. Their new home is across the road from Melissa Winkler’s parents.
“It is a neat way to reconnect with the community I lived in as a kid,” said Melissa. “It is also very humbling to get the support and I feel very grateful to be living in such a caring community. It opens up a lot of possibilities to grow -we can start on other dreams in life.”
“Grow” is a term the Winklers take literally. They are making plans to have a market garden business to fill a niche in the local area.
“We hope to start a community-supported agriculture project, where our neighbours have a membership and receive a weekly box of fresh, healthy produce- grown by us, with so much care and love,” said Winkler in a recent HabitatWR newsletter. “It is a nice way to connect and be part of the community.”
The Winkler’s initiating spirit is an important part of HabitatWR’s philosophy. Partner families receiving homes are expected to put in 500 hours in “sweat equity.” Their friends and family are also expected to help out. They all work alongside volunteers and HabitatWR leaders building the home from the foundation up.“I did everything from framing to flooring to painting for a whole year,” said Winkler. “The leaders were more than willing and gracious to teach me. Now I feel more confident, as a homeowner, to manage the house.”
Volunteer builders are key to all of HabitatWR’s projects. Homes are 98 percent built by them. Building experience is not a prerequisite, but you must be 16 years of age.
Frequently, companies or organizations will encourage their staff to take part in a team build day. Last year the region’s tech community left their computers behind and participated in a build. Other builds have seen an all-female volunteer force.
“Some feedback that HabitatWR regularly receives from volunteers is the impact of working alongside partner family members on the build site,” said Redman. “Last year over 1,800 volunteers gave over 40,500 hours to the construction of Habitat homes.”
One such volunteer was Deb Harte, from St. Clements, who focused on fundraising and volunteers for the Wellesley project. She felt compelled to answer an ad in a local newspaper simply because it was happening in her community.
As she discovered later on, one of the partner families was someone she knew through work and the project became much more meaningful. She and her friends, called “Team We-Have-Harte,” raised funds through ice cream and firewood sales, as well as getting hands-on experience on the actual build.
“[She] became a fundraising force in support of this project. She set a new standard for participation which HabitatWR hopes will inspire others to model her enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Redman.
If building is not your forte, volunteers also work in the ReStores selling recovered building materials, or on the salvage crew, who take out kitchens for people who are renovating. The service is free and the donors get a tax receipt for whatever is sold through the ReStore."
The Wellesley project was part of the 34th Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, which built 150 homes for Canada's 150th anniversary. The Carters, now in their 90s, joined in several projects from Edmonton to Winnipeg. Like the Winklers, 150 families now have a home to call their own.
“Not many people have the support of a whole community before you even move in,” said Winkler. “It has given us a sense of place.”