When Kenna Elford was chosen to be a Habitat for Humanity family she was given more than just four walls and a roof over her head – she was given the gift of life.
Before being handed the keys to her Habitat-built home, Elford was struggling to make ends meet. Her mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and Elford needed a clean place to move her mother and teenage son, Nathan, into. One week after her mom’s diagnosis, as Elford was moving her mom in with her, Nathan had his left leg crushed by a car.
Needing a place free of mould for her ailing mother and without stairs because of her son’s recent accident, Elford was left with few options.
“We had to move into this horribly expensive apartment,” Elford said. “The rent was 75 per cent of my income.”
A friend, Karen Melanson, was on the Habitat for Humanity board and told Elford she should apply for one half of the duplex being built by Habitat for Humanity on Maple Street.
Elford, thinking she wasn’t eligible, reluctantly picked up an application from the Campbell River ReStore and filled it out.
She was surprised six months later when, during a community information session for the build, Elford was announced as Campbell River’s first Habitat for Humanity family.
The house turned out to be more of a blessing than she could have ever imagined. Her mom, who was given weeks to live, lived another three years and was able to watch the walls go up around her and eventually live in the home.
“My mom would come out every day with me to the build site,” said Elford who volunteered as the site manager. “She’d sit on the porch in her toque with her Tim Horton’s. It gave her a purpose, to hang in there. She wanted to see us move into this house. This house I think helped my mom live longer. In that respect it was such a gift to have somewhere to care for my mom. I get emotional just talking about it.”
As a mother, Elford said she was able to provider her teenage son with the stability he had been craving.
“We got this house and he looked at me and asked ‘does this mean I get to go to the same school until I graduate and we don’t have to move again?’” Elford said. “That was huge, it changed my life.”
It also allowed her to follow her passion – working with kids. Having the house allowed Elford to work for the John Howard Society as a care home worker for kids in the youth and detox stability program. Elford took in youths aged 12-19 for up to three months until they were able to get their lives back on track.
Elford is now volunteering as a spokesperson for Habitat for Humanity and she plans on helping with Habitat’s second Campbell River build. A new duplex is expected to be built next year on Hilchey Road and Elford is encouraging families to apply – even those who don’t think they’re eligible.
“One of the misconceptions about Habitat for Humanity is that you only qualify if you live in bad, horrible housing but in my situation I was living in a really lovely place but it was way beyond my financial means,” Elford said. “Even if you don’t think you qualify (apply) anyway because it can change your life. It changed my life. I think people who have lived in poverty have a hard time wrapping their head around the fact there’s an organization out there that wants to help.”
At the same time, it’s a hand up, not a hand out. Homeowners still have to pay a mortgage, with payments based on 30 per cent of the family’s income, but the mortgage is interest free.
Cathy Thomas, who lives behind Elford on the other side of the Maple Street duplex, said the mortgage payments are reasonable as is her hydro because the homes were built to be energy efficient.
Thomas, who lives on her own with her teenage daughter Amanda, was living in an apartment on Dogwood Street that had no heating in her daughter’s room before Habitat stepped in.
Thomas, who picked up a housing application on a whim, was as shocked as Elford was when she found out she had been selected as the second Habitat home owner.
“We were surprised,” Thomas said. “I got the phone call and I started bawling. I was water works.”
To fulfill the 500 volunteer hours required from homeowners, Thomas helped paint the bathroom of her new home, and like, Elford put in volunteer hours at the ReStore.
“It was worth it,” Thomas said. “It just changed mine and the kid’s life.”
Become a Habitat family
Habitat is encouraging families to start applying for the Hilchey homes. Applications, as well as a family criteria package can be picked up at the Campbell River ReStore at 1725 B Willow Street near Chevron in Campbellton.
To be eligible for a home families must have at least one child under the age of 18, be willing to put in 500 hours of sweat equity or volunteer work and have a regular income that is not Employment Insurance or Income Assistance.