The corner of Dalton and Westgate roads is a very busy spot these days, as volunteers hammer and saw throughout the day and a home starts to take shape.
It’s the newest Habitat for Humanity Vancouver Island North (HHVIN) build site, and once it’s complete, the duplex will be home to Melissa Hamstra and her children Johnus and Tateum, and to Ben and Maggie McGrath and their three children, Journey, Bo and Halle.
As part of their partnership with Habitat for Humanity, families must complete 500 hours of sweat equity, which becomes their down payment on their new home.
By Easter weekend, Hamstra had completed her 300 hours of sweat equity at the ReStore. She’s been moving furniture, cleaning the store, cleaning and pricing the items that are donated and much more.
“It’s been a really positive experience,” she said. “The staff at the ReStore do make things fun and they work well as a team. The things they do — they do things on their own time, like come in and make shelves to raffle off. It’s heartwarming to know there are people who care and go out of their way to help.”
Watching the busy volunteers work on the site last Tuesday, she was amazed and grateful.
“Yes, it feels more real but it still is surreal,” she said of seeing the house start to take shape. “I see the foundation there and I see all these people but it’s still like I have to pinch myself. Words can’t even express how this feels. It’s the biggest thing that has happened to me.”
On March 22, North Island College (NIC) students and community volunteers were working on the flooring for the homes.
Many volunteers on the build site have never even picked up a hammer before this but they quickly develop new skills, working under the guidance of more experienced volunteers.
“That’s part of what Habitat does – you don’t need any experience to volunteer on a build site,” said Holden. “We have people here who are willing to walk you through the process … And certainly when we have our coffee breaks and lunch times, there’s lots of camaraderie, just sitting around and sharing stories.”
For three days last week, NIC was involved in the build, with students from the carpentry foundation program volunteering with the flooring work.
The six-month carpentry foundation program is an entry-level program, and instructor Tom Klatt says working on a project like this is a great fit.
“We’ve always been interested in trying to do something community-oriented with our foundation program,” he said.
Besides working at the build site, NIC students also built two garden sheds for the site, which are currently being used as a saw shed and as a kitchen area for volunteers.
“We’re more than happy to be a part of it, that’s for sure,” said Klatt.
Student Krystal Casey from Cumberland says she has been enjoying the work at the build site.
“It seems like everyone here’s really involved and excited about what’s going on,” she said. “Being outdoors and having real experience is good. I enjoy actually knowing that somebody’s going to be living in [the house] and using it.”
Already, the build has received a lot of support. Volunteers in Courtenay made the picnic tables where volunteers sit for lunch, Chris Gage from Courtenay helped with the foundation, and Wacor Holdings Ltd. in Campbell River got them a proper bed to build on.
As well, Ocean Crest Community Church Salvation Army, Banners Restaurant and Church of the Way, Dave’s Bakery, Thrifty Foods, Save-On-Foods and Starbucks have helped HHVIN feed the volunteers.
“It’s all about community participation,” said Peter Sanderson, the build co-ordinator for HHVIN. “There are two families coming in here, there is going to be five kids living in these two homes, but it’s going to involve 800 to 1,000 volunteers. And the whole community is going to be involved to build this and that’s as much the gain as it is the families getting the homes because everybody gets a chance to participate and help a family get a hand up.”
Sanderson says they’ve had very good volunteer response so far and things at the build site are going “extremely well.”
They will start framing the homes in early April and more volunteers will be needed for that stage of construction. Anyone interested in helping can register and choose their dates online at habitatnorthisland.com.
Volunteer Al Nelson watches as Johnus Hamstra hammers a nail into what will become the flooring in the duplex his family will move into as part of their partnership with Habitat for Humanity Vancouver Island North. See story on page 3.