Lending A Hand

By Vernice Shostal

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Dedicated to eliminating substandard housing and homelessness worldwide, Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit Christian organization, makes affordable housing a possibility for many needy families.  

Founded in 1990 with a goal to build 16 homes by the end of 2009, and more than 22 homes by the end of 2010, the Victoria chapter of HFH was chartered in 1994 and dedicated the first house in 1996. To date, HFHV has made a difference in the lives of 70 families in the community.

Currently under construction in Saanich, the five unit Flex Plex, which has the potential to house up to eight families, shares the “Innovator of the Year” Award with the Canadian Home Builders Association from the Vancouver Island Business Examiner Awards in January 2009. The Flex Plex is also up for national “best in class” energy efficiency incentive program.  

The new strata, with elevators and structural amenities to accommodate individuals living with disabilities, has a state-of-the-art design with environmentally friendly features and building practices. Three of the five units will have legal suites.

“They become mortgage helpers for Habitat people, somebody who is working and needs a hand to get into the housing market,” says building manager, Scott Mckinty. The legal suite would augment their income; however, part of the qualification requires that it be rented to disabled persons or seniors. The other two units will be families with young children.

Born in the Netherlands, volunteer Charles Kint, a dental technician who owns his own lab, began working with Habitat two years ago. Cleaning, digging drain pipes in heavy mud, hanging doors, making windowsills, installing floor trim, painting, installing cobblestones in a driveway and landscaping were his first jobs. When construction began on the Flex Plex, volunteers took a course on how to build with logix blocks (insulated concrete blocks that make the building more energy efficient and environmentally friendly). At the Flex Plex, Charles has installed floor beams and boards, siding, helped to move truckloads of granite and installed windows.

Charles immigrated to Canada 36 years ago, a move he says, “I haven’t regretted.” Always involved in home renovations, Charles once took a year off from his dental career to buy his own construction company, where his favourite activity was applying stucco because it gave him a good workout.
At Habitat, Charles says he does things he wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to do, a place where there is great “team spirit and a good atmosphere.”

In the past, Charles has volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul Society and has been volunteering in soup kitchens for nearly 20 years. Currently, he cooks 50 gallons of soup every Friday morning. 
Charles’ other pastimes include working on his boat, fishing, skiing, walking, hiking and having a beer from time to time. “Life is dynamic,” he says. “We are all like grass blades that make up a beautiful lawn.”

Retired from the provincial government after 35 years of working with law enforcement as it relates to gambling, investigator Vicki Bishop began volunteering with HFHV in the fall of 2008; she wanted to learn something new. Always interested in building, Vicki creates cabinets as a hobby and hopes to take on larger projects in the future. She has signed up for a 10-month program in the fall to make fine furniture. 

Growing up in Ontario, Vicki moved to the Comox Valley with her family when she was 17, and, after completing her Grade 12, moved to Victoria to attend university, where she eventually got a degree in Public Administration.
On the Flex Plex site, Vicki has painted, spread gravel, put in drainage pipes, installed siding, installed door frames and done pretty much everything except “get on the roof.”

Besides working with HFHV, Vicki has donated time to the Scott Tournament of Hearts, the Summer Games, the Commonwealth Games and, once a year, she volunteers for the Canadian Beer Festival at Royal Athletic Park.
“Mostly, I volunteer for whatever comes along that interests me,” says Vicki.  She likes working with HFHV “for camaraderie. Besides helping the community, it’s a nice way to give back.”

HFHV’s ReStore, stocked with new and used material, end-of-the-line, discontinued and slightly damaged inventory donated by retailers and manufacturers, helps to avoid the cost of returning material to the manufacturer, reduces the amount of material headed for the landfills and helps to fund the building of homes for low income families.

Retired business analyst Margaret Shewan, who immigrated from Scotland 30 years ago, started volunteering for ReStore a year ago. There, she cleans and tidies shelves, replenishes the displays, greets customers and helps them find products. Margaret heard about HFH decades ago. “I thought it was a wonderful concept,” she says. “I wanted to give back to the community and, as I have customer service experience, I decided to volunteer at the ReStore. It was a good decision because I’ve met lots of great people in the store and at the fundraising events.”  
Giving back to the community through work, camaraderie and meeting people, volunteers like Charles, Vicki and Margaret make it possible for many low-income families to find adequate and affordable housing.
For more information about HFHV or ReStore, visit www.habitatvictoria.com or call 250-480-7688 ext. 101.


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