COLUMN: Barb Gustafson — Aug. 6, 2014

Barb Gustafson
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There are plenty of charities and causes in Prince Albert to give your time or money toward supporting, and each has its appeal, but if you want to improve someone’s life in a long-lasting, meaningful way, I would suggest supporting Habitat for Humanity – and they could use your help this summer.

The start of the local chapter must be credited to architect Frank Moore who gathered together the social capital for a Prince Albert Habitat for Humanity group long before the financial capital was in place. Without him, almost assuredly, dozens of people would not be in the homes they have today. Having received awards for his work, including being a Citizen of the Year, he continues to help the cause and to enthusiastically promote it.

Our family has been involved with Habitat almost from the beginning. In the first few years, the going was slow as money was raised to construct the first home. On that first build, my husband was a volunteer and took our daughter, then 6 years old, along to pound nails into subflooring. Through the years, my husband has served on the board for Habitat and for the Restore, the charity’s building supply recycle store. He was the volunteer with the most hours on a few builds. Our whole family has been involved in one way or another over the years.

Because of this long-term involvement, we’ve had a chance to get to know some of the families, and to see the difference a house can make for them. It’s profound, and deeply emotional. For those of us lucky enough to have grown up in a safe, stable home and to have been able to provide the same for our children as they grew, it’s hard to imagine the effects of not having that solid base. For far too many parents and children, however, the reality is houses or apartments that become too expensive as rent is raised or that lack proper amenities. When you’re trying to support a family on a low-income job, the best you can afford may be a house that’s drafty, small, or even moldy. It shouldn’t happen, but it does.

Habitat offers a way out of this situation. A working family can qualify for a Habitat home. Conditions include being able to afford the mortgage payments; while there is no interest charged, payments on the principal must be made. The family needs to contribute 500 hours of sweat equity toward the construction of their own home, another Habitat home, or through the Restore. The house is most definitely not a gift. The organization’s motto is “a hand up, not a hand out.”

Extending a “hand up” to help a family can make a huge difference, as we have been witness to, time and again. A child can pick the colour of her bedroom, and know it will be hers for not months, but years. A parent who can stop worrying about rent increases, and know that each monthly payment not only pays for a place to live but for an investment. A family can settle into a neighbourhood and a school, rather than bouncing from place to place. Being at a new home dedication is almost guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes.

In the past 20 years, Habitat for Humanity has built 18 homes in Prince Albert and helped start new chapters in nearby communities. Worldwide, more than 600,000 homes have been built during the past 30 years. The impact on families is immense.

There are plenty of side benefits to Habitat, too. Construction classes from local high schools have had an opportunity to be a part of a full house build, gaining credit, hours of experience, and authentic learning that can’t be duplicated in the usual shop class. Volunteers get to work alongside professionals and learn from them. When family members work on their own home, they gain a firsthand understanding of how the systems of a house work, helping them better maintain the house when they move in. The Restore allows surplus and used building materials to be purchased at low prices and used, rather than going into the landfill. 

This summer, Prince Albert has its first Women’s Build, when the volunteer focus is on female participants. I encourage you to sign up (www.habitatpa.ca) and to participate. I am not an expert or even an informed amateur when it comes to building, but I have been able to help out. You can, too. Visit http://habitatpa.ca for more information.

I know from past experience that you will learn new skills as a volunteer, regardless of what part of the work you are able and willing to do. You will meet great people. And, you will be part of creating something incredibly special for a family: a home.


Barb Gustafson is a lifelong resident of Prince Albert and a former managing editor and publisher of the Prince Albert Daily Herald. Email: gustafsonba@gmail.com


Organizations: Habitat for Humanity

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