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Soffits and Gratitude: Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On a beautiful August day, I joined my Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) colleagues Danielle Sala and Lindsay Weedon to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg. I had long been aware of Habitat’s international work, but knew little about its Canadian projects. What I did know was my great desire to get involved and contribute to the basic human right to housing. To take part in a project that would one day offer affordable and comfortable housing filled me with great hope and inspiration.

With mandatory safety training under our belts, we checked in for an early morning start on build day. The site was a row of cozy homes reflecting various stages of development, from complete and lived in to basic foundations. Donning hard hats, safety gloves and steel-toed boots, we set about our first task: moving lumber of various sizes and shapes into like piles. The goal was to clear the way for the arrival of a large crane that would gently lift the second floors of two houses into place. (Second floors are typically constructed at ground level, making roofs more accessible and the work safer.) We quickly fell into perfect rhythm and cleared two areas, capturing the attention of the site leader. In short order, we graduated to roofing! Wearing protective eyewear, we learned to safely handle a staple gun and metal shears. Lindsay and I measured and cut edging, Danielle stapled it into place, and a site crew member cut the soffits for our final fitting. The three of us once again fell into perfect rhythm, completing a portion of a roof by the end of the afternoon.

A row of homes
A row of homes at various stages of development

Throughout the day, different crew members shared stories about what drew them to Habitat. One was a volunteer who was retired and had become a regular and trusted member of the site. Another was a Habitat employee who had volunteered in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Still another was an expert roofer who, with great patience and praise, taught us soffitting skills. The site leader was always on hand to provide encouragement and direction. We felt like an accepted and valued part of the regular crew from the moment we began.

Danielle, Lindsay and I gained so much more than we ever imagined. While we learned valuable construction skills, we contributed to houses destined to become family homes. In fact, throughout the day, many of the families living in the completed homes came and went, always with a smile and acknowledgement of the crew. At one point, young twin boys stood on their back deck, observing our work and waving happily. Their house, like the others, had been transformed into a home with unique touches added by their family. 

My colleagues and I also got to know each other better. Within the office, the nature of our projects rarely put the three of us in direct contact so I was extremely grateful to share the day with them. We found a rhythm with such ease and a great level of trust and respect. Now whenever our paths cross, we share a smile and special bond knowing that we got as much out of the volunteer day as the families do out of their new homes.

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