By Wayne Newton, Special to Western News
When it comes to building up communities, one campus group literally has it nailed.
Habitat for Humanity UWO, one of Western’s largest student clubs with approximately 400 members, has sent students to help build in places such as New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. But the focus is on local projects and raising enough money to build a house each year in the London area, said Radha Joseph, a fourth-year Biomedical Sciences/Scholar’s Electives student and chair of the Habitat London Youth Project.
This year’s London project, the third involving the Western club, breaks ground Oct. 1.
Western students, with no previous construction experience required, will join Fanshawe College and local high school students in helping to construct a 940-square-foot home on Redan Street in east London to be sold with a favourable, affordable mortgage through Habitat for Humanity to an Aboriginal family of five.
“The idea is to get youth involved in building a home in London every year,” Joseph said.
Doing that means raising money.
Each Habitat house built locally costs about $100,000. Libro Financial has provided the Western club with three years of seed grants worth more than $112,000. But the full weight of fund-raising will be on the club in 2013.
Among the innovative fund-raisers so far have been the construction of a shed, which was then sold on Kijiji; a 2×4 campaign where donors are invited to write messages on lumber used in the actual construction; and the sale of photos with Santa. These funds were added to the home-building kitty along with donations from other campus organizations, Joseph said.
While working on the home construction site is the highest profile form of involvement, Western students also volunteer with Habitat in other ways, including working for ReStore, the used building materials and household store, and promoting Habitat through speaking engagements at London high schools and public groups.
Student volunteers are drawn to Habitat from many Western disciplines, attracted by the opportunity to help build a house from the foundation up to the desire to help local families or gain experience before participating in international build projects during reading week.
Many, like Joseph who sought out Habitat during her first year at Western, keep rolling with a commitment to volunteerism established in high school. (Joseph, a Millennium Scholarship recipient, volunteered with the Thames Valley Children’s Centre, London Youth Symphony and Arts for All Kids while a student at Central Secondary School in London.)
Students receive health and safety training before entering the professionally supervised worksite. Safety equipment from steel-toe boots to safety glasses and hard hats are provided.
“This is our key connection to youth,” said Jeff Duncan, CEO for Habitat for Humanity London. “We’re building homes, but we’re also building awareness and school and community spirit. It resonates with our young people, the impact of being hands-on and offering a hand up to people. They’re walking the talk.”
Families who qualify to be sold a Habitat home in London and area generally have a household income of less than $30,000 and are paying 40 per cent of their income on rental housing with no reasonable hope of buying a home on the traditional market. Duncan said there are currently 140 families in London and the surrounding counties of Middlesex, Oxford and Elgin who would be eligible for a Habitat home – if there were funding and volunteers available.
“It’s not just the Third World or in areas like New Orleans where there’s a need,” he said.
Among the criteria, families must provide 500 hours of ‘sweat equity’ meaning students can find themselves working side-by-side with family members whose home they are building.
Securing a building lot happens in a variety of ways. This year’s student build on Redan Street in London is in an established neighbourhood where the lot was made vacant by a house fire. A project in St. Thomas is in a new subdivision.
Duncan said in addition to providing affordable housing, Habitat for Humanity offers people the chance to build equity – homes can be sold after a minimun three years occupancy – and move up to larger houses as families grow or income improves.
“Students taking part now can continue their involvement anywhere their careers take them after graduation, anywhere in the world,” Duncan said. “We hope they do.”