Building community thanks to volunteers and Habitat for Humanity
In a quiet Slaterville neighborhood, a dream is coming true for a young Cranbrook family who had little reason to believe they would ever own their own home.
But come October, the Berry family and their four children will move into a brand new four-bedroom, two bathroom bungalow with a finished basement and it’s doubtful if life will ever be the same for the hard-working, low income family.
All of this is happening thanks to Habitat for Humanity, a global NGO that’s been building homes since 1976 based on the principle that the working poor need a hand up—not a hand out – and can do it themselves with a no-interest mortgage and working side-by-side with their volunteer benefactors.
“I cried,” says Coreena Berry when she heard in April her family had been chosen for the first Habitat for Humanity home-build project in the East Kootenay. “But that’s okay because I pre-warned the kids I’d cry no matter what the decision was.” Her husband David, a Wal-Mart employee since the store opened in Cranbrook 14 years ago, reacted differently. “For me it was more of a shock. This is a lifetime change and in the back of my mind I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much.”
But in a visit to their partially completed home this week all the family’s hopes were running high. “I think the biggest thing for me is I’ll have more usable space for the family,” says Coreena, a stay-at-home mom and part time free-lance writer. “It’s completely overwhelming,” says David, then without hesitation adds, “we’ll have two bathrooms!” The kids are excited too. “I’m going to make my bedroom a zombie room,” says nine-year-old Jordan while 11-year-old Hanna and 10-year-old Alysha say they’re excited about having a girls’ bedroom to share and toddler Samantha, not quite two, squeals with delight sensing her sisters’ excitement.
The proud parents are also quick to show their appreciation for their dream about to come true. “We had heard of Habitat for Humanity before but we didn’t know what they did. Then we went to the meeting in January and I was so excited. I even took pictures of the plans,” says Coreena. The couple then applied, vying with several others, to be chosen for a home. It was a grueling experience, says David.
“It was a very lengthy and thorough process. We had to show them everything, our entire financial history. There was no sneaking around anything or you’d be disqualified. I think that might have been a deterrent for some of the families because the process seemed endless.”
However, almost four months later, they got the exciting word they’d been chosen. “Let me tell you it was worth it in the end. It was like winning the lottery,” adds Coreena.
But like anyone else chosen for a Habitat for Humanity home, the Berry’s have to work for the prize they’ve received. Like many other home-owning couples they have a 25-year mortgage they pay out of their own earnings, but at a lower rate because there’s no interest charges. They also contribute “sweat equity” to the project in the form of labour and the entire family participates in Habitat for Humanity fund-raising projects at school and in the community.
“Instead of just saying we want, we want, we get to actually participate and show our appreciation,” says Coreena.
This is in keeping with Habitat for Humanity’s mission statement, which says: “What the poor needs is not charity, but capital, not caseworkers but co-workers. And what the rich need is a wise, honorable and just way of divesting themselves of their overabundance.”
Project leader Gord Johnston, the former manager of the Cranbrook Boys’ and Girls’ Club, says the project has enjoyed overwhelming support from the community from day one, including local businesses, tradesmen and volunteers. “Thirty-five volunteers worked on it during phase one and we have seventy-five on our list. What they’re doing for this family is simply incredible and that’s what keeps us going every day. We’re building community.”
More projects like the Berry house are likely in the future as Habitat for Humanity gets firmly established in the East Kootenay. “It brings people together and Cranbrook is going to be a better place because of this and I think that’s great,” says Johnston.
– Gerry warner is a retired journalist and a City of Cranbrook Councillor. His opinions are his own.