June 11, 2009

1,500 women volunteers join forces in Habitat for Humanity Toronto’s first-ever Women Build

Event encourges women to get involved in a traditionally male-dominated profession.

Reed Construction Data – Canada (RCD) employees Mary Kikic and Lori Brooks participated in Habitat for Humanity Toronto’s first-ever Women Build project on May 5 and 7, 2009. The May 1 to May 10 event was the first time Habitat for Humanity Toronto has held a Women Build initiative and the organization was pleased at the support and enthusiasm from women across the city.

“A Women Build includes all the benefits of a regular Habitat for Humanity Toronto build,” says Neil Hetherington, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Toronto, “but adds a twist by focusing on the encouragement of women to get involved in what has traditionally been considered a male-dominated profession.”

Established in 1988, Habitat for Humanity Toronto is a non-profit, non-denominational Christian housing organization. They welcome all people without discrimination to join them in building simple, decent, affordable homes in partnership with low-income families.

During their two days at the Scarborough build site, Brooks, Kikic and their friend Jocelyn Ubaldino arrived on site with hammers in hand, wearing hard hats, steel toe boots and safety glasses, ready to join forces with 200 other women.

Brooks and Kikic became involved in the project a year ago when they were invited to a Habitat event through CAWIC (Canadian Association of Women in Construction). They committed to raising funds and attended six three-hour crew leader training sessions on such topics as interior walls, windows and doors, floor joists and sheathing, and roofing.

In addition to completing the training, they also raised over $1,600 through the generosity of RCD and by holding raffles at work. They also each contributed over 40 hours of their time to the project.

For Kikic, involvement in the project has provided a feeling of hope and pride in knowing that working together can make a real difference.

“In the city, it can be difficult to experience a sense of community,” Kikic says. “Helping each other is what Habitat is all about. In the end, I learned new skills, worked with some extraordinary people and together we did a good thing.”

Ubaldino says that she joined the project because “the combination of an all-women build and Habitat's belief in providing a hand up, not a hand-out intrigued me. Sure enough, starting with the first training session, I was impressed by the commitment of everyone involved in Habitat.”

“Together, we felt that we could build anything,” laughs Ubaldino. “Of course, reality was another story but we did drive a lot nails, erect walls and build roofs.”

Sonia Jaimes and Luis Orellano Castillo were part of this particularly excited and hard-working group of Habitat volunteers. For them, moving into their new Habitat house will mean leaving the confines of their one-bedroom apartment and getting the opportunity to enjoy life. The Castillo-James family is helping to build their new Habitat home with their fellow volunteers.

At the end of the second day, after most of the volunteers had left the build site, a special crew started to lift the first roof into place. Ubaldino says, “Lori and I decided to linger and watch, not just because we were curious about how they would lift the roof into place but because of what it symbolized, and meant, to so many people.”

Brooks says, “The volunteers were cheering when the crane arrived to lift the first roof into place. Watching that roof rise from the ground helped us to forget about how exhausted we were.”

The Women Build volunteer fundraisers and corporate partners have raised over $1.9 million for this initiative, while over 1,500 women volunteers mustered to build homes and hope for families in need.

On the last day of the Women Build blitz, Ubaldino returned to photograph a “life in the day of a Habitat build” and had a chance to meet and talk with future owners of the Habitat homes.

Kikic and Brooks participated with the blessing of their employer, who donated their time on the site as part of its RE Cares initiative. “In the end, without companies like Reed that support the involvement of their employees in volunteer projects, organizations like Habitat could not be so successful,” says Ubaldino.

The Habitat for Humanity Toronto Women Build project is a part of a one-time 60-home development of affordable and market value homes created by WRP Neighbourhood Housing.

One hundred percent of all administrative and fundraising costs are paid for by the operation of three ReStores. Habitat ReStores sell quality new and gently used donated building materials. Every 10 minutes, Habitat for Humanity helps a family improve their housing situation in more than 100 countries around the world.

– RCD Digital Media

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