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Words: Connie Smart
Hundreds of blue-shirted Habitat volunteers marched ahead, stretching a block and a half from the volunteer tent at southeast Edmonton’s Meadows Recreation Centre, all the way to the expansive build site at 24th Street and 23rd Avenue.
Along the way they were met with cheers, high-fives and applause by a crowd of excited future homeowners.
“It just touches your heart, doesn’t it?” says Alfred Nikolai, President & CEO Habitat for Humanity Edmonton. “It still touches mine. Every single time.”
For five days in July, approximately 900 volunteers a day joined the 34th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Edmonton in collaboration with Habitat.
Marking Canada’s 150th anniversary, the Project will build 150 homes across more than 40 communities. Habitat for Humanity Edmonton is building 75 of the 150 homes in Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan.
Nikolai says it presents an unprecedented opportunity to not only make a big difference in peoples’ lives, but to grow Habitat’s volunteer base and spread the word about what they do.
“This project has given us a venue to tell our story,” he says about sharing the charity’s message of affordable home ownership. “The best way to understand Habitat is to put a hard hat on and swing a hammer, grab a shovel, a screwdriver, or a paint brush and come help us. And we literally have thousands of people out here helping us this week.”
For many of those volunteers, this was their first experience with Habitat—including some who made up the five ATB volunteer teams.
“I don’t consider myself very handy! I know how to paint and use a drill,” says Taylor Hudzinski, Underwriting Manager, Business & Agriculture who, by end of the day, was using a saw. “We had great supervisors that helped us and showed us what to do. The experience was absolutely amazing.”
For others, working alongside the future homeowner brought to life both the need and the impact of their volunteer efforts.
“Meeting the homeowner and working with her all day really hit home that this was a real person you were helping in a very real way,” says Carson Mayer, Business Development Manager, Deposit Growth.
ATB has participated in Habitat for Humanity builds across the province for many years, donating money as well as hundreds of hours of volunteer time. However, as Sandra Huculak, Managing Director, ATB Corporate Social Responsibility notes, this is one of the largest volunteer efforts the company has ever participated in.
“These volunteers are helping to make possible so many firsts—a first home, a first holiday meal around the dinner table, the first mud tracked through the kitchen by little ones after playing in a community park,” says Huculak.
And it’s that very tangible impact that Nikolai hopes will stay in the minds of volunteers and keep them coming back for more.
“I think that every volunteer, when they brush their teeth before bed tonight, should look at themselves in the mirror, smile and say well done. They should look themselves in the eye and say, I did something wonderful today that feels really good—and I’d like to do it again.”