Julia MacKenzie chokes up when she talks about how she’ll feel when she moves into a home she will own.
Julia is a single mother with two sons, Ryan, 13, and Matthew, 15. She works as a care aid at a local senior care facility and was chosen as one of the families who will receive a hand up to obtain their own home, thanks to Habitat for Humanity Vancouver Island North.
“It feels great,” says Julia as she and Ryan stand outside their home in the making. “It’s slowly coming to the point of, ‘This is actually my home.'”
Julia has rented a home in the Comox Valley since she moved here about 10 years ago. But she’s hoping the fourth unit at Habitat’s six-unit build in Courtenay will be complete by the end of September so she can move into her own home with her sons and the family’s three cats.
“I can actually put pictures up and make it feel like it’s my house,” she continues. “You can ask Ryan, I’ve never put pictures up, (laughs), I have one picture hanging and that’s it, so when we’re in that’s it, I hang the pictures and it’s mine.”
As a drywall installer scrapes mud on the walls, Julia and Ryan peek around the unit pointing out whose rooms would be whose, and Julia admits the thought of owning a home still feels a bit surreal.
“When we first had the application process, it was like, ‘Oh well, you know, we’ll just put it in and see,’ and then they came over and they interviewed us,” recalls Julia, adding when she was called for a second interview she wasn’t sure whether it was a good thing or not.
“That was the day that they told us. It was almost like winning the lotto…We jumped up and down and hugged.”
Julia has completed the 500 hours of ‘sweat equity’ owners of Habitat-built homes must do. She’s painted, cleaned, spent hours at Habitat’s ReStore in Courtenay, and even helped construct walls and hang drywall. Through it all she says she’s made plenty of friends and gained an understanding about how homes are built.
“The experience they’ve given us, given myself, you know, just little things that a single mom like me always relied on somebody else to do, they actually teach you,” says an emotional Julia. “And they don’t judge you, they just like your family right away.”
Two homes at the site on Piercy Avenue are now complete. The fourth home is expected to be finished about a month after Julia’s, at the end of October.
Karen Bezaire, Habitat volunteer co-ordinator, hopes to have the final duplex, which is closest to the road, completed by the New Year.
“Of course that all depends on bodies and people and help from the community,” she continues. “It would be wonderful to have the families in before Christmas. I mean that would be such an amazing gift to be able to give the last two families their home for a Christmas gift and for them to be able to celebrate Christmas in their home.”
Habitat needs skilled volunteers right now. Drywall installers, painters, electricians, plumbers and concrete finishers are some of the areas of expertise the build site could really use, says Bezaire.
“It’s been sort of difficult to find skilled volunteers,” she adds. “Getting skilled guys to come out has always been a task because they’re working.”
She notes unskilled workers are always welcome at the job site, too, and adds the site is really “a place of learning.”
Bezaire adds Habitat plans to start landscaping and installation of a fence shortly, and could use some help for those jobs as well.
Habitat will be at the Comox Valley Exhibition this weekend selling tickets to win the Kids Crooked House, a funky little playhouse, painted by local artist Brian Scott. One of Scott’s original acrylic paintings will also be in the draw, which is set for Sept. 3.
Anyone interested in volunteering or for more information visit www.habitatnorthisland.com or call 250-334-3777.