On Wednesday night, about 50 attendees gathered in the common room of Trinity United Church – where Habitat for Humanity South Georgian Bay first began as an idea – to celebrate 20 years since the local chapter was formed.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Garry Reid and his wife Fran, who were two of the founding members of the organization’s South Georgian Bay chapter.
“We just wanted to do it. It was that simple,” Garry told CollingwoodToday.ca. “When we got talking about it, a lot of people wanted to be a part of it.”
There were about 20 community members who met up at Trinity United in 2002 to first discuss a local chapter. While the group first started as part of the Barrie Habitat for Humanity chapter, eventually they broke off on their own in 2005.
“A person’s home is a life. One of the things that really enthused me was, my father was a trucker and I spent all my summers with him. We moved people. We saw some people moving at their worst, while hoping for the best,” said Garry. “This was an opportunity to help uplift people. It was meaningful, especially for their children.”
Over the past 20 years, the non-profit has been responsible for 17 completed builds across South Georgian Bay.
A recipient of one of the Collingwood builds, Pam Issler, got the keys to her home on Fifth St. in 2011.
At the time she received her home, she was a single mom with two sons who were eight and 11 years old, and was working midnight shifts to try to make ends meet.
“I was at the library one day dropping off some DVDs. There was a piece of paper that said, ‘Habitat for Humanity – Do you know somebody who could afford a mortgage but not the down payment?’” she said.
“I thought, that’s me.”
As part of the deal for a Habitat home, recipients have to put in 500 hours of service at the ReStore and in construction work on their home. Issler continued to work midnights and would work during the day on home construction or at the ReStore, while also making time to see her kids off to school in the morning, and for dinner in the evenings.
“I thought I’d be a renter for life. I didn’t really understand the value of owning a home,” said Issler. “Now, I own a home in Collingwood. It’s huge, and substantial. I’ve been paying off my mortgage since 11 years ago, and it’s a really good and secure feeling.”
Today, Issler still lives in her home on Fifth St. Her now-22-year-old son just graduated college, while her 19-year-old son is attending college in the fall for architectural technology.
“They’re both super hard workers, which I think, maybe, they got from me,” said Issler. “They’ll always have a home. I’ll be there forever, and they’ll always have a home to go to.”
Joy Fleury joined Habitat for Humanity South Georgian Bay as its first executive director in 2014, and still holds the role. She said the role the non-profit plays in helping to build homes in South Georgian Bay has been made more difficult by the pandemic.
“COVID changed the nature of real estate, as we know, which makes it harder for us to compete,” she said. “We used to be able to get that runt-of-the-litter lot and be OK with it. Now, even that runt-of-the-litter lot is going for so much more than we can afford to buy.”
“I think we’re going to have to lean on our municipalities a bit more to maybe find us some lots and may partner with developers to find some different ways to do what we do,” she said.
Looking back over the past 20 years, Fleury says the work of the non-profit is more important now than ever.
“It’s inspiring because we started very grassroots. I know we need to change how we do things to get to where we need to go, but I don’t ever want to lose sight of where we came from, who we’re helping and how we did it, but we need to be doing more,” said Fleury.
“I get calls pretty much every day from people in dire circumstances. The need here is great,” she said.