International visitors build Habitat homes in Belleville

BELLEVILLE – Despite living across the world, Clare Lennard says she has come to Canada to offer her assistance to Habitat for Humanity Prince Edward-Hastings.

Even though she’s drenched in sweat most days and her steel-toe boots get caked in mud, the New Zealander says she’s been having a great time.

“Volunteers give but they get a huge amount in return,” she said. “The Prince Edward-Hastings team they just make us feel so welcome.”

She added that some of her best memories come from when she’s been out building homes in places like Nepal, the U.S. and now in Canada.

“It’s one of the (most) fun and happiest times in my life,” she said. “It’s one of the most enriching.”

But Lennard is just one of nine members of an international women’s team who have come to Belleville and dedicated their week to helping with Habitat’s most recent project.

Bojanna Lough, Habitat’s local fund development coordinator, said that this is the first time that the local branch of the organization has ever hosted volunteers from outside of North America.

“They are one of the greatest groups of people I think we’ve ever had out in terms of the camaraderie amongst them,” she said. “You can just feel the excitement and love that they have for Habitat.

In celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, the non-profit organization has pledged to build 150 homes across the country – two of which are currently being built on Donald Street in Belleville.

The women, who are mostly from the United States, are part of Habitat’s Global Village program and have even worked alongside each other at other builds across the world.

Toronto resident and team leader, Barb Mason, said she first met Lennard when they were helping build homes in New Zealand in 2013.

Ever since then, Mason said their friendship grew and they have been meeting up each year in various countries to volunteer with Habitat.

“We’ve all become very attached even outside of Habitat because of (projects) like this,” she said. “We all want to better the situation for families that are marginalized.”

As for the specific project the women have been tasked with, Mason said they’ve been busy building outdoor sheds from scratch.

“Women are building their home and women can do this,” she said. “It’s so empowering for us to know that we’re able to help.”

Habitat for Humanity helps address the issue of affordable housing by offering zero-interest with no down payment homes with adjustable mortgage payments tailored to a family’s income.

Lough further added that there is often a misconception that families receive the homes free of charge, but noted that wasn’t the case.

She explained that residents are required to contribute at least 500 hours of sweat equity towards the building of the home and work closely with the organization.

As for the amount of support the projects have gotten throughout the community, Lough said it’s been overwhelmingly positive.

Groups like Convergys, EXIT Realty, the Belleville Lion’s Club, and more have all stepped up to the plate to offer their time, money and services, said Lough.

“We always need volunteers,” she said, “but we’ve been so fortunate and every year we get more and more and more.”

The two homes are slated to be finished by the end of September.