York students invest in some sweat equity

A team of 15 students from York University has won the inaugural "Golden Hard Hat Trophy" for their work with the Toronto chapter of the non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity.

Above: Habitat for Humanity at York club members with the Golden Hard Hat Trophy. From left, Victoria Nguyen, Saida Ahmed, Jermaine Brown and Curtis Hector.

The students exchanged their Reading Week this past February for some sweaty work hammering and painting their way through a Habitat for Humanity building project in the Manse Road and Lawrence Avenue East area, near Morningside Avenue, in Toronto. They worked on completing 16 houses that will eventually be owned by low income families.

Left: The trophy

The York students were part of a much larger group comprised of students from the Habitat for Humanity Campus Coalition, which includes York University, the University of Toronto, Ryerson University and George Brown College. They were participating in Habitat for Humanity’s annual Reading Week Build, which sees students construct desperately needed, affordable housing in Toronto neighbourhoods.

The initiative is part of an international campaign by Habitat for Humanity to mobilize postsecondary students to build affordable housing  as a means to break the cycle of poverty.

As part of the Reading Week Build, the team was required to raise funds to support their participation in the project. The York team raised $3,267 for the charity, which represented more than one-third of the $10,000 raised by GTA colleges and universities, and it was for this accomplishment that the students received the trophy.

Right: Habitat for Humanity at York club president Curtis Hector shows off his painting prowess with a Habitat crew leader

The victory is all the sweeter for the students who are part of a newly formed Habitat for Humanity club at York University. Formed in January 2010 by York second-year social work student Curtis Hector, the students had very little time to create their club and get to work on their fundraising activities.

"It was a pretty crazy month," laughed Hector, who is the club’s president. "Our members are understandably extremely proud of this accomplishment, as am I."

The students’ commitment to the project was inspiring, says Hector, who has personal experience with Habitat for Humanity. "Habitat offers low-income families the opportunity to own their home," said Hector. "My mother got her home through Habitat for Humanity and I know first hand what a life changing experience that is.

"Each partner family receiving a home through Habitat is required to invest 500 hours of sweat equity as part of the down payment process," he said. "After my family had completed their sweat equity hours, I decided to keep going with the organization and that’s how I became a part of the Habitat Campus Coalition."

Left: Are you sure this is the right way up? Student volunteers learned a host of skills during the Reading Week Build, including how to install vinyl siding. Standing on the scaffolding is James McKye, looking on is Sherelle Lacelle.

Part of the fun for students, says Hector, is the unexpected learning curve many go through when they work on a Habitat build. Teamed up with volunteer tradespeople and retired professionals, the students gain essential home maintenance skills, working on everything from cutting and fitting exterior siding to hanging kitchen cabinets, installing flooring and painting.

"Many have never picked up a hammer or paint brush," said Hector. "And while we had to redo some things, everyone had such tremendous pride in what we were able to accomplish over Reading Week." 

In addition to its work on the Reading Week Build, York’s Habitat for Humanity club will be active participants in this September’s Home-a-Thon, a public information campaign by Habitat for Humanity that brings students together to construct makeshift shelters in downtown Toronto. "Last year it was in Dundas Square in Toronto, the year before it was in front of the Royal Ontario Museum," said Hector. "Ten students move into each house and spend 24 hours on location. They sleep and eat there to highlight the cramped conditions in substandard housing."

The Habitat for Humanity at York club put together a promotional video for the Reading Week Build in conjunction with the Habitat for Humanity Campus Coalition. The video features students from all of the partner universities involved in the Reading Week Build.

 For more information on the club and its activities, contact Hector at bchector85@gmail.com

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor