Written by Lindsay Chung
A Christmas present that doesn’t fit under the tree – and came a bit early – made a huge impact on two local families.
Earlier this month, two Campbell River families found out that they have been chosen to partner with Habitat for Humanity Vancouver Island North (HHVIN) for the new duplex that will be built at the corner of Westgate and Dalton roads.
Melissa Hamstra found out she and her children Johnus, who is six and a half, and Tateum, who is three and a half, were chosen on Dec. 9.
“I was flabbergasted, absolutely in shock,” she said. “Me and my babies are going to be OK, and that’s what feels really good.”
Hamstra is a single parent who does not receive child support. She’s been living in low-income housing for four years since she was pregnant with Tateum, and she put herself through school in that time, going back to school two days after Tateum was born.
Hamstra, who grew up in Campbell River, is currently working as an education assistant at Cedar Elementary School.
When Hamstra thinks of becoming a homeowner, she says she thinks about how far she has come.
“I guess in the last four years, I sort of figured out what I’m made of,” she said. “Without organizations like Habitat for Humanity, this dream wouldn’t be possible. It’s mind-blowing. I’m going to be leaving low-income housing. This is just another step towards my future, and it really is a game-changer. Already, I feel more confident, and I don’t even know how to explain it or why I feel that way, but I do.”
Hamstra feels empowered by this process, knowing that she’s going to be involved in building her own home and will also be learning how to maintain it.
“Habitat has provided me with the opportunity to make a home and start a life for my kids and that, I think, is the most amazing Christmas gift ever,” she said.
The other new home is going to Benny and Maggie McGrath and their three children — Journey, 7, Bo, 5, and Halle, 3.
When they learned they had been chosen, Maggie recalls “there were tears everywhere.”
“Our kids were already in bed, but when we found out, we had to get everybody out of bed, and they gave everybody a hug and said thank you,” added Benny.
Maggie grew up in Campbell River. She and Benny were married seven years ago when she was 19 and he was 20, and then moved to Australia. Benny had a good job as a graphic designer in Sydney, but he lost his job one month before Journey was born.
“That kind of started an era of trying to figure out how we’re going to make money,” said Benny. “So we moved back to Campbell River in a time when we just couldn’t afford to live in the city anymore.”
Maggie now works at the Christian Life Children’s Centre in the afternoons. Benny is an online media manager. He does a lot of work for his mom’s business,What’s On Digest, and for the past year, he has been going to seminary and been an apprentice pastor.
They have been renting the home they live in right now for six years.
“Since we moved to Canada from Australia, we’ve done a lot of working in the church instead of prioritizing making a lot of money for our family … that’s just meant that now that our kids are getting older, we’re realizing that we need to get things in order and we’re so far behind in terms of developing a career and income and that kind of stuff that for us to actually do things like buy a house would be impossible for us unless some kind of miracle happened,” said Benny.
The McGraths are excited to be part of building their own home.
“As a kid, we used to go up to Esperanza and we used to help build there and help out groups of people and I love that kind of stuff,” said Maggie. “You’re with these people for how many months it takes and you create this different family kind of because they’re excited and you’re excited. They get to see us building something that we’re going to have and that’s been given to us, and these people are there, and they’re volunteering their time to help us. It’s a little overwhelming; it’s hard to think we deserve that kind of attention but people are just so lovely.”
This year, while the McGrath and Hamstra families were the successful applicants, four other families met the criteria, and those four families have also signed a letter of intent with HHVIN and will be partnering with the organization for the next Campbell River build, according to Karen Bezaire, HHVIN’s communications and marketing director.
The Westgate/Dalton property is now being cleared, and Bezaire says the property will be open for volunteers in March. A volunteer calendar is available, sign up at www.habitatnorthisland.com.