Paying it forward, with hammers and saws

Native drummers celebrate the building of a Habitat for Humanity home in Duck Lake, SK.

Aboriginal inmates contribute to Habitat housing in Saskatchewan

When Shayla Weisbrot stepped into her new home in Duck Lake, Sask., she opened the door to a new life – for herself, and potentially for others.

The opportunity to own her own home, through the efforts of Habitat for Humanity Canada, was a big break for Weisbrot’s young family – and the benefits of this home may eventually extend far beyond its walls.

Funded in part through a $50,000 grant from the Enbridge Aboriginal Home Program, Weisbrot’s home is the product of an innovative partnership between Habitat for Humanity, Enbridge, and Correctional Service Canada (CSC). The partnership provided Weisbrot with the home she’s always wanted, and it also provided offenders with the skills and experience that may open doors for them upon their release.

“This has been a really amazing opportunity,” says Eric Michael, executive director of the Willow Cree Healing Lodge, a federal minimum-security facility with Aboriginal-specific programming. “It gives the men an opportunity to be employment-ready by the time of their release, so they know they’ll be able to provide for their families and themselves.”

Before they start, inmates at Willow Cree Healing Lodge attend a pre-construction skills program through the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies. Then, for 12 weeks at a time, up to eight men help to build the house under the supervision of a journeyman carpenter from the community.

“The men were eager to go to work every day and do something they felt was worthwhile, that the community regards as worthwhile. It helped them internalize the traditional Cree value system about respect and sharing,” says Michael.

It’s a win-win partnership model that’s being repeated. The crew broke ground on Weisbrot’s house in 2013, and is already beginning its third Habitat home in this series.

This collaboration is also the quintessential pay-it-forward agreement, says Morris Sawchuk, CEO of Habitat for Humanity’s Duck Lake chapter: “The funds from Enbridge help us to invest in a home. The construction of that home provides work experience that can open doors for the inmates once they’re released. And the inmates’ efforts result in a new home for a deserving family.”

The Enbridge Aboriginal Home Program is now in the third year of a five-year, $1-million partnership with Habitat for Humanity Canada’s Aboriginal Housing Program, sponsoring four home builds a year across Canada for Aboriginal families.

“At Enbridge, we talk about supporting sustainable options for Aboriginal families,” says Zoe Rezac, an Aboriginal community investment and training advisor with Enbridge, “but it’s really about kids having a place to put their toy boxes – a place to call home.”