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AMONG FRIENDS: Habitat for Humanity Pictou County preparing for first build

As soon as the ground thaws signs will go up on the site of Pictou County’s first Habitat for Humanity home. In the foreground of the Poplar Street, Stellarton, property are members of the local chapter of HFH, Elizabeth Engram, Danny MacGillivray and Lori-Anna Jenkins.
As soon as the ground thaws signs will go up on the site of Pictou County’s first Habitat for Humanity home. In the foreground of the Poplar Street, Stellarton, property are members of the local chapter of HFH, Elizabeth Engram, Danny MacGillivray and Lori-Anna Jenkins. - Rosalie MacEachern

One Pictou County family will know the joy of home ownership if all goes well this construction season.

An energy-efficient bungalow with full basement, the county’s first Habitat for Humanity home, will be built near the corner of Poplar and Hemlock streets in Stellarton. The budget for the home is $160,000 and it will be built for a family currently living in housing which does not meet its needs. It will be a family that is unable to raise a down payment but is able to handle an interest-free mortgage, a family that is willing to put in 500 sweat equity volunteer hours to get the keys.

The house will be built by local labour, but the construction will be managed by HFH Nova Scotia which has built 55 such homes across the province since 1992. An international not-for-profit, HFH was founded more than 40 years ago. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter is one of its best-known volunteers.

According to local HFH volunteers, the house at 98 Poplar Street will be a home where the occupants don’t have to worry about mould or mice, where the windows open wide and the doors close securely. It will come with its own driveway and a backyard fringed by trees where adults can relax and children can play. School buses stop nearby and a park and sports fields and facilities are within a few minutes’ walk. Heating costs will be known in advance and there will be no worries about disturbing – or being disturbed by – the people on the floor above or below.

“It is going to make an amazing difference in the lives of some local family. We have a problem with out migration of young people and home ownership is one of the things that may allow them to stay,” said chapter founder Danny MacGillivray.

The impetus for the home construction came just over two years ago as MacGillivray, who had recently been elected mayor of Stellarton, was reading about Habitat for Humanity projects in Halifax.

“I knew there was a need in Pictou County, but I didn’t know if the program operated in rural areas so I phoned and asked some questions.”

He was told such homes have been built in many rural parts of the province, including Springhill and Oxford. Having grown up with three siblings in a family home in Stellarton, he was instinctively sold on the value of the project.

“From that conversation I was also convinced it could be done here and I started making local calls.”

Those strategic calls netted him a group of 15 people with experience in real estate, building and financing and those who brought other skills.

Lori-Anna Jenkins and Elizabeth Engram, who work for Crombie REIT, heard about the project in their office.

“I just knew I wanted to be part of it. I’ve been living in Pictou County for 20 years, I’ve been involved in a lot of volunteer projects and I knew this one would work,” said Jenkins, who grew up in a family home in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Engram is newer to Pictou County, having relocated 18 months ago.

“I grew up in Truro, in a family home, and I moved here from Halifax with my husband and son. We found people very welcoming and I thought this was going to be a great project and I’d meet a lot of good people in the process, so I jumped in.”

MacGillivray has been involved in his share of fundraisers through the years but he’s quick to point out this one is different.

“I’ve never been involved in anything where people were so quick to come onboard. They are sold on the concept and just want to know how they can help.”

Jenkins said the chapter now has a growing database of people who can be called upon when needed.

“They have skills or services we are going to need and they’ll be ready when we need them.”

Right now the chapter is looking for a volunteer to head up a building committee.

“Our timeline is tied to the Halifax office. That’s where the expertise and experience are. We are relying very heavily on them to direct and oversee the construction,” said MacGillivray.

While the group has already had a couple of fundraisers, they are counting on donations to cover most of their costs. The first came from the Town of Stellarton which donated the lot.

“Our hope is that we are going to get building materials donated and we are also going to get labour donated,” said MacGillivray, adding that early discussions have been encouraging.

Engram pointed out the amount of fundraising required is directly related to donations received.

“We know we need $160,000 in cash and in-kind donations. The more donations we can get the less cash we need to raise.”

Jenkins noted there is lots of opportunity for companies and organizations to commit to providing funding or labour.

MacGillivray added the same opportunities are there for trades contractors and individuals.

“It has happened in other places that a couple of electrical companies, for example, will challenge each other to do a certain amount of work. At the end of the day, everything stays in the county and the home will be there for all to see.”

To date a number of families have applied by filling out an online questionnaire with Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia, to take up residence at 98 Poplar. Applications are still being accepted.

Applicant families will be screened by a local committee which includes representatives from the provincial department of community services and Eastern Mainland Housing Authority.

“That’s the first part of the process and the second part of the process is to look at the family’s financial situation to determine whether they can handle the mortgage,” said MacGillivray.

The mortgages are held by HFHNS and payments go into a revolving fund which allows for more houses to be built. The Pictou County home will be the first between Oxford and Sydney.

The sweat equity component of the partnership between HFHNS and the prospective homeowner can take many forms. Adults in the family may work on the construction site but will also likely be involved in other volunteer work. Teenage family members contribute by volunteering with a variety of community agencies such as a YMCA.

Anyone interested in more information can make contact through Habitat NS Pictou County on Facebook or email

Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer. She seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs they love the most.

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