Tools are banging away in the background as Jennifer Garrett looks at the bigger picture.
“This site is a game changer for us,” she says.
It is Sunday morning and Garrett stands on a large wooden platform with wheelchair access in the middle of a clearing surrounded by trees. Some distance away, Prospect Lake sparkles in the bright morning sun. So do the pearls of sweat that run down the brows and biceps of the volunteers that swarm around Garrett.
Wearing dark T-shirts bearing the inscription HeroWork, some pound holes into the ground. Others help fasten the beams of a wooden roundhouse. Others align planks.But if their respective tasks vary, each and every one of them is making nature more accessible for individuals living with various disabilities or barriers.
As director of finance and operation of Power To Be, Garrett helps such individuals. “Something magical happens when people are outside,” says Garrett. “There is a real deep connection to self, connection to the place where you are, connection with others. That is the thing we hear the most. There is a really strong sense of belonging that happens.”
But this magic does not happen on its own. It requires special facilities. So the organization has partnered with HeroWork to transform the former Prospect Lake Golf Course into an inclusive program hub that will serve as its home for their outdoor programs, facilitating their end-goal of inspiring youth and families in need of support to discover their limitless abilities through nature-based programs. HeroWork helps other charities thrive by renewing and refreshing their physical infrastructure through the “art of modern-day barn raising.”
“Power To Be is coming up on its 20th year and we have been able to serve the community really well,” says Garrett. “But we had really reached our limit of our ability to serve and our waiting list is still very, very long.”
Garrett said the transformation of the site will benefit at least 800 individuals of different abilities and ages.
“Our youngest participant last year was seven and our oldest was in their 70s. So it is a big range,” she said. “That said, youth and young adults is where the bulk of our services are.”
As for their abilities, they vary, said Garrett. “We work with people with autism, youth that are struggling in school, people with physical or cognitive disabilities. And we are doing a lot more work in and around supporting people with mental health.”
Work on the project began on July 6 and will continue through July 16. While HeroWork has professional staff, it also looks for volunteers, especially for this coming weekend of July 15 -16.
Those willing to pitch in can sign up at HeroWork.com/volunteer. Volunteers often find that spending time doing HeroWork benefits them as much as the charity, feeling the camaraderie of being part of a team working to help others and seeing the lasting effects their work has brought to the community.
Lew Williams has been involved in every project as the head electrician, donating countless hours. He came aboard after seeing a story about HeroWork and learning that his trade was desperately needed.
“You know, you are thanked a lot on a HeroWork site, from Paul Latour and his team to other volunteers to the charity we are refurbishing, and that does make you feel good but really the payback comes in the joy you feel inside to be able to help. And help in the significant, visible way of a HeroWork project,” Williams said.
HeroWork board member, interior designer, and tireless volunteer Cheryl Rowley was inspired by a young family on the roadside holding a sign indicating they were homeless. She was a successful California executive at the time and it filled her with a desire to do more than writing a cheque, so she decided at that moment to find a way to effect change on a larger scale. Upon retiring to Victoria, she found that opportunity in HeroWork.
“In my career, I was given the opportunity to help refurbish and repurpose derelict buildings,” recalls Rowley, “and I saw how that change could become a catalyst for change through the entire neighbourhood. I love helping with HeroWork projects because they breathe new life into communities; they create meaningful spaces that change outcomes.”
The volunteers’ efforts will be on display during an open house July 19 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Prospect Lake site.
Following the completion of the Prospect Lake project, HeroWork will move on to a multi-level expansion of local shelter Anawim House. Following the renovation – expected to take place in September or October – the shelter will enjoy a new private counselling office, bike-repair shop, second-floor workstations with computer access, and many other upgrades.
HeroWork’s projects are only made possible by large volunteer turnout. By allowing volunteers to participate directly in renovations, HeroWork offers people from all backgrounds the unique opportunity to see their individual contribution transformed into what has been coined modern-day barn raising, or radical renovation.
To volunteer to help with these projects and learn more about the HeroWork mission, visit www.HeroWork.com. For those who are unable to volunteer but would like to help, donations are a great way to help projects like these become reality.