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Building more than just a roof over people’s heads

[Faisal AliI/ The Observer]

It takes more than just bricks and mortar to make a home, according to conventional wisdom, and more than a few homes to make a community. Beyond that, it takes the effort of people willing to help pull it all together.

People like Wayne Martin, recently recognized for his extensive volunteerism at the Field of Dreams affordable housing project in Elmira. The founder of Way-Mar Inc., a home renovation contractor based in Wallenstein, Martin has lent thousands of hours to the construction of affordable housing in Elmira since retiring from the business.

A volunteer of 25 years with Elmira District Community Living (EDCL), which provides housing and support services for people with intellectual disabilities in the community, Martin received a modest dedication on October 30 at the fourth and latest phase of the Field Dreams housing project in Elmira.

“I served on the [EDCL] board first,” explained Martin at the construction site at the new building, which will be the first at the Field of Dreams to also have elevator access.

Martin joined the EDCL after his father-in-law sat on the organization’s board, he explains, “to give back to the community. My father-in-law was one of the original board members of this organization.

“I did smaller projects while I was on the board, but it’s since I’m not on the board anymore that I’ve done the larger projects like these apartment buildings.”

Currently, Martin has been volunteering between 40 and 50 hours a week at the Field of Dreams, lending his expertise as a project manager. In effect, through his volunteerism, Martin has donated thousands of in-kind dollars to the housing project, helping to keep the entire project affordable for the local not-for-profit – and for the tenants who live there.

“I’m not sure whether or not we would have accomplished what we’ve accomplished without Wayne’s contribution,” said Greg Bechard, executive director of EDCL and its partner organization, the Elmira Development Support Corporation, which operates the housing.

A contractor will typically charge a minimum fee of 10 per cent of the total cost of a housing project for overseeing construction, notes Bechard. And at $1 million per house for the four homes at the Field of Dreams housing complex, Bechard estimates Martin would have personally saved the organization $400,000 in costs through his volunteerism – at minimum – just on the Field of Dreams project alone.

“We would have had to fundraise another $400,000, and I don’t know whether that would have been possible in this community,” says Bechard. “And then I don’t know whether or not as a group we would have been prepared to undertake the project because the debt load would not have made sense.”

But beyond just making Elmira a more hospitable place for those with intellectual disabilities, Martin’s contributions may have helped spur on similar projects in other communities across Canada.

The Field of Dreams homes have gained considerable attention in recent years for the innovative approach taken towards affordable housing. Last year, for instance, the Field of Dreams project in Elmira was one of only a handful of affordable housing projects to be featured in the federal government’s 2017 Canadian National Housing Strategy.

At the core of the Field of Dreams housing is the “good neighbour” concept, where people with intellectual disabilities live independently alongside neighbours who can help provide support and a sense of community

The Elmira project has even inspired other groups across the country to follow a similar path, says Bechard.

“What’s happened in Elmira has offered hope and inspiration for other groups trying to figure how they can address the need for safe, affordable housing in their communities. So if you look at it in that context, without Wayne it’s quite possible that none of this would have ever happened,” said Bechard.

“I have the greatest respect for [Wayne]. He’s one of a kind. I’ve never met anybody like him. His sense of responsibility to his fellow man is unequaled.”

For Martin, who is currently overseeing the housing project’s fourth building,  the reward for all his hard work is seeing the tenants enjoying their new homes.

“Well, that’s a little difficult to describe. It’s a very good feeling,” said Martin. “So that’s really what gives me satisfaction, to see these people being able to live on their own, more than what they had ever lived before. Whether it’s because their parents are unable to care for them anymore, or whether it’s just to help them develop to their full potential – it’s just a very rewarding experience to see it actually happen.”

While the housing is under construction, Bechard notes that the organization is also looking for good neighbour tenants to fill a vacancy at the Field of Dreams. The home would be a two-bedroom apartment and for a springtime tenancy. Those interested in applying may contact Bechard at 519-669-6606 or email at GBechard@elmiraacl.com.


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