Sometime in the Fall of 2013, I heard about an opportunity for faculty, staff, and alumni to travel as a group to Whitehorse, Yukon the following summer to work on a Habitat for Humanity Canada Builds project the following summer. In August 2014, I found myself on a plane across the country, ready to do just that on the first annual Waterloo Habitat for Humanity trip.
Together with a team of volunteers from UWaterloo, I spent a fantastic week working on a semi-detached home for a single mother and her 3 children in the Whistlebend subdivision of Whitehorse, which was a short drive from our downtown hotel. I spent much of my week inside, painting doors, trim and walls, and installing baseboards and casing (my first experience with power tools!). Others worked outside, doing landscaping and installing siding. Teamwork was so important on this trip; many hands really do make lighter work (and they make it a lot more fun, too)! Each day, a local family connected to Habitat for Humanity provided us with a hot lunch on the jobsite, and the Executive Director, Stu, talked to us about the work the organization does in the area. I learned so much about Whitehorse and the Yukon, and how Habitat works to provide people with a hand up into safe, affordable housing that suits their needs. It’s an incredible organization
It wasn’t just all work though. The first weekend we arrived, we got to tour Whitehorse, which included seeing the Yukon River at a few different points including the Whitehorse Fish Ladder, seeing the first Habitat for Humanity build site in the city, and going on a hike near Fish Lake. We had dinner together as a team every night, which was a great way to get to know one another off the jobsite. I tried bison, elk, and moose meat for the first time on this trip, and also enjoyed lots of seafood and other local fare. Twice we had dinner at Stu’s house, and had the opportunity to get to know others involved with Habitat for Humanity in Whitehorse. Some nights after work we also took in other local attractions, including the Frantic Follies (a long-running vaudeville show in Whitehorse), a farmers market, the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, the Yukon Brewing Company, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and the Takhini Hot Springs. On our final weekend, we toured outside of Whitehorse to see another Yukon Habitat for Humanity build site, experience a historical First Nations camp reproduction, visit the Da Kų Cultural Centre of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation, and see the Takhini River. Through these excursions, I learned a lot about and came to really appreciate the history and culture of Whitehorse. There’s a strong First Nations influence that has been embraced and celebrated. It’s also an absolutely stunning natural area with thick forest, fast moving water, steep mountains, and rolling hills unlike anything I’d seen before.
In all, my experience volunteering with a group from Waterloo for Habitat for Humanity was incredible! It was an amazing learning experience in so many ways, and a fantastic opportunity to connect with people I may never have met otherwise. I look forward to volunteering with Habitat again in the future, maybe on another Waterloo trip.