Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa prepares for reimagined Steel Toes and Slippers Gala

Virtual gala to feature online auction, special performance by Ottawa-based singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards
Andrea Laurin and Dennis Laurin
Andrea Laurin and Dennis Laurin, owner of Laurin General Contractor, which is the presenting sponsor of the virtual Steel Toes and Slippers Gala happening later this month in support of Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa. 
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If you haven't already, get set to swap your stilettos for slippers. Your feet will thank you and so will Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa – particularly if you’re wearing your fluffy footwear while supporting, in the comfort of your own home, their upcoming virtual gala.

The nonprofit organization is hosting its aptly renamed Steel Toes and Slippers Gala on Thursday, Oct. 29. 

Returning as the presenting sponsor is Laurin General Contractor. Its owner, Dennis Laurin, assured Habitat for Humanity GO he was sticking by them when the coronavirus pandemic first hit us like a tonne of bricks, casting the future of fundraising into uncertainty.

“We’re happy and proud that we’re able to support them and their good work,” Laurin told OBJ.social, adding that the pandemic has demonstrated how necessary permanent housing solutions are. “It’s so important for everyone to have a safe and comfortable home, which is, of course, Habitat’s raison d'être.”

Habitat for Humanity builds decent and affordable homes for hard-working, low-income families who pay for the homes through interest-free mortgages. As part of the arrangement, the beneficiary families put in hundreds of volunteer hours toward the construction of their new homes.

“The families on the partnership end are working, too,” Laurin pointed out. “It’s really quite remarkable how lovely that relationship is. It’s with a hand up – not hand out – approach, and it’s refreshing.”

Laurin and his wife, Andrea Laurin, have also offered to match financial contributions up to $2,500 made to Habitat for Humanity GO.

Tickets for the online event are $25 and come with a tax receipt. The event, being hosted by CBC News Ottawa host Lucy van Oldenbarneveld, features a special performance by Ottawa-based singer-songwriter and musician Kathleen Edwards. She’s expected to premiere a new song that night. As well, viewers will hear from Ottawa-Gatineau emerging artist Mia Kelly.

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Kathleen Edwards. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Lucy van Oldenbarneveld
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Mia Kelly

Celebrity Canadian contractor Mike Holmes will make an appearance and, for added inspiration, a Habitat family will share their story of how Habitat for Humanity GO helped them achieve their dream of permanent home ownership.

Online auction items include musical memorabilia signed by the likes of The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and pop star Taylor Swift. Also up for grabs is a stay at one of the hottest spots to travel to these days: a cottage. The west Quebec property, called The Treehouse, is located in the Val-des-Monts area, on Lac St. Germain. The item was donated by Habitat for Humanity GO board member Soley Soucie, regional director for global recruiting firm Hays.

Habitat for Humanity GO has been able to forge ahead on its housing construction during the pandemic. In August, five more families moved into their new digs at the Leacross Landing townhome development. The Orléans site will be home sweet home for another four families in and around the New Year.

Looking ahead, Habitat for Humanity will start construction this spring on Titus Landing at Wateridge Village, sponsored by the Red Roof Foundation. The development is an eight-unit stacked townhome centrally located on the former Canadian Forces Rockcliffe Airbase. Habitat is also planning a 14-unit development in the south-east end of Ottawa on Mac Street.

It’s been an undeniably challenging year for the nonprofit sector, including Habit for Humanity GO, which has taken advantage of the available government wage subsidy and rent relief programs.

Alexis Ashworth, CEO of the Habitat for Humanity GO, said the organization “has adapted quite well, so far” to the pandemic. “We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, and I’m so glad that we did.”

The organization has suffered “a huge loss in revenue” this year without its sponsorship and team Build Days. During a normal year, it has some 90 corporate teams each paying $5,000 to spend a day volunteering together on a Habitat build site.

“We have to make up that revenue somehow,” Ashworth told OBJ.social. “The gala has always been our largest fundraising event of the year. It’s extremely important this year, probably now more than ever.”

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Alexis Ashworth, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa. 

The Habitat ReStore also lost money when it closed for a couple of months earlier in the pandemic. The social enterprise has since reopened, with health and safety measures in place, but sales are still down by 30 to 35 per cent. Ashworth is hoping more people take advantage of the online shopping option that’s available to them at restoregoshop.ca

As well, there are the rising costs of building materials and the hiring of additional labour.

“We haven’t really figured out how to replace those volunteers yet, other than through hiring, but that takes more money,” said Ashworth.

Habitat for Humanity GO seems to be in a better position than other Habitat affiliates in Canada that’ve had to cancel builds or shed staff. Ashworth believes the generosity of the local community has helped.

“We’ve been really lucky,” she said. “We have a lot of support through our donors, sponsors and volunteers.”

In a prudent move, the 13 employees who make up the core staff at Habitat took a voluntary pay cut over the summer months to keep their organization strong.

“We all did what we needed to do,” said Ashworth, a 2019 Forty Under 40 recipient. “We love Habitat and we didn’t want to see Habitat suffer.”

– caroline@obj.ca