Habitat for Humanity celebrates 25 years of creating more affordable housing options in Ottawa

14th Annual Steel Toes and Stilettos Gala returns to Shaw Centre for fun night of auctions, prizes, dinner and music

Ottawa resident Anna Jowsey lives paycheque to paycheque, much like the more than half of Canadians who, according to a new poll by accounting firm BDO Canada, are struggling to make ends meet.

Most of the money she earns as a call monitoring team manager with TD Bank goes to pay her family’s rent, food and utility bills. 

“I’m doing my best,” the single mother of two told OBJ.social in an interview. “I don’t make a bad income but my savings are pretty minimal.”

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Until recently, it wasn’t looking like homeownership was in the cards for Jowsey. Thank goodness for moms, because it was her mother who encouraged her to apply to Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa. She did, and her application was approved.

She and her kids are moving within the next few months into a new Habitat townhome in the Orléans community of Leacross Landing, at the intersection of Jeanne d’Arc Boulevard and Fortune Drive.

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Jowsey has given 350 hours of her time toward the housing construction and other related volunteer work and Habitat activities. She will also pay a mortgage on the townhome that’s geared toward her income.

She delivered her heartfelt appreciation to the community on Saturday night at Habitat for Humanity’s 14th annual signature gala, Steel Toes and Stilettos. The fundraiser returned to the Shaw Centre’s Trillium Ballroom, which was decorated so beautifully by Event Design Group. 

The evening, emceed by Jasmin Ibrahim from CTV Ottawa, also celebrated the non-profit organization’s 25 years.

Close to 400 business people, volunteers, board members and other supporters attended the dinner, which saw Laurin General Contractor back for its fourth year as presenting sponsor. Representing the company was its owner, Dennis Laurin, and his wife, Andrea Laurin.

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Each year, Dennis has also been raising additional funds for Habitat Greater Ottawa by agreeing to match all donations made at the gala, up to a total of $5,000.

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Guests bid that night on silent auction items and were part of a live auction led by Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Solomon Friedman. He joked, self-deprecatingly, that organizers must have confused him with another criminal defence lawyer with a Jewish name: Lawrence Greenspon (he’s pretty much a household name on the social scene for all his charity work). 

The truth is, Habitat’s director of development Shawna Blanchard “discovered” Friedman at a comedy benefit organized by him and fellow lawyers for Habitat by their charity group, Barristers for a Better Bytown. When the group fell short of its fundraising target, Friedman took charge and not only closed the gap but, with some good-natured audience shaming, surpassed the goal.

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By the end of the dinner at Steel Toes and Stilettos, the crowd had reached $5,000 in donations. Friedman urged supporters to give even more. As audience members obliged, Friedman hustled over to each new donor and gave them enthusiastic high fives. The grand total rose within minutes from $5,000 to $11,350, with a further $5,000 in matching funds expected from Laurin.

Friedman, managing partner at Edelson Friedman Black LLP, also bought a corporate table for the gala.

Organizers were expecting to reach their net goal of $100,000 that night. 

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Alexis Ashworth, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa, touched on the dire need for more affordable homes for Ottawa families. 

“We have a housing crisis in our city,” said Ashworth, a 2019 Forty Under 40 recipient. “Too many families are living in inadequate housing without hope of ever owning a home.

“A home is more than just a house. It’s a source of pride and security; it’s where we raise our children, where we build equity, and where we put down roots in a community.”

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Retired Ottawa Senators hockey player Chris Neil and his wife, Caitlin, were back as guests of Myers Automotive Group. Redblacks player Alex Mateas and his fiancée, Chelsea Gray, dined with Keynote Group’s James Baker and his wife and business partner, Donna Baker, who participated in a recent Women’s Build Day for Habitat.

In OBJ.social’s best-dressed men’s category, Capital Taxi’s Claude Thivierge came a close second to Hon. Lt.-Col Mark Matheson from the Governor General’s Foot Guards. The regiment, as part of its 150th anniversary celebrations in 2022, is looking to participate in various community projects. It plans to partner with Habitat Greater Ottawa on its Mac Street development in Ottawa South.

Other corporate sponsors included Colonnade Bridgeport CEO Hugh Gorman, Regional Group’s senior vice-president Bernie Myers and Phoenix Homes vice-president Rahul Kochar.

Earlier, guests mingled over cocktails while DJ Emily Jones injected relaxing musical vibes into the party. Magician Diego Lopez also entertained guests with card tricks. After dinner, live band The Rock Steadies took to the stage.

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Proceeds from the gala will support Habitat Greater Ottawa’s 2020 operations, including a new affordable housing development in Wateridge Village, located on the former Canadian Forces Base Rockcliffe lands. It will consist of eight stacked townhome units, including two barrier-free accessible units for families with mobility issues. Each unit will be three to four bedrooms and the development will also feature eco-friendly designs and a common area for families. 

Jowsey told OBJ.social that, after years of moving from rental to rental, her family is looking forward to having a place of their own. She’s also happy to be surrounded by wonderful neighbours, whom she’s already met through her volunteer work with Habitat. Most of all, the permanent residence gives the family some stability when it comes to their future. “It’s going to take that pressure off, that constant ‘What if?’ that’s in the back of your mind,” said Jowsey. “It just brings such a sense of relief.”

One of the first things the family plans to do after they move in: add a splash of colour, especially to the kids’ bedrooms. Her children — 11-year-old Valentino and Violet, 10 — have grown up staring at bland white rental walls.

“Everyone has a story, everyone has a past, and every single person has something they are working on or through,” Jowsey told her audience that night. “It can leave you feeling defeated at times and it can be so easy to lose sight of the positive.

“In my experience, the happiest people do not have it the easiest but have learned to keep a light shining within them through it all. It takes people around you, who have this light, to remind you to just keep going, live, help others, enjoy every step along the way, and keep your own light shining.

“Thank you for proving to my kids that I know what I am talking about: that the world is a better place when we all help each other just a little bit.”

— caroline@obj.ca

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