Hundreds came together Saturday night to build home ownership for low-income working families, one brick at a time, at Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa's 13th annual Steel Toes and Stilettos Gala, held at the Shaw Centre.
Organizers were hoping to bring in more than $100,000 for the non-profit organization, which works with community groups, donors and volunteers to construct safe, decent and affordable homes in Ottawa. The new abodes are sold with an interest-free mortgage to partner families, who, in turn, devote their own volunteer hours, including homebuilding.
Since 1993, Habitat for Humanity GO has served 76 local families.
The evening got underway with a champagne cocktail reception featuring Ottawa singer Jeff Rogers and circus artists from Montreal’s Cirque Carpe Diem. In a wonderful example of audience engagement, Luc Rancourt from Duron Services had an acrobatic artist successfully balance on his shoulders.
The 400 guests dined on a main course of short ribs glazed with maple whiskey and local honey from Lacelle's Apiary. They also bid on silent and live auction items, took in more gasp-worthy performances from the circus artists, and heard inspiring stories from Habitat homeowners.
Returning as presenting sponsor was Laurin General Contractor, represented by owner Dennis Laurin with his wife, Andrea Laurin.
The crowd was packed with leaders from the business community, particularly from the real estate industry, as well as some local sports celebrities. From the CFL East Division-winning Redblacks team were Kevin Brown, Avery Ellis, Kyries Hebert, A.C. Leonard and Nigel Romick. They enjoyed an exciting win the previous night in their home game against the Argos:
Retired Ottawa Senators player Chris Neil, a long-time fan favourite, attended with his wife, Caitlin, as guests of Myers Automotive Group.
Sabrina Fitzgerald, the new Ottawa managing partner of PwC, was out supporting the cause, as were Bernie Myers, who recently joined Regional Group as a senior vice president, and Clariti Group founding partner Kevin Barwin, who's on the board of Habitat for Humanity GO. So is Anne Van Delst, a partner at GGFL.
Habitat's board chair is Bob Ridley, past president of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association, and owner of Skilbilt Construction.
Habitat is currently raising funds for its Phase III of Leacross Landing. The 16-townhouse development is in Orléans and will be the organization's largest build to date. The first four homeowners took possession last June and the next four move in this February. The final eight homes are being built in 2019.
The room heard from Alexis Ashworth, CEO of Habitat for Humanity GO. With her second child due this March, the subject of raising families was on her mind. She described her own carefree childhood, of living in a comfortable and safe home and playing outdoors until the street lights came on, and contrasted it to the cramped and dangerous living conditions facing many families that partner with Habitat for Humanity GO.
“I’ve seen children sharing a room with multiple siblings, where there’s no room to study and no room to bring friends over to play,” she told the dinner crowd.
Owning a Habitat home gives people a sense of belonging and hope, said Ashworth while sharing the thoughts of one Habitat homeowner, who stated: “For the first time in my life I have time to stop worrying about survival long enough to plan for the future.”
Ashworth concluded her remarks by telling the audience: “Each and every one of you in this room is part of building strength, stability and self-reliance for families in Ottawa. For that, I sincerely thank you.”