Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Building citizens one home at a time

Inner City Youth Alive offers chance to change life

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Jeremy Soldat stole cars. He was good at it, too.

Now, the 20-year-old, who walked out of jail last year and vowed never to return, wants to rebuild his past. One house at a time, if necessary.

"People used to ask me all the time where I was going to be in five years," Soldat said. "I never knew the answer. Now I know."

Soldat was part of a crew of 13 members of Inner City Youth Alive that turned a two-buck house on Powers Street, along Redwood Avenue, into a home that could fetch $140,000 on the market. Now, Soldat wants to renovate another one. So does ICA.

"We have an eye on another property in the community," said Kent Dueck, the founder of the faith-based organization, sponsored primarily by a wide range of churches. "We're hoping this can just keep rolling."

Dueck's group bought the house for $2 from the city almost two years ago, when it was an abandoned rat-trap where squatters lit fires inside to keep warm. The place was coated in pigeon dung. Recalled Dueck: "Ugh. It was disgusting."

Some people in the construction industry said Dueck would be better off taking a wrecking ball to the place. But the symbolism of restoring the existing home mirrored the group's philosophy toward the 900 youth and young adults that are affiliated with ICYA programs, first incorporated in 1990.

"Let's work with what we've got," Dueck decided. "You can take the old and the derelict and turn it around."

Turns out, the young and the derelict can get renovated, too.

Soldat was hired by ICYA for the renovation job about six months ago. He'd just left Milner Ridge Correctional Centre after a 19-month stretch -- the latest incarceration since his first brush with the law as a 12-year-old. By 15, Soldat was infamous for car thefts. He couldn't tell you how many he stole. Crown attorneys could, though.

But after Milner Ridge, Soldat vowed to stay clean. "I just told myself I wanted to be done with jail," he said. "I never want to go back. I don't want to end up with nothing."

This is the first house ICYA has renovated completely. In return for the cheap price, the city will collect taxes on the 1,100-square-foot home. "And knowing it would help the youth in the community, that served their (the city's) interests as well," Dueck said.

Several firms offset construction costs. Suppliers such as Duxton Windows, Jorey Electric, Rosehill Cabinets, Olympic Building Centre and City Mix helped keep costs to $60,000. At least one firm would do it again. "If we could leverage this by 100 or 1,000 times, can you imagine the impact of that?" asked Duxton president Al Dueck. "We would support them forever."

But Dueck will tell you it's not about the house. The primary goal is to provide experience and training for young adults in the ICYA program. Two full-time staff, Greg Wiebe and Nolan Giesbrecht, oversaw the project.

"It was hard to imagine this," Giesbrecht said on Thursday, during an open house to unveil the finished product. "But I'm more excited to see the pride in the guys who worked on this. The nature of the program, we're trying to get guys who have no experience... and get their foot in the door so they have something to put on their resumé."

That's a prospect Soldat welcomes. Since he was a teenager, his only list of "accomplishments" were his prior records read out in a courtroom. He'd like to add working on the Powers Street house to the list. Who would Soldat like to know? "Anyone," he replied. "Even the cops."

One last thing. While Soldat couldn't recall the number of cars he'd stolen, one of them was owned by... Kent Dueck.

"I've never told him (Soldat)," Dueck confided to the Free Press. "But we caught him on tape leaving our Christmas party."

It was 10 years ago, and Soldat made off with Dueck's Dodge Caravan, which was later found and returned. Dueck can joke about it now. He can tell you about his reservations when Soldat first signed up for the home-reno project. He can tell how proud Soldat was to get his first paycheque, which he showed to everyone in the Inner City headquarters and proudly announced, "I'm legit!"

"That," he said, "is the whole story to me."

After all, restoration his Dueck's business. Sometimes, that includes houses, too.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2013 A10

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