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Inmates build home for local family

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A partnership is helping a local family and Rockwood Institution inmates build up their lives.

St. Boniface-based Habitat for Humanity and Corrections Canada initiated a program in 2012 that allows for homes to be built at the institution, which is a minimum-security facility located next to Stony Mountain Institute. The federal government contributed $125,000 to the project, which helps those who are incarcerated learn skills such as framing, drywalling, painting, roofing, and finishing. The current memorandum of understanding plans for five homes to be built as part of the program.

The first completed home was placed on Herbert Avenue in East Elmwood, and will be inhabited by a couple with five children that had been living in a two-bedroom apartment downtown. The family welcomed dignitaries, and representatives from both Habitat for Humanity and Corrections Canada, to the home during a key ceremony on Dec. 19.

The family patriarch, Abdou, whose last name cannot be printed, works at two different home care facilities while also picking up driving shifts with a taxicab company to make ends meet. His wife Letifa, meanwhile, takes care of Mekheil and Judi (both 12), Zidan (10), and Rami and Ramzy (both six). The three eldest children were particularly taken with the extra space they’ll soon enjoy permanently, exploring the main floor and basement excitedly during the formal program.

Abdou, who moved to Winnipeg from Eritrea approximately 10 years ago, said moving into the new house, which they plan to do "soon", will be a major milestone for the family.

"You can hear the neighbours…they make noise," he said. "Now we have a house."

Abdou explained the family put 500 hours of sweat equity into the organization, doing everything from general labour to working in the organization’s ReStore.

He credited Letifa, who is originally from Ethiopia, with rearing the children as he supports the family, and thanked Habitat for their contributions.

"Without Habitat, I would never be able to afford the house," he said. "I work a lot, but I have to spend it (the money) on the kids. It’s hard."

The family had applied to Habitat in 2007, but was denied at the time. Abdou was determined to keep up hope, and understands the position of Habitat at the time.

"There were more qualified families," he said, as twins Rami and Ramzy were born after the denial, bringing the family to seven people.

One inmate, who could be identified only as Rob, said he approached his parole officer after hearing about the program and wondered how he could get involved. As part of a work-release program, he worked on the foundation of the Herbert Avenue house.

"I didn’t really have any skills coming in," said Rob, who hopes to work in the construction industry. "Now, it’s exciting to see people smile and see their faces (when they see the house)."

Habitat for Humanity Manitoba vice-president of program delivery Linda Peters said there have been inmates who have thrived on sites, doing excellent work and even becoming leaders on job sites.

"For us, it’s like doubling our staff," Peters said. "They don’t need hand-holding because once they learn their skills, they know how to apply them. It’s amazing how much more we get done because they’re with us."

Peters said the only factor that could inhibit the project in the future is funding, as all other parties are on-board.

"My guys never say ‘no,’ and Rockwood never tells us ‘no,’" she said. "We always find a way to solve our problems and keep going.

"There’s nothing about this program that would stop it — it’s just a matter of finding funding."
Peters said inmates that are hired typically receive three-month contracts from Habitat, but are encouraged to take on permanent work if given the opportunity.

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