Chris Funk, a.k.a. The Wonderist, said magic had nothing to do with making a house appear for a needy family in the Dominican Republic last month.
A little money, and seven days of sweat equity, got the job done.
In his comfortable Charleswood home last week, Funk said he’s been doing magic for 20 years.
He’s a "corporate magician," he said, but magician is stereotyped as magic for children, so to reflect his adult clientele Funk, 36, billed himself as The Wonderist three years ago.
"There’s a huge world of magic out there that’s geared for adults," he said.
Funk recently saw first-hand there’s also a world out there that lives in abject poverty, and that his time and effort could help change a small corner of it.
Funk and his wife, Charity, paid $2,000 each to join a trip organized by Shine The Light Initiative (STLI), a non-profit Winnipeg charity founded by Funk’s friend, Brent Wong.
STLI organizes humanitarian trips to bring free medical and dental services and home-building to the Dominican.
The $2,000 covers flight, hotel, and part of the $5,000 cost to build one house.
Raising a home in an impoverished part of the country changed life not only for the new homeowners, but for Funk as well.
"You look at life differently. These people have nothing, yet they’re the happiest people that you’ll meet," he said.
"It makes you realize, ‘what am I blowing my money on? Do I really need to buy that?’"
Wong, a 36-year-old Winnipeg dentist, and his wife Wendy, started STLI in 2005.
In the first three years, they did about 12 trips to bring free dentistry to Mexico, and in 2008 decided to focus on the Puerto Plata area of the Dominican, where they do about four trips a year.
"There’s no one (at STLI) on salary, and not one penny goes towards administration," Wong said.
These days about 30 people go on each trip, he said, split between medical/dental teams and builders. The medical and dental teams move around surrounding communities and manage to treat about 600 people during a seven-day visit, he said.
Many people have gone on multiple trips, Wong said, and the resulting life-change that Funk describes is not uncommon.
"You think you’re going down to change the lives of the Dominicans, but it’s the Canadians getting their lives changed. We get that over and over again."
Although the average wage of Dominicans is about $10 a day, the figure is more like $1 a day in the area they do work in, Wong said.
"I think one of the unfortunate parts is that when you do see (poverty) over and over again the tendency is to get desensitized to it," he said.
"One of the ways to circumvent that is we bring a fresh group of eyes down every time."
Funk and Charity were fresh eyes on the May trip, and Funk said for them the poverty stirred emotions.
His wife "had to duck away and wipe the tears" on more than one occasion during the trip, he said.
Finishing the house was a joyful occasion, though. The 20 by 20-foot cinder block side-by-side building got a metal roof, primitive electricity, a finished concrete floor and a yellow paint job.
The tears flowed during the dedication ceremony, Funk said.
"That’s the first time (the new owners) had a house that didn’t leak. We all got emotional."
STLI is planning another trip in October. For more information, go online to