group of volunteers putting up frame for wall

Volunteer joins Saugeen First Nation Build

July 19, 2023 6:07 pm | News

Heather Howkins is no stranger to giving back to the community. When we first met Heather in 2016 she was the manager at the Hilton in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the hotel was undergoing a 118-room complete renovation. She reached out to our Habitat for Humanity Niagara ReStore to donate furniture, had yard sales and contacted other charities to repurpose as much of the items as she could. As a result, she was proud to say that only two mattresses ended up in the landfill.

That’s quite an accomplishment.

Heather has volunteered for multiple non-profits and causes over the years and retired early to volunteer and travel more. For the past eight years she has cycled and raised funds for fight kids cancer in the Great Cycle Challenge Canada, she volunteers on the fundraising committee at ATTCH, is a hike leader for Bruce Trail Conservancy, has volunteered in Costa Rica for Sea Turtle Conservancy, and is soon traveling back to Costa Rica to help on an animal sanctuary for sloths.

“I get value from giving to others,” said Heather. “It’s so rewarding.”

In 2017, Habitat for Humanity Niagara held a women build, where women were empowered to dig in, get dirty and make a difference and build a two-unit semi-detached home in Niagara Falls. Heather and some of her team at the Hilton signed up and raised funds to participate on a build day – then she got hooked and has been volunteering at our Fonthill ReStore since.

Recently, Heather’s church organized a group to help build homes with Habitat for Humanity Grey Bruce on their Saugeen First Nation build and she jumped at the chance to join them.

Prior to participating on their build days, they had to raise funds and complete the Four Seasons of Reconciliation course through the First Nations University of Canada.

“It was very, very humbling,” said Heather. “It made me embarrassed the way we treated them [Indigenous people]. It also made me want to learn more.”

Heather and her team of 24 people spent two days helping to build homes for the people of Saugeen Ojibway Nation. They framed both the inside and outside of a home and installed insulation, vapour barrier and wrapped the exterior of the house.

“It was amazing!” said Heather. “We were shown how to measure, use the framing nailer and chop saws. I can’t speak highly enough of the leadership, Greg Fryer, at Habitat Grey Bruce, all the staff were great.”

When asked what she thought of the experience, Heather said “It was unbelievably gratifying. We achieved so much and contributed to someone’s quality of life.”

What’s next on Heather’s bucket list? Participating on a Global Village build through Habitat for Humanity Canada.

“COVID shut it [Global Village] down, but I hear they are opening it up again and I can’t wait to see where they’re building,” said Heather.

Learn more about Habitat Niagara’s volunteer opportunities.