LANARK HIGHLANDS, Ont. — Pat and Laura Kemp’s ramshackle four-bedroom home was literally splitting in two by the time the Frontiers Foundation and a group of Canadian lawyers and judges stepped in to help.
The Kemp family had lived in the collapsing cottage for 14 years in Lanark Highlands, a rural township north of Perth, Ont. They had raised their five kids on Ontario disability benefits for the past 18 years after Pat was permanently injured when a house he was helping to build came crashing down on him.
“I had a 400-pound A-frame collapse on me. I broke four vertebrae,” says Pat.
The accident put an end to his work as a mechanic and truck driver. It also dashed the family’s hopes of a better life and a decent place to live.
The cottage, with its rotting, tacked-on additions and peeling siding, was all the family could afford.
But thanks to an $80,000 contribution from The Advocates’ Society to the Frontiers Foundation, the Kemps have now moved in to a brand-new house on their existing property.
“I feel wonderful,” says Laura, 44. “It’s very exciting.”
The Frontiers Foundation is an aboriginal non-profit charity that works with volunteers to build homes for aboriginal families in need through a program called Operation Beaver.
The families who benefit from the homes contribute sweat equity, and the foundation works with companies such as Home Hardware and others to get donated or discounted building materials.
To date, the foundation has built about 4,000 homes across Canada, founding director Rev. Charles Catto tells Law Times during in an interview at the Kemps’ housewarming on March 26.
Most of the homes are for aboriginal families living off reserves, but the foundation has also worked with communities such as the Garden Hill First Nation in Manitoba. Wherever possible, it helps to build skills, including harvesting and milling local timber for house construction.
The organization couldn’t have built the Lanark Highlands house without the The Advocates’ Society’s help, says Catto. Although the foundation has received support in the past from Toronto’s legal community, it needed this new contribution by the 4,300 lawyers and judges who belong to The Advocates’ Society to make this project a reality.
“Until six months ago, a handicapped citizen, his wife, and five children lived on this property in pitiful housing conditions that should have been pulled down and replaced decades ago,” Catto told the guests assembled at the housewarming.
“We declare Thanksgiving today that finally last fall, enough people in Lanark Highlands and far beyond cared enough to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it took to make Pat and Laura’s dream of a decent home come true.”
The Advocates’ Society organized an auction and other fundraising activities for the foundation as part of a new effort called The Advocates’ Society Gives Back, says president and Toronto criminal lawyer Marie Henein.
“We just wanted to have an aspect of our organization of lawyers that gives back in a very tangible way to the community,” says Henein.
She proposed working with the foundation because she wanted to ensure The Advocates’ Society’s donation went directly to benefit a family rather than to administration. She believed it was important that the members see the results of their philanthropy.
Many lawyers are generous with their time and money but they often don’t know the final results of their donations, Henein says. She also wanted to assist in a project that improved a local community.
“Sometimes, it’s very easy to overlook the people that are a few feet away from you and in need,” she says.
For Laura, the new house means she no longer has to worry that her children or grandchildren will be playing on a floor that crumples beneath them. She doesn’t have to be afraid that the mould that invaded her old home — “the shack,” as she calls it — will exacerbate her sons’ or her husband’s asthma.
She’s particularly fond of her bright new kitchen. “The [new] house is a lot more stable. I feel safer here,” she says. “The kids seem happier.”
Daughter Sara Kemp, 20, was particularly glad to see her old room demolished when the crane the foundation hired tore it down. “The back was falling off my old room,” she says.
Sara was among about 15 family and friends who volunteered as a makeshift construction crew on the project under the supervision of carpenter Steve Bulloch. Under Bulloch’s watch, they erected the whole house in four months.
Although the job went relatively well, Bulloch admits it was “pretty stressful” to whip the inexperienced volunteers into shape.
“The sweat that went into the project and the hours that went in by the volunteers is quite remarkable,” says Bill Sammon, an Ottawa litigation lawyer and member of The Advocates’ Society who attended the housewarming.