Home is where her heart is

Habitat vice-president has helped families find homes for more than two decades

Merle Kindred helps clean up at the Penticton Urban Agriculture site. She recently accepted the position of vice-president of Habitat for Humanity South Okanagan

Merle Kindred helps clean up at the Penticton Urban Agriculture site. She recently accepted the position of vice-president of Habitat for Humanity South Okanagan

Merle Kindred has been building houses for a long time, though she’s not in any of the construction trades.

The new vice-president of Habitat for Humanity South Okanagan has only been with the local group for three years, but has more than 20 years with Habitat, working in both the U.S. and in India with a similar organization.

“My late husband was an architect and we were involved in helping to start a new affiliate north of Detroit, Mich., that would have been in the early ‘90s,” said Kindred. “I also worked on a Jimmy Carter work project — that was an annual one-week, intensive blitz build of Habitat homes. I did that in 1994. That was Eagle Butte, South Dakota, where we were building 50 homes on a Lakota Indian reservation.”

Helping others get a home is a goal that is dear to Kindred, and not only because of her husband, who was an early developer of energy-efficient home designs. Living in the U.S., Canada, India and other places around the world, she said outfitting something and calling it home has always been very important to her.

“To be able to have a place of one’s own is very important,” she said. “We work with families. Our idea is to build homes, build hope. “To give people who have never had  a home of their own a chance to work on creating that home.”

Kindred also worked on another Jimmy Carter work project in 2006, building 100 dwellings in India, southeast of Mumbai. That work also led to her involvement with another non-government organization that does similar work to Habitat in India.

“I was back to see those houses a year ago and they are also holding up very well. People have customized them, they have added their own features. Maybe added a thatched lean-to, or decorated them, or painted them,” said Kindred, who now spends about half her year in India.

Kindred’s ideas about these aid organizations doesn’t stop with simply building houses, however. They also work to build community, she said, bringing together people from a variety of socioeconomic levels in a special way.

“The home is the artifact, the thing you end up with at the end of the day. One can give money and assist people who are in need, perhaps interact with them in a small fashion, but here we are working together, sweating, sawing boards, hammering nails,” she said. “We’re actually living together for a long period of time, coming together for hours every week. A variety of people are getting a chance to work together, to help a family.”

The local chapter of Habitat is currently working on their third house, planning to build an extremely energy efficient house designed by Cal Meiklejohn. That also has Kindred excited, as it both touches on the work she did with her late husband and her own specialities.

“My doctoral work deals with issues of communication,” said Kindred, who, along with her architect husband, was an early advocate of reshaping perceptions about the built environment. “We didn’t think it was the technology that was really at issue, it was a communications issue.

“How do you get people to perceive that we need to use energy and create built environments in a different way? How do we get them to understand it, to become aware of it? And then how do we move them to take action?”

Kindred even made a case in the early ‘90s, that Habitat should be working at energy-efficient buildings that would help lower ongoing utility costs for the new homeowners.

“Essentially doing green builds, that wasn’t a term we used much in the early ‘90s,” said Kindred, adding that she brought the idea up during an hour-long interview with Habitat founder Milliard Fuller, back in 1994.

“ I don’t know if that made any impact on Habitat, but I do know that about 10 years later they rolled out a new newsletter and they contacted me and asked me to write the lead article on building in cold climate conditions,” said Kindred. It doesn’t make any sense, she continued to put people into homes that are going to be energy hogs.

“Energy costs are not going to be going down. It’s really important that these folks with low incomes are given not just the opportunity to have a home, but also a home with low energy costs, so they can afford to stay in their home, and have money to do other things for their family,” she said.

Money is also an issue for Habitat South Okanagan. Monday, Penticton council unanimously passed the last variance needed for building to get started on the Huth Avenue property, and Kindred said they are “pressing the accelerator on fundraising” for their latest project, hoping to get it underway and to lockup stage before the fall.

“We have to do major fundraising for this house. We’re also applying for grants, but that takes some time for those to come through the system,” she said. They already have a fundraiser planned with a musician who tours in support of Habitat.

“We’re inviting folks to come and they can buy a dessert and drink and enjoy our visiting troubadour, Thomas Radcliffe. He travels North America and his mission is to do fundraising concerts for Habitat chapters,” said Kindred. “He was here last year, but we only had a week’s notice. We didn’t have time to get the word out, but nevertheless it was a delightful concert.”

The concert will take place at the Frog City Cafe in Kaleden’s Linden Gardens from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 19. More information about Habitat’s project, fundraising efforts and how you can volunteer or donate is available at habitatsouthokanagan.ca.