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Ontario contractors, volunteering in Dominican Republic, ready to raise roof on Youth Centre

A group of volunteers that includes the family behind Barrie, Ontario's Gregor Homes, is helping Dove Missions Canada to complete the construction of a vital youth centre in Puerta Plata. They could use your time, volunteerism and resources.


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March 4, 2015 by John Bleasby

As soon as Melissa Almonte returned from a volunteer house-building mission in the Dominican Republic, shortly after high school graduation a few years ago, she passionately described to her parents the lives of families living in poverty in the island nation.

Melissa told her father, James Bazely, owner and president of Barrie, ON homebuilder Gregor Homes: “Dad, if a bunch of teenagers can go there and build houses in three days, imagine what you could do!”

James, already active in community work, was moved by his daughter’s passion. “She really was a changed person after that trip,” James told Canadian Contractor. And she was right; we could go anywhere we want and build something.” Melissa’s connection with the Dominican made it the right spot for his attention.

When James later became president of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, he convinced the membership to hold its 2011 annual conference in the Dominican Republic rather than at resort in Ontario.

The conference was extremely successful. Many delegates wanted to get more involved with a volunteer build. James and Melissa nurtured that interest, ultimately connecting with Dove Missions Canada to make plans to build a Youth Centre in Puerta Plata. In February 2014, they returned with their own group of 60 volunteers to begin work on the 2,400 square foot building.

“In terms of specific trades, plumbers, electrician, carpenters, we worked with who signed up,” explains Melissa. “Our group of volunteers was pretty diverse through age, skills and experience. Whatever we lacked, we hired local labour.”

As James explains, there were many logistical challenges facing the group. “We had a design, but only a handful of the locals spoke English. We arrived to find our foundation was not quite ready. The concrete block had not been delivered.” And, of course, there were the cultural differences relating to language, time, and schedules. “At the end of the day we would laugh and have a beer, but it was real eye-opener to those new to this type of project.”

“Dominicans tend to build in what I call an old-fashioned way” James explained. “All the mortar gets mixed on the street; the sand gets sifted on site. The ready-mix and big pump trucks are used on the big resorts and government buildings; local buildings don’t have those budgets. They are also willing to do things two or three times, reflecting locally accepted coordination of trades when pouring concrete, or re-parging after each trade installs wires, plumbing and fixtures.”

The initial stage of the Centre was completed in one week and now serves 200 or more young people, providing leadership and skills training. And, most importantly, a reason to stay off the streets.

The next group trip is in November 2015. Prior to that, money must be raised to pour the concrete roof so interior finishing can begin immediately upon the volunteer team’s return. “Then we can parge, we can add flooring, we can paint and so on,” explains Melissa.

You can help: The Bazely’s have helped found Builders 4 Change, and would be happy to receive your support in time or financial resources. Please contact them by email at builders4changedr@gmail.com or visit www.dovemissions.org

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About 60 volunteer Ontario contractors, many associated with the Ontario Home Builders’ Association and Dove Missions Canada, went to work a year ago (February 2014) on a 2,500 sq.ft. Youth Centre in Puerta Plata. The Dominican Republic has major issues with poverty, especially among youth, and this building is already serving a vital need. The push to finish the structure (the concrete roof pour is scheduled for November, followed by interior finishing) will be easier if we can all rally around to raise money for the effort. 

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