Brock employees help build community with Habitat for Humanity

When Brock Psychology Professor Tanya Martini applied to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Niagara, she was expecting a day of painting.  

However, project delays meant she and five fellow Brock employees spent Wednesday, July 24 installing trim in a semi-detached house on Bellevue Street in Niagara Falls.

Professional tradespeople taught the team how to measure and cut trim using miter and table saws, and how to nail trim into place around doors and windows using an electric nail gun.

A team of six Brock University employees helped install trim in a semi-detached Habitat for Humanity build in Niagara Falls. From left, Janet Muenzberger, Project Manager, Capital Planning and Project Management; Kara Renaud, Interim Manager, Career Education, Co-op, Career and Experiential Education; Jillian Nero, Event Co-ordinator, Co-op, Career and Experiential Education; Kirsty Spence, Associate Dean, Teaching and Undergraduate Studies, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences; Mike Brousseau, Manager, Educational Technologies, Centre for Pedagogical Innovation; and Tanya Martini, Professor, Psychology.

“Teaching 1,500 intro Psychology students is significantly less intimidating than operating the saw,” said Martini. “When I learned we weren’t painting anymore, I was worried because I had no experience using power tools, but the crew leaders were very patient and encouraging.

“I always tell my students it’s OK to make mistakes,” she said. “Now I’m on the receiving end of my own advice.” 

This past April, Brock employees applied to win a spot on one of two Brock teams volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Niagara. Twelve faculty and staff members were randomly chosen in a lottery draw: six helped frame walls at the end of May and the other six volunteered their time this week.

Kirsty Spence, Associate Dean, Teaching and Undergraduate Studies with the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, felt fortunate to be selected and to work alongside her colleague Martini. 

“We’re both interested in how we can best teach students in a way that will help them feel like they can capitalize and leverage their new skills,” she said. “And here we are, learning a bunch of new ones ourselves.”

Kara Renaud, Interim Career Education Manager with Co-op, Career and Experiential Education, hopes to use her new abilities at home.

“Nail guns and saws usually terrify me, but now that I’ve learned how to use them, I might make my own planter boxes or start a home project,” she said. “My husband doesn’t know what’s coming.”

More than acquiring new skills, faculty and staff were interested in volunteering with the project as a way to give back to the local community.

“Working side by side with the homeowners was wonderful,” said Renaud. “It’s nice to know who you’re working for, and what makes the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile.”

The two-unit, semi-detached home will provide two large, local families with safe, comfortable and stable housing. It will allow Yaqub and Nimo to exchange overcrowded rental conditions for an affordable and comfortable place to live with their seven children. Home ownership will also provide Mohamed and Sabida with the opportunity to build equity and a positive future for their eight children.

“We moved to Canada nine years ago and have been renting a small townhouse one kilometre from here,” said Yaqub. “This new house is much bigger with a larger yard for our kids to play. The construction is going beautifully. We are so happy and excited to be homeowners.”

Habitat for Humanity promotes home ownership as a means to break the cycle of poverty. The organization selects families who are ready for the responsibility and challenges of homeownership, but do not qualify for a bank mortgage. In addition to other requirements, homeowners must volunteer 500 hours with Habitat in exchange for purchasing a house without a down payment and with an interest-free mortgage geared toward their income.

“The premise of Habitat for Humanity always seemed like a good one to me, but it wasn’t until my graduate work in developmental psychology when I started to appreciate how important it is for children and adults to have a home and a permanent address,” said Martini. “There are so many positive outcomes that flow from that kind of stability.”

This is the second year Jillian Nero, Event Co-ordinator with Co-op, Career and Experiential Education, has volunteered with Brock’s Habitat team.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to attend last year’s key ceremony,” she said. “There was not a dry eye on the street. The excitement, humility and appreciation that each family expressed was so heartwarming. Knowing that the Brock team helped to make their dreams come true is something you don’t forget.”   

Reveal day for the Bellevue Street home is expected to take place in September.

Brock has been partnering with Habitat for Humanity on housing builds for five years locally and eight years internationally. Employees interested in volunteering with future projects are encouraged to watch The Brock News for information.

Over the past 26 years, Habitat Niagara has served 71 families, including 258 children. By the end of 2019, the charity expects to complete construction on its 65th home in Niagara. To learn more about Habitat for Humanity Niagara, visit

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