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New Friends, Making a Difference, all part of the Deconstruction Experience

After retiring from a thirty-year career as a systems analyst with a large multinational, Richmond Hill resident Charlie Packwood was looking for a volunteer experience where he could actively give back to the community while meeting interesting new people.  He found the perfect fit on Habitat GTA’s Deconstruction volunteer team.

Charlie Packwood began his career as a licensed electrician, and after ten years made a transition to the corporate sector.  He’s always enjoyed building things, including most of his house in Richmond Hill, and renovating at his cottage.  When Charlie retired a few years ago, a former colleague who was already a Habitat GTA volunteer urged him to give deconstruction a try.

It turned out to be a good fit.

For Charlie, part of the appeal of volunteering was that it offered him a way of giving back to the community actively, not just by writing a cheque.

“It makes me feel good and useful,” he says.

In addition to feeling good about giving back to the community, what Charlie really enjoys about deconstruction is the camaraderie.

“It’s a really good way to meet people,” he explains. “I’ve met some new friends from all different walks of life which is really quite interesting.  When you work in the trades you work with tradespeople. When you work in a professional environment – such as I did for 30 years as a systems analyst – that’s who you associate with.  But in this case we have all kinds of people coming out on a regular basis – retired lawyers, money managers, teachers – the whole gambit.  So you open the scope of your acquaintances, which is kind of nice. We get into conversations about many different things.”

What makes deconstruction work particularly interesting for Charlie is the constant challenge to take things apart and do so in a way that doesn’t break or damage the high quality kitchen and bathroom items that people are generously donating.  He enjoys solving problems and sees that part of deconstruction as an extension of skills he developed in his career as a systems analyst.

With his considerable “how to” experience and knowledge of tools, Charlie has fabricated custom tools in his workshop to help address some of the challenges faced by the Deconstruction team.  Some of his inventions include a special mallet and shims to remove granite counters, and a drill bit to cut around screws that are stripped so that the team can remove cupboards without breaking them apart.

To anyone considering joining the Deconstruction team, Charlie offers some advice.

“People should be aware that they need proper clothing and that many times they will be working on a construction site, where a contractor is gutting a home, for example.  So you need safety shoes, gloves, and to be dressed appropriately because there may not be any heating in the building.”

Anyone concerned about juggling volunteering with their other commitments, need not worry says Charlie, “We can pick and choose which decons we’re available to do on a week by week basis. You can help one day a week or more depending on what else you have on the go. It’s very flexible.”

On a final note he adds, “People should know that deconstruction doesn’t take a huge amount of physical strength.  We’ve got people in their seventies who are taking cabinets down. Those of us who have been part of the crew for a while look out for the new volunteers and teach them the ropes. We all help each other and look out for each other.”

With Renovation Season underway and more people donating gently used kitchens and bathrooms to Habitat GTA, we are in need of Deconstruction Volunteers to expand our team, 

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