Habitat ReStore Volunteer Lighting the Way in Uxbridge

Tony sitting in shop

What motivates a person to volunteer?

It’s a question we ask everyone who joins the Habitat GTA & Habitat ReStore family. Some people love the idea of being part of a mission to create affordable housing in their community. Others are looking for skills to boost their resume or career prospects. But most often – there’s a personal story, a life experience that galvanizes someone to give the ultimate gift: their time.

Meet Tony Schwab. Not only is he one of our most dedicated volunteers, at 81 years of age, but he is also one of our most inspiring.

Tony has been volunteering at the Uxbridge Habitat ReStore for about six years now, and during that time, he has put in nearly five thousand volunteer hours. Pop in on just about any day, and you’re likely going to see Tony working in the back, tools in hand, testing and making sure that the recently-donated washing machines, dryers, stoves and furniture meet Habitat ReStore’s high-quality standards.

“I’m a jack-of-all-trades,” jokes, Tony who previously worked as a tool and dye maker.

When Tony isn’t fixing things at the ReStore, he gives his time to this year’s Uxbridge Optimist Fantasy of Lights. It’s a drive-through event that is free for anyone to enjoy and boasts more than 75 light displays from community groups, businesses, schools, churches families. The result is a bright, beautiful trail lit with thousands of multi-colour lights that take the form of Christmas trees, trains, airplanes, reindeer –  just about anything you can imagine. Tony has been part of the team that has helped string up nearly 7-thousand lights. With COVID anxieties creeping back in this holiday season – it is one of the safest experiences to keep spirits up.

So, why does Tony choose to volunteer?

Tony explains that he was born in the former Yugoslavia and that war and conflict forced his family to leave their home. He ended up in Germany when he was 13 years old, feeling displaced and isolated.

“I know hardship; I know what it’s like to feel alone,” he said.

Tony worked hard on his apprenticeship, and six years later, he left and came to Canada in 1959. Though he would build a long, happy life for himself here, it was not easy at first. And he faced some of the same isolation he had experienced before.

“When you come to Canada as an immigrant, you’re a stranger,” he said.

It is perhaps the defining reason Tony volunteers at Habitat ReStore and supports Habitat GTA’s mission to create a world where everyone has a safe, decent place to live – especially for newcomers to Canada.

“Because I know how it feels,” said Tony. “To be poor, to come into a different land, a different country… that’s why I’m trying to help as much as I can.”

While his colleagues at Habitat ReStore are incredibly grateful to have him on the team, Tony believes he gets more out of volunteering than he gives. He says he’s proud to be part of the Uxbridge ReStore, which he describes as one of the most integral parts of the community.

“I’ve always been active, and being here keeps me that way… and I know it’s going to help somebody,” said Tony.