'The Kyiv Home Project': Building a safe haven in Cottam

Source: 
CTV News

Michelle Maluske CTV  June 16, 2022

A brand new home is being built, for free, in the Essex County community for two Ukrainian refugee families.

“We really feel like we've got a lot of people behind us,” said Jennifer Baggio, one of the project organizers. “It's really inspiring to see the community kind of pulling behind us and making this, something that's going to be real.”

'The Kyiv Home Project' started with Baggio’s father, Gary Taveirne, a local land developer who wanted to do something to help the people of Ukraine after the conflict with Russia started.

Taveirne decided on April 1, to donate a $250,000 lot in Cottam’s Woodbridge Estates to build a home for refugees.

He approached BK Cornerstone, a local home builder, which then signed on to the project.

“They agreed to do all of the labour and be the general contractor for free,” said Baggio.

And that’s only the beginning, according to Baggio. Dozens of contractors and sub-trades have offered their services or equipment, free of charge, to be a part of this build.

“Air conditioners, furnaces, plumbing equipment, fixtures, lighting, somebody reached out by email the other day, they wanted to donate blinds,” Baggio said.

The home is a raised ranch, with separate living areas for two families.

“It's so heartwarming to know that there are people that are willing to put their money where their mouth is, and make this happen, make a difference for people that are so hurt and traumatized,” Baggio said.

The Cottam United Church signed on to the project in late April.

“It's something that we can do and something that we can help in a very practical, pragmatic, positive way. Why not?” said Kim Gilliland, pastor of the Cottam United Church.

Gilliland says their role is two-fold: handling the finances and organizing volunteers.

Finances

Although the Town of Kingsville is waiving development fees on the project, there will be some expenses to finish the home, according to Gilliland.

They will also be in charge of keeping track of financial donations to the project.

And then, when the home is built and the refugees move in, there are household expenses, like taxes, utilities and food.

All of that will also be handled by the church, which will become the owner of the home and property going forward.

“It’s exciting,” Gilliland said. “It's a little bit scary at times because we've never done this before. But we're open to the challenge and we’re looking forward to making a difference.”

Volunteers

Gilliland is already trying to draft a list of volunteers willing to help the families transition to life in Essex County.

They plan to have people available to drive the families anywhere they need to go while they establish a new life here.

And they hope to offer help with grocery shopping, food preparation and housekeeping.

“This will take a small army of people to make happen,” Gilliland said. “We hope to make this not just a Cottam church project, but a Cottam community project.”

Gilliland and Baggio say the families will be able to stay in the home as long as they need to, to feel comfortable living in Canada.

They do hope to offer the home to as many Ukrainian families as possible, for however long refugees need a safe place to live.

But both admit eventually, there will be no more refugees needing a home.

“The house will not disappear once it is no longer in need for Ukraine refugees. So our long-term goal is to use the house for perhaps other refugee projects or help people in the area who are at risk of homelessness,” said Gilliland.

For now, they are organizing fundraising events for the summer, and hope to have the house built and families moved in by the fall.