George Brown College students build cabin for people with mental health and addiction challenges

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

A group of George Brown College students with histories of mental health and/or addiction challenges successfully completed the construction of a therapeutic to help people with similar challenges.

The seven students who built the cabin have now completed the Construction Craftworker Foundations program, a free augmented education program offered at the Centre for Preparatory and Liberal Studies for people who’ve experienced complex mental health challenges and/or addiction.

The program helps prepare individuals to find and maintain employment in the construction industry. Students in the program gain carpentry and masonry skills and learn renovation techniques and metal cutting.

Construction on the cabin started in April and was progressing well until May 21 when a powerful windstorm hit, knocking over trees that crushed the cabin located in Clarington, Ont. In just 10 minutes, the students’ work was ruined, and the construction project temporarily transformed into a demolition. The team salvaged the material and then started again.

Students successfully and skillfully completed a 24’ by 12’ cabin on land owned by Melena Gibner. She’s converting her property into a wellness retreat called The Mystic Pines where retired racehorses roam, and visitors can rent cabins to unwind and enjoy nature. Despite such a massive setback, the team finished the work not far off their original end-of-June deadline.

Student Brandon Goncalves said this work-integrated learning opportunity was a transformative and confidence-building experience.

“It’s been life changing,” he said, adding that he came into the program with no experience with construction tools or techniques. “Within the short period of time, I’ve really grown in my skills and my confidence in using the tools.”

And when the storm destroyed the students’ work, Goncalves saw it as an opportunity to pick up new skills.

“I got to learn how to use a chainsaw,” he said, “and found out how precise you need to be with that tool.”

Program Job Coach Gianni Rotondo drove students to and from the site each workday and was onsite during the build to provide support. He says the project gave students invaluable real-life learning.

“The students came in very green, some didn’t know how to properly use a cordless drill,” he said as the students were wrapping up construction. “And now they’re finishing off a deck. They’ve learned in leaps and bounds.”

In June, CEWIL Canada (Co-operative Education and Work Integrated Learning) announced $18,000 in funding for the cabin project to cover the costs of transportation including the van rental, gas expenses and on-site hydration and snacks for the students.

It was the first off-campus project in the Construction Craftworker Foundations program, and was a creative solution to the problem of delayed access to lab space at Casa Loma Campus during the pandemic.

Augmented Education Program Manager Suzanne De Freitas said because this project was so successful, her team will likely plan a similar work-integrated learning opportunity in the future.

It’s a special project for students because others will benefit from the their work whereas in the labs they create a project, take it apart and move on to the next project.

“In this case, they’re building a structure. They’re trying to make it as perfect as possible and then it is staying there for them to see,” she said. “So, they look at it with a lot of pride and accomplishment.”

 

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