A team builder on P.E.I.

Sally Cole scole@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 9, 2016

Don Gray helps volunteers develop confidence, skills on builds over the past five years for Habitat for Humanity P.E.I.

Don Gray knows how to build houses.

He also knows how to bring out the best in people.

In the past five years,the construction manager with Habitat for Humanity P.E.I. (HFHPEI) has matched thousands of volunteers with jobs and watched them spring into action during 22 builds for the not-for-profit organization.

“It’s something that I really enjoy doing. Of the 22 families that I have built for, I really like them all,” Gray says with a broad smile.

The secret to his success is people showing up.

“Everybody who comes to work on a build day is usually motivated and wants to help and we will find something for them to do.”

Even beginners get assigned essential tasks.

“If someone can’t swing a hammer, they can move plywood or frame the walls. They can also move trusses and build staging.”

For volunteers who really want to learn more, it can be an educational experience of a lifetime.

In the past, he has instructed beginners in the art of driving nails, rough framing a house, installing plywood, standing up wall frames and building roofs.

“If we have 35 people and 32 don’t have any skills, I will teach them how to build. If people want to learn, I’ll teach them.”

For instance, Gray tells the story of a mother and daughter volunteer team who showed up at a build three years ago with no experience.

“After introducing themselves they said, ‘Don, we’re here for three weeks. We want you to teach us how to build. We want to learn.’”

At the time, HFHPEI was building three houses on the same road and many workers were required. So he taught them many new skills.

“By the end of the three weeks, I gave them the plans for the layout for all the interior walls and said ‘go to it’. And the two of them did. They built all the interior walls.’’

Then, when they left P.E.I., they went back home to New Brunswick and ended up building their own summer cottage.

“They were very motivated, they wanted to learn and I have all the time in the world for people like that.”

More recently, there’s the story of Bethany Robinson, a volunteer/future homeowner who also arrived on the job site with no construction background.

“I was absolutely surprised with the things that I learned from Don,” says Robinson who, with her husband, Michael, put in approximately 500 hours of sweat equity with a team last summer, before moving their family into a new HFHPEI home on July 1.

“He taught me everything from driving nails to putting in vapour barrier to painting and filling in the trim.”

With his positive, straightforward approach, he queries people about their abilities during an initial interview.

“So if you can’t do something it’s important to be honest with him. He’ll find you something else to do,” says Robinson.

At the HFHPEI office, the executive director is pleased with the attitude and the skills that the construction manager brings to his job.

“It’s wonderful to have someone who is confident and competent, not only in constructing homes but in dealing with volunteers,” says Becky Mullen.

It’s an unusual combination of attributes.

“We hear this from our affiliates all the time. They can find someone who can build a house or we can find someone who can handle volunteers but we can never to find someone that can both. And Don gets glowing reports from all our volunteers,” says Mullen.

For Gray, it’s an opportunity to give back to his community.

“I do it because I’m at a stage in my life where my kids are through university and I don’t have a mortgage and, although I need enough to live, I don’t need mega dollars.

“I also enjoy construction so it gives me pleasure to do it.”


Fast facts

Founded in 1996, Habitat for Humanity P.E.I. is a non-profit organization working towards an Island where everyone has an opportunity to live in a safe, decent and affordable home.

With the help of volunteers, the organization has provided 48 families with safe, decent and affordable housing throughout Prince Edward Island.

For information, call 902-368-7539 or send an email to admin@habitatpei.ca.