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Derelict house becomes home for Syrian refugee family

August 31, 2021

(L-R) Dan Driedger, Executive Director of MennoHomes, Bruce Weber of MDS, Eric Willms, Ahed and Najwa Altroudi and their three children, and Karen Redman, Chair of the Region of Waterloo at the Mill St. house dedication.

“A derelict house has become a home.”

That’s what Dan Driedger, Executive Director of MennoHomes in Waterloo Region, Ont., said about how volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Service Ontario made it possible for a Syrian refugee family of five find new a new house to live in. 

The organization, which provides affordable housing in Waterloo Region, won the surplus house on Mill St. in Kitchener in a lottery from the Region last December. 

As soon as he got the news, Driedger reached out to MDS for help to repair and renovate the house, which had been vacant for ten years.

“Partnering with MDS meant we could take this project on,” he said of how MDS provided the volunteers and on-site construction supervision.

“It would not have been possible without their incredible support,” he added. “They transformed a dilapidated house into someone’s home. It was marvellous to watch it take shape.”

Long-time MDS volunteer Bruce Weber led the project.

“This is a good news story,” said Weber, praising the Region, MennoHomes and MDS for “thinking outside the box” through the project.

What made the project challenging was the pandemic, which complicated and slowed the process.

“We had to shut down often when new health restrictions were applied,” Weber said. “We’d just get going and we’d have to stop.”

Periodic limits on travel between health regions also prevented volunteers from other parts of Ontario from coming to help, he noted, adding MDS followed all the health protocols including limiting the number of people in the house at any one time and mask wearing.

Despite that, “God always provided the people we needed when we needed them,” he said.

This included students from Conrad Grebel University College, and skilled professionals who showed up “out of nowhere.”

“Some people came for a few hours, some for a few days or a couple weeks,” he said.

The house was dedicated August 19 with an outdoor ceremony where the family—Ahed and Najwa Altroudi and their three children—were handed the keys.

“I was so happy for them,” said Jackie Willms, who with her husband, Eric, and three other couples, helped sponsor the family to come to Canada.

Prior to getting the house, the Altroudis lived in a two-bedroom apartment. They wanted to find a house with more room and a yard, but affordable housing is hard to find in the city.

Willms found out about the Mill St. house from another member of her church, Rockway Mennonite, and contacted MennoHomes.

“They are good people,” she said of the family. “It is such a blessing for them to have this house.”

John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications