Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a huge difference for people seeking refuge from the war in Ukraine.
Whether it’s a comfortable place to sit outside by the fire or a stuffed animal the kids can cuddle for comfort, people staying at Ukrainian Safe Haven in East Sooke received some much-needed support through a collaborative effort launched by Sooke Rotary.
The initiative to build four picnic tables began about a year ago when Sooke Rotary Club president John Topolniski was contacted by Dave Bennett, a former district councillor and retired principal at Edward Milne Community School.
“Dave was volunteering at Ukrainian Safe Haven and thought there might be an opportunity for Rotary to assist as we usually do in these situations,” Topolniski said. “The club is indebted to Dave for approaching Rotary last winter to help renovate the property.”
Bennett was helping put in an outdoor fire pit on the property formerly known as Grouse Nest Resort that’s been turned into a refuge for people arriving from Ukraine since the war started in their home country in February.
Rotarians got involved in clearing a path through the woods, installing water lines and cutting and splitting several cords of firewood.
“Dave said it would be nice for them to have a picnic table there, so I started looking for lumber,” Topolniski said.”The cost was shocking.”
He contacted William Head Institute to see if it wanted to help build the tables because the inmates had made the Little Free Libraries in Sooke.
“They were excited about getting involved,” Topolniski said. “Those who want to give back are always looking for projects like this.”
While talking about making one child-sized and three adult-sized picnic tables with Christian Hauff, his contact at William Head, Hauff mentioned that a couple of the inmates like to knit.
“It’s not something you would expect from inmates at a penitentiary,” Topolniski said.
The inmates put together 10 sock monkeys for the the kids at Safe Haven, and the Institute covered the costs of the materials.
“They did a wonderful job,” Topolniski said. “The quality of the workmanship is evident in every table, and the kids can take the sock monkeys with them when they move on to their new homes or, better yet, return to their homes and families in Ukraine.”
Using Rotary connections with local businesses, Rotarian Frank Gertsma secured the paint and hardware for free from Home Hardware. Topolniski arranged for Slegg Lumber to donate the lumber, pick up the tables and deliver them to Ukrainian Safe Haven.
Hauff, an institutional service officer in charge of the Community Connections at William Head, said the non-profit program provides offenders with the opportunity to give back to communities in need through their skilled craftmanship by making items such as toy cars, picnic tables, sock monkeys, and knitted hats and scarves.
The program also supports annual initiatives such as the Operation Christmas Child program, which sends crafts to children overseas.
“Together, the group decides which local communities or charitable organization they will support,” Hauff said. “This allows the participants to actively engage in a project they are passionate about and interested in. It also helps them fully immerse themselves into the task at hand and teaches them the importance of giving back.”
Initiatives like Community Connections assists not only the communities in need but the offenders as well, Hauff noted.
“It has a positive impact on their mental health and self-development and enables them to reintegrate back into society safely and successfully.”
Ukrainian Safe Haven property owner Brian Holowaychuk said he appreciated the support from Sooke Rotary, William Head, Home Hardware, and Slegg Lumber.
“I was really impressed with the quality of the work,” he noted.”They did a terrific job, and the kids really like the sock monkeys.”
Holowaychuk has 36 people staying at the property, but will reach full capacity next week with the arrival of another family from Ukraine.
Anyone who would like to donate or offer assistance should contact Holowaychuk at ukrainiansafehaven.org.