By Stone Sousa

Some future homeowners in Caledon will have a place to live because of the work done by Orlando Bowen and his organization, One Voice One Team, in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity Canada.

Bowen, a retired Canadian Football League (CFL) player, and members of his youth organization are helping to build homes in the area of Kennedy and Mayfield Roads. One Voice One Team helps young people become empowered through serving others. One of the organization’s partners is Habitat for Humanity, which constructs and restores affordable housing for low-income families. The partnering families pay an interest-free mortgage specific to their income and volunteer a total of 500 hours during construction.

The two organizations have collaborated since 2010 and have partnered in the Peel Region for the last four years. It began with houses in the Torbram and Queen Street area in Brampton.

The youths, aged 16 and older, have been coming to the Caledon building site for the past five months, doing a variety of jobs, supervised by a professional crew involved in the day-to-day process. There are currently 10 housing units in progress.

Bowen says the work with Habitat for Humanity is one way for the youths to help others.

“We ask them if they have the heart to serve and, if they do, then we go and do whatever is needed,” Bowen said. “It’s the willingness to serve. A lot of them are thinking ‘I don’t really have what it takes.’ It’s them articulating they have the heart to serve that is the prerequisite.

“This is one volunteer opportunity for them. Oftentimes when people serve other people they start to realize how much value they can actually bring to the table. Maybe it’s helping someone smile. When we ask them what has been the most powerful thing about the service experience it’s oftentimes knowing they made a difference. Those things have been really been transformative for a lot of folks. It has shifted perspective for many young people.”

He adds, helping build homes gives the youths a visual perspective of what they have done.

“It brings everything we’ve talked about to life and now they feel like they own it,” Bowen said. “That intellectual property is theirs. They are like, ‘I was there, man. I touched it.’”

There are no set hours for volunteers. Chris Spencer, a Brampton native and former high school football player, says he “couldn’t say no to Orlando” when asked to help.

After graduating from Northern Illinois University in 2000, Bowen had a goal of impacting at least one life. However, after noticing “gaps, in terms of how youth were giving up hope in life,” he started One Voice One Team in 2005, after concluding his CFL career. He played for both the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

One Voice One Team has helped more than 35,000 youths to serve, something that has astonished Bowen, who said he no idea his vision would become that big.

“It’s been very powerful for the young people who serve with us,” he said.

Perry Lefko photo