From left: Anna Bubel, Jousef, Geoff John-West, and Mazen. Supplied
“You’re the teacher!”
“No, you’re the teacher!”
This is an ongoing joke between Lenny, Mazen, and Jousef as they take turns being the apprentice and being the teacher. They’re working together on the renovation of the former Blue Cross Animal Hospital at 97 Street and 111 Avenue.
McCauley resident Anna Bubel (along with two other business partners) is reviving the building which was built in 1948. Late last year she bought the building when she learned the hospital was relocating into a new multi-use complex six blocks east.
“We are three McCauley residents with limited time and money. We wanted to save an historic building and give it new life.”
As a private developer, Anna has worked on a dozen housing and office projects in McCauley.
What makes this project extra special is that it’s a social enterprise – Anna is intentionally hiring people who need a hand up. She’s taking chances with people that employers usually don’t hire and it’s paid off – for her and for them.
“We’ve been very pleasantly surprised at the high level of skills of the workers we’ve hired. That’s been a plus because what’s driving this is the social mission – this isn’t about making money.”
Last January, Lenny, age 48, heard through the Bissell Centre that Anna was looking for workers. He was in a self-described “pawn-shop cycle,” pawning his possessions to pay his bills between temporary jobs.
“Anna, like, gives people a chance, and that allows us to put our best foot forward,” Lenny explains.
For Lenny, the best part is training other people.
“It feels good helping other people, teaching them some stuff I‘ve picked up.”
Originally from Syria, Mazen, age 47, came to Canada earlier this year with his wife and three sons. For the past five years they had been living in a refugee camp in Jordan.
Mazen struggles to find the words in English to explain how fortunate he feels.
Jousef, age 31, a Palestinian who’s also working on the project, translates for me. He speaks excellent English as he went to an English language school in Gaza and has two university degrees – in nursing and teaching.
He explains that Mazen has 30 years of experience working with stone. Since March he’s been using his artistry to transform the interior of the building.
So often life is about connection and good luck.
Anna frequently hires former McCauley resident Geoff John-West to work on her housing projects. Geoff and his wife, Liz, are members of the Calvary Baptist Church congregation, which has sponsored two refugee families from Syria.
One of the families is Mazen’s and Geoff introduced him to Anna.
Jousef proudly shows me photos on his phone of his wife and two sons and 10 members of his extended family living in Gaza. He sends as much money back home as he can. It may be years before the family is reunited in Canada.
Still, he feels very lucky.
“I like working with Anna so much. She’s very nice woman” Jousef says. “She likes to help people to get a job and live with dignity.”
Phil lives in McCauley.