VIDEO: Volunteers gift new home to B.C. wildfire victim

Mennonite Disaster Services spent four months building a home, and are building three more in the region

A woman who lost her home of more than 40 years to the 2017 wildfires east of Williams Lake has a new one thanks to the efforts of Mennonite Disaster Services.

In the presence of family and friends, Joan Scheffler attended a dedication ceremony on Friday, Sept. 28 at her new home off the Spokin Lake Road on Scheffler Road, led by a handful of the 80-plus MDS volunteers who helped build her new house.

“I just want to thank everybody who did the building on it, it’s a wonderful thing,” said Scheffler, who didn’t have house insurance when the wildfires ravaged the neighbourhood in July, 2017. “There were so many people who came through. They came from everywhere. I don’t know what to say — it was a amazing.”

Chuckling she said she also appreciated all the young volunteers too.

“I enjoyed meeting you all. It was just like meeting family. It was easy to talk to everyone and it was like a big family and that’s what I appreciated the most. There were no pretensions, and the MDS has been wonderful. The work you are doing is amazing and maybe some day I can help.”

Peter Thiessen, who co-ordinated the project, described Scheffler as a “composed lady.”

“She was unbelievably calm, certainly on the outside. As we met her, we started pondering this process. We sat here, Ross Penner, Evelyn and Ross Peters and I, and Ross said ‘I’ll find the money,’ Evelyn said ‘I’ll find the people,’ and I said, ‘I’ll build it,’ and here we are.”

One of the project directors, Dave Brubacher, told Scheffler it was an honour for MDS to be there to celebrate with her.

“Joan I can’t imagine the many different thoughts and emotions you have had on the property over the last 14 months,” he said.

Scheffler’s sister-in-law, Ruth Yarema, told the volunteers she appreciated their efforts.

Fighting back the tears, she said she was so happy they had built a home for her sister.

“It’s an awesome miracle,” Yarema said.

Donelda Friesen presented Scheffler with a gift of a quilt made by MDS volunteers at Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary, Alta.

“As you use this gift may it serve as a reminder to you of all the people that have walked alongside you during your pilgrimage of the fire. The small quilt blocks represent you family, your friends, your community as well as the MDS volunteers near and far,” Friesen said.

Read more: Mennonite volunteers help wildfire victims

Shirley Gotzke and her husband Abe were part of the first group of volunteers that arrived in May to start building.

She presented Scheffler with a bible.

“When your house was started in mid-May it began with four volunteers,” Gotzke said. “The basement hole was dug on Monday and five days later we poured the walls. Joan you were here as often as possible, always curious about the process and progress we were making.”

Gotzke thanked Scheffler’s son, Kalvin, for helping them whenever he could.

“You’ve been such a big part of this,” she told him.

Volunteers of all ages from many parts of Canada and the U.S. helped with the project, Gotzke said, noting while they worked under the name of MDS, they came from different denominations.

“This is a good thing because it reminds us that together we make family.”

Sharing a memory from the first day she walked onto Scheffler’s property, Gotzke said it was a burned wheelbarrow that caught her eye.

“It was burned and it was among the remnants of the fire,” she said.

“The wheelbarrow reminds me of normal family life in the country and the burned one is a strong symbol of how your life was changed. MDS volunteers share the pain of loss with you and it is our genuine hope that as we have rebuilt a house, God will renew your hope.”

Robert Prinse, another project director, presented Scheffler with a book about MDS projects and told her it was a pleasure to work on her home.

Scheffler’s son, Tim, also attended the dedication and said he did not know what the family would have done without the help of MDS.

“We are gracious for them,” Tim said.

Kalvin said his mom moved in with him after the wildfires and he was thankful to MDS and God for the new home.

“People were wonderful,” Kalvin said. “I never worked with so many good people.”

MDS is presently building another three homes for people in the Cariboo Chilcotin; another one in the Spokin Lake Road area and two in Hanceville.

Thiessen said one of the homes in Hanceville should be completed in about two weeks.

Read more: Wildfires claim 60 homes, 167 structures in CRD



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MDS volunteers Robert Prinse, Abe Gotzke, Shirley Gotzke and Peter Thiessen were the first crew to begin building a new home for Joan Scheffler in May.

An outside view of the home built for Joan Scheffler by volunteers from the Mennonite Disaster Services after her original home of more than 40 years was destroyed by wildfire east of Williams Lake off the Spokin Lake Road. Monica Lamb-Yorski photos

Joan Scheffler tries the doorbell on her new home built by Mennonite Disaster Services. She lost her home due to the Spokin Lake Road wildfire in 2017. Below: Some of the more than 80 Mennonite Disaster Services volunteers who helped build a new home for Joan Scheffler.

During the dedication of her new home Joan Scheffler (left) receives a hand-made quilt presented by Donelda Friesen (right).

Some of the more than 80 Mennonite Disaster Services volunteers who helped build a new home for Joan Scheffler.

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