The head of a local masonry is coming back to the Kiwanis Emergency Youth Shelter he once stayed in as a teenager.
As a youth, Mike De Palma, now CEO of Flintstones masonry, stayed at the shelter on Vancouver Street a few times.
This time he’s there to lead a restoration project on the foundation and perimeter drainage.
“My older brother had already been taken away with social services and at 14 I thought, OK now is a good time for me to leave home with my family situation,” De Palma said. “A friend had told me about the Kiwanis shelter as a place to stay when you had nowhere to go.”
The first time he stayed for a week, and later, at 15, he was there for an extended stay until he could be placed in a semi-permanent group home.
“They gave me meals, a bus pass, a pass to Crystal Pool, and a lot of support, I knew they were there for me,” De Palma said.
Later, he was able to successfully build a 22-year career in construction and masonry.
“I was 16 working at McDonald’s when I saw the ad in the paper [for construction],” he said.
Kiwanis Club of Victoria recently won a $40,000 grant from the Victoria Foundation towards the significant foundation repairs to the century-old house that serves as the shelter. In total, the work is estimated at $55,000, with Kiwanis picking up the balance, said Kiwanis shelter liaison Dave Poje.
“The foundation job is too big for Kiwanis, and Victoria Foundation has been so great to us and helpful,” Poje said. “Of course, I was concerned when we applied because there was a lot of competition [for grants], but we were successful, they saw the value of the project and the program.”
Flintstones hasn’t billed for any work yet but De Palma and an engineering colleague had already established – pro bono – that they could restore the foundation and water proofing, without lifting the house, and that it will last another 100 years.
“The foundation is in poor shape, the perimeter drainage isn’t taking the water away, so we’ll be updating the entire foundation system,” De Palma said. “I’m honoured to be part of this, when I was at the stage that I was, not having anywhere to stay, this was an important place for me.”
The Kiwanis shelter is a 10-bed home that provides emergency housing for youth 13 to 18 years old in crisis and without a safe housing option. Stays at the dorm-style house are typically seven nights and include three meals a day, access to showers and laundry facilities, free hygiene products (toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, razors) and clothing (socks, sleepwear, undergarments, seasonal wear and shoes).
A few years ago the Kiwanis Emergency Youth Shelter secured interior upgrades from Home Depot, painted the interior and other improvements, said Julie-Anne Hunter of the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society.