The number of times I have moved in the last 10 years can no longer be counted on my two hands, and my spot in my relatives’ address books is riddled with eraser marks for each time they have had to write a new address for me. The key to my story though is that each of these moves has been a choice that I have been able to make because I wanted to, not because I had to.I have had the opportunity to establish roots and a sense of home in far off places, thanks to the roots that I established here in Calgary.
5883 and 5881, are the house numbers of the homes where I originally laid down my roots as a child. These two places, both in fact on the same street, were where I developed my understanding of the word home. I knew without a doubt that they would be right where I left them when I returned, and that within these walls I could find comfort, security, and warmth.
As a child I took for granted that I had a place to invite my friends to play after school, where we could build forts, play house, and let our imaginations run wild. It never once crossed my mind that there were kids that did not have a stable home where they could invite friends to; I was oblivious, in an innocent way.
I made some of my most cherished memories in these homes, the vents in those houses echoed with laughter and pure bliss. I never once had to stare into an empty fridge, or wonder if it was safe to go outside to play. The security that I felt growing up helped me develop into the person I am today, I was able to test boundaries and explore as I knew that there was a safety net surrounding me ensuring I would be okay.
The home I knew here in Calgary assisted me in building the confidence to explore the world and to establish my own roots in far off cities like New York City and Philadelphia. I knew that I always had a safe place to return to, no matter what happened out in the world. And when I returned to Calgary at the end of 2018, this safe place I always knew welcomed me back with open arms.
Photos of Ashlea Cook outside her childhood home
Since returning home to Calgary, I have vowed to live life with a renewed perspective. During the time that I was gone, Calgary has seen its fair share of ups and downs, and isn’t entirely the same city that I left some 5 years ago. It may not be as booming and vibrant, the sparkle may be a little dull, but the core of this small-town big city is still there.
And the sparkle of the city came through when I organized a build day for some of my closest friends and family on October 5, 2019.
Not only did we get to test our boundaries and learn new skills, we also had the opportunity to learn more about Habitat and the unique platform it stands behind. The intricacies of the program that assists families to fulfill their dream of establishing more permanent roots, and the need behind it.
Ashlea and her group of twelve on the Radisson Heights site
Numbers really do drive a message home, and when we stood as a group of 12 knowing that if life fell apart two of us could potentially be living in unsafe or unaffordable housing, the work became even more rewarding.
We were helping a family to no longer have to make the choice between food, housing, or healthcare. The sod we laid would provide a place for the children to play, the gates we built would help a family to feel safe, and the flower bed that appeared from a pile of dirt may provide a place for roots to grow.
More importantly, these homes could be where the parents could now sleep more soundly at night knowing that a more stable future lay ahead, and that impossible choices would have to be made less often. These 4 walls with a roof built with care and passion could provide a place where children could feel safe to be kids, to play, to imagine, and to dream.
All 12 of us left that day more informed, more empowered, and more connected knowing that together we had made a difference.