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November 11, 2008 9:17 AM

Students Get Passing Grade

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When Mike Holmes says you've made it right, you've probably passed the test. The renovation guru dropped by the reopening of The Opportunity Centre in Kitchener this week after the completion of a project sponsored by his foundation.

The work was carried out by students in Conestoga College's programs for renovation technicians and women in skilled trades, supervised by faculty and industry professionals.

A total of four student-driven renovation jobs at community agencies in Kitchener and Waterloo were funded by the Holmes Foundation, which provides scholarships and bursaries to students pursuing skilled trades.

Holmes stars in the reality television show Holmes on Homes. His visit coincided with National Skilled Trades Day. A number of local businesses contributed everything from materials to consulting and design work to the projects.

Wearing his trademark coveralls, Holmes seemed genuinely impressed as he toured the King Street West centre, which offers programs and support to people living with brain injuries. "You take a look and it looks like they're not students, they're professionals," he said in an interview. "They've done something right."

During the nine-day project, students knocked down walls to provide a larger common area, constructed a second washroom and revamped the kitchen. The centre's executive director, Patti Lehman, said she was told the job was valued at about $50,000.

An expansion was needed to respond to increasing demand for the centre's services. But a limited budget meant the work would not have been done without the college and Holmes' foundation.

"It's just a remarkable opportunity," said Kathie Must, chair of the board at Participation House Waterloo-Wellington, which runs the centre.

The work will allow the centre to accommodate more people in wheelchairs and provide greater comfort to its users, said Kathy Daley, the service co-ordinator.

Work was also done at the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, Parents for Community Living's Crimson home in Waterloo, and at Pride Stables, for the Central Ontario Developmental Riding Program.

Holmes praised the projects as win-win situations, with students gaining valuable hands-on experience while doing good work in the community.

Canada is experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, and more should be done to make it easier for young people to get into the industry, Holmes said later. "It's really so hard to get into any apprentice program. We're going to do nothing but keep building. We've got to have the people to do it."

Originally posted by Brent Davis, The Record Nov. 8, 2008

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