(Submitted)
(Submitted)

In a building behind the women’s homeless shelter on Brunswick Street, downtown Fredericton, the St. Thomas University women’s rugby team are getting their hands dirty; ripping up carpets, crack-filling, sanding and painting.
The Fredericton Homeless Shelter received $80,000 to renovate the former medical clinic where the new Grace House, a homeless shelter for women, will be.
To help save on contract fees for renovations, the women’s rugby team along with their coaches, parents, spouses, siblings, friends and roommates showed team spirit volunteering in the project.
Fourty-two volunteers have accumulated a total of 314 hours of service in three weekends of work.
“Sports teams are great entities to be volunteer groups, as they can put their passion as a team back into their communities in meaningful ways,” said Team Captain Meghan MacEachern.
MacEachern said it’s an amazing feeling to see the progress they have made from when they first started renovating, until now.
“When we first started there was garbage and items to clear out, it didn’t look nice,” she said.
“Looking at it now, it’s really eye-opening seeing rooms come together. The bright yellow painted walls give it a welcoming feel,” she said. “It’s going to be meaningful to so many women.”
The team of volunteers work in shifts that accommodate their schedules. They have been working on weekends in groups of six to 10, some groups working in different rooms. They work three hour shifts, then a new group of six to 10 volunteers will take their place.
“We have quite the great operation running, nobody gets over worked,” said MacEachern.
They started renovations on the last weekend of January, and will be ending before March break.
The Fredericton Homeless Shelter plans to open the doors of the new Grace House in mid-March. The new building has more space than the current one and will allow for more resources.
The New Grace House is planning to have a common area, living areas, education space, three bathrooms, and a kitchen.
The current Grace House is going to be used as a transition centre where women and men living in the shelters who have shown progress can transition to the next phase of housing before they are on their own and looking for their own place of residence in the community.
After all the scraping of paint, priming, ceilings, and window seals are done, MacEachern hopes to have a space more suited to house 13 women comfortably.
“I hope for them to have a safe space to call home for as long as they need, as well as the current Grace House to open up doors of opportunity for those ready to begin their transition back into the community,” said MacEachern.
Meagan Gallant feels helping in the project is like giving back to those who came to help and support her during rugby practices and games.
“I’ve never volunteered where it affects someone’s life,” said Gallant. “Just knowing someone will come in to a home and get a chance to get back on their feet puts into perspective just how lucky I am.”
Not only is the team’s volunteering helping the community, “It gave us an opportunity to have team bonding off season,” said Gallant.
“Since I have been involved with the team over the past four years, many times the (players and the coaches) have had conversations about wanting to be more active in the Fredericton community,” said Head Coach Meghan Morrison.
“We already volunteer at various community events that are one-day, for a few hours at a time, but this is the first time we have taken on a larger project,” she said.
Morrison has known Warren Maddox, Executive Director of the Fredericton Shelters for years.
“One day he and I were talking and the subject of the new building for Grace House came up. I asked how the STU Women’s Rugby Team could help. It was as easy as that,” said Morrison.
“The timing was great and it is a project which helps women in our local community, something our players feel strongly about,” she said.
Morrison feels it is important for the players to see themselves as part of the bigger community, beyond the campus boundaries.
“Understanding how the shelters operate and how people come to be staying there has been very eye-opening for the team. Many people in the Fredericton community are just a few pays away from needing the help that the shelter provides,” she said.
“Everyone on our team is very fortunate to be in university, (and) playing varsity sports. (They have) lots of support around them. Understanding just how lucky we all are, it has been pretty powerful to work together for an organization that helps restore dignity to people who need a little helping hand,” said Morrison.
The women’s rugby is not throwing in the towel at the construction phase. Now that the team has built a relationship with the New Grace House, their contributions will continue.
“We’ve got plans in the works for a fundraiser to help raise some money for the Grace House now that we have built that relationship,” said Morrison. “Based on how positive this experience has been, I can guarantee our team-members will continue for ways we can contribute to our community.”
“A women can hit rock bottom, go in, get back on their feet, and search for jobs,” said Gallant. “This house will be a base, a stepping stone in their journey, and eventually get a home of their own,” she said.

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