Meet Darlene

For many people, volunteering comes from the desire to help others. For some, it could be as simple as volunteering at a local school, or a more complex position such as construction or welcoming new refugees. Regardless of the volunteer work, it’s all about making a difference within your community. For some, it can also be a way to avoid all of the hardships and negativity that life can throw at us sometimes. Darlene Braxton knows this more than anyone. Unknown to her at the time, her volunteer time would also result in a career move that would turn her life around for the better.

It all started in late 1995, when Darlene was stricken with ulcerative colitis. The stresses of life did not help her condition; losing her father and sister in the years of 2000 and 2003 from cancer. The death of Darlene’s mother from cancer back in late 2012 impacted her life severely. Falling into a deep state of depression, it impacted her life significantly. Her mother truly was one of the greatest lights of her life, and losing her was devastating for Darlene.  Without a clear pathway to go and no job along with another health issue to deal with, not knowing if she had cancer herself, Darlene was faced with the tough reality of not knowing where her life was going.

Unfortunately for Darlene, she would once again have to feel the painful sting of loss and death in her family. In 2014, her brother passed away from pancreatic cancer, devastating her once again. With another close family member gone, it left a huge void in Darlene’s life. Unemployed and unsure what to do, with hopes of possibly finding a career that she would be able to enjoy, she went to The Centre for Skills and Development Training in search of a new chapter to start in her life. After stumbling upon a poster advertising the skilled trades, she knew deep down that this was something she could do. Despite the fact she had the mindset of still becoming a police officer, Darlene knew that doing something in that field of work would still be of interest to her.

With a new mindset and a desire to further pursue a career as a police officer, she decided to sign up for Police Foundations at Trios college in order to learn the basics of policing and how to properly attain computer skills you will need in order to become a police officer. Unknown to Darlene, in order to be successful in that course, you need to be proficient with some sort of computer knowledge, which was not her strong suit at that time. Within a week of classes commencing, she decided to drop out and still pursue a career as a police officer, but accomplish that by applying for the job without a degree in background of police knowledge.

In order for people to be successful pursuing a career, they need to accumulate over one-hundred hours of volunteer work. Through a retired police officer who was one of her teachers at Trios as well as that skilled trade poster she saw at the employment centre, she learned that Habitat for Humanity is a fantastic place to pick up hours. Many police officers in the past had received their hours there too since it requires lots of hands-on work and physical labour. With this new information in mind and upon doing further research into the organization, Darlene decided to sign up to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity in early 2014 with the hopes in mind to accumulate her one-hundred volunteer hours and learn some building skills.

In early 2014, Darlene had joined our build with almost no experience in building or operating power tools. Faced with a seemingly tough road ahead having to learn all these skills and how to operate various equipment and power tools, Darlene showed absolutely no fear or hesitation and managed to persevere through the first few weeks of the build. Despite the fact that Darlene had almost no experience in the construction field prior to starting at Habitat, she began to flourish and before she knew it, she slowly climbed her way up the volunteer ladder, eventually leading her to become Crew Leader. Alongside her new title, she was also given the Bob the Builder award that same year

Realising that she had a talent and a passion for building things, she decided to return to school to gain more skills she’ll need to now pursue a career in the construction field. Upon signing up for courses at The Centre for Skills Development here in Burlington, Darlene soon realised that it would be a very intense and gruelling twenty-nine weeks of school. For someone who has been out of school for years, Darlene knew that it was going to be a very intense time in school. However, Darlene persevered and successfully graduated from the program with good grades.

Soon after her graduation, she returned back to Habitat to assist more in the building of a home in Milton back in 2015. As an official crew leader now along with the knowledge she had gained from her experience in school, she was able to assist in building a lot more areas of the home. This time around, she was able to assist in the installation of the plumbing work in the two Milton homes which she had learned from Mohawk College,  due to the fact that she received her Height Certificate in 2015 as well, she was also able to help put together the f-channels on the exterior walls of the Milton home.

Everything began to really fall into place for Darlene once the Milton build had been complete. With her new skills she’s gained as well as the time spent in school, Darlene knew deep down that she wanted to pursue a career in the construction field. With a brand new mindset and outlook, she decided to open her own business. By 2016, she has been extremely successful in doing so, and has done a various amount of projects. Specialising specifically in landscaping, installing hardwood and laminate, tiling and painting, she can do many projects around the home, all done by herself.

Despite the fact that she has made a steady income for herself with her business, she has been quite successful in other areas of her career. Just recently, herself and her business were featured in the Toronto Sun. She was also asked to speak and act as a career coach for a local conference back in March for young women in the workforce at the Burlington Convention Centre. Part of a panel of five women from various career fields, she spoke about her journey with the hopes of empowering younger women that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to. Darlene has also been recognized by the Canadian Women’s Foundation as an inspiration to other women, with a video they had done on her story.  She volunteers for the Women’s Shelter and donated a swing set in her mother’s name to the kids, calling on her friends from Habitat to assist her with putting it together.

From her time spent volunteering here at Habitat to where she is now, she always makes sure to mention where all of her skills and knowledge originally came from. During her time here, Darlene made so many new friends from the various projects she has assisted on. Regardless of what she is doing in her busy life, she always knows that she has a family back at Habitat that welcomes her with open arms no matter what. On occasion, she still pops into the Burlington Plains Road site to come and help out when she can.

From late 2012 and very unsure of where her life was going, to appearing at a women’s conference in front of almost a thousand people to speak about her successes in the construction field along with starting up her own business, it’s safe to say Darlene has completely turned her life around. Despite the fact she had suffered so much losses, she is now in a better place and has made a success for herself. Her start at Habitat was only the beginning of her success in the construction industry, allowing her to launch her own business. No matter where Darlene goes or what she does, she always makes sure that she mentions Habitat. From volunteer to career coach, Darlene has surely been a valued volunteer whose story continues to touch so many people.