Bill Humphries is having a ball.
Oh, sure, there is that pesky pancreas cancer diagnosis of two years ago. “But I am the miracle guy. I am still here,” says the 71-year-old who seems to have the energy of someone half his age.
So why is he having so much fun? He’s giving away his money and seeing the positive changes it can bring right before his eyes. His connection with Habitat for Humanity began in 2008, when he joined a Global Village group going to El Salvador to build houses in the poverty-stricken Central American nation. “I came back a different guy,” he says. Humphries has circled the globe and done lots of adventure travel, but those adventures paled in comparison to his experience in El Salvador. “These Global Village trips are hard work — heat, dust, dirt, long hours. But I was so moved by the service we were providing. “One thing I learned was that you can’t think of the great need for 12,000 houses there. You have to focus on the one family you are helping.”
When he got back to Canada, Humphries wanted to get more young people involved in Habitat’s Global Village program. A University of British Columbia basketball alumnus, he approached the university’s athletic department with a proposal: he would put up a third of the cost — $30,000 — to lead another trip to El Salvador. If the university chipped in another third, and the students came up with the balance, they had a deal.
“We sent a group of 12 kids down there for the first two weeks of May, men and women from all sports. The result was far beyond my expectations. We got engaged with the community, with soccer clubs and schools. We took down leftover sports gear to hand out. We ended up doing this for six years.” Humphries’ last trip to El Salvador was in 2014. “God willing, I would love to go back,” he says, but his battle with cancer has sidelined that for now. No matter; there was work to be done for Habitat for Humanity right here at home.
He met realtor and Habitat booster Kenan MacKenzie, who introduced him to Habitat for Humanity Sunshine Coast (HFHSC) founder Ed Hawkins. It was then that he learned about a looming issue HFHSC is still trying to resolve. When Habitat Village (on the Sunshine Coast Highway in Wilson Creek) was originally approved, there was a requirement that HFHSC build road access behind the site connecting with Field Road. Engineering issues have made that cost prohibitive, so HFHSC has instead been seeking approval to build a turning lane off Sunshine Coast Highway.
When Humphries learned from Habitat representatives that safe (and affordable) access into the village off the highway was a priority, he jumped right in. “I asked how much a turning lane would cost, and they suggested upwards of $100K. I said I needed a partner. Ed Hawkins immediately said he would be my partner and put up $50,000 to my $50,000.”
HFHSC is just one of the local causes Humphries and his wife Joan support. They are major supporters of Gibsons Public Market, and they recently partnered with David Crosby and Catharine Esson to set up a $150,000 Youth Sports Endowment through the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation, among many other philanthropic initiatives. Humphries’ desire to support local causes runs as deep as his family’s roots on the Sunshine Coast. “My family came here 108 years ago. My grandfather came here from Leeds, England. His brother in law was building a house at Soames Point. He was building Henderson House. My grandfather came out to see how he was doing.”
Sunshine Coast life seemed to agree with him — and with his descendants. The Humphries summered on the Sunshine Coast for years, and when Bill retired from a successful career as an entrepreneur and chartered accountant in Vancouver, they settled in Roberts Creek full time. “It’s a very interesting, dynamic community. Earth Days and parades are priceless.”
It wasn’t long before Humphries’ philanthropic impulses really came to the fore. “I have been very fortunate and have had lots of fun. But I am 71 years old. It was time to simplify things. I started to realize, ‘holy mackerel, my kids are all doing OK. We don’t need these funds, nor do our kids. So let’s do something exciting with them.’” When he told his kids he wanted to start giving away their inheritance, “they said, ‘you are the man. Go ahead and do what you need to do.’”
Humphries uses the personal touch when it comes to giving by supporting specific needs. But he’d also like to help Habitat for Humanity in an even more hands-on way. “I am a handyman. I have renovated more properties than you can shake a stick at, but my health is keeping me from pitching in at the site. I hope I can soon get out there and stand side by side with the framing guy.”
Why is Habitat for Humanity so important to him? “Affordable housing is a huge cause. All of our kids had to struggle through that. It is so big it is restricting young couples from staying and contributing to our economy. It is our No. 1 problem.”
For Humphries, Habitat for Humanity is a big part of the solution. “One house at a time we are making a difference.”
If you would like to be a part of the Habitat for Humanity movement, call at 604-885-6737.
There are many ways you can help, from volunteering at the ReStore, recycling depot and build site to donating and buying household goods at ReStore to giving much needed financial support.
In large ways and small, everyone can help make a difference.