Words by Chris Carriere
You probably recognize Jim Caruk, by name or by face, from his work on HGTV. He’s hosted seven seasons of the hit Real Renos and more recently his new show Builder Boss.
Now, meet his off-screen alter ego: Jim Caruk, philanthropist. In 2009, he founded Renos for Heroes, a 100 percent volunteer-based organization that provides free renovation services to Canadian soldiers who have lost limbs in Afghanistan. The government provides only limited funding to make the homes of disabled veterans accessible, and Caruk’s group picks up the slack.
Our post-9/11 world, where foreign policy is vociferously debated on television, on Parliament Hill and Capitol Hill and online, makes it easy to forget that the ones doing the fighting and dying overseas are not abstract numbers flashed onscreen between commercial breaks, but flesh and blood, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. In the spirit of Remembrance Day, we decided to shine a light on this moving, worthy work. Here’s what the humble Jim Caruk had to say.
Could you explain Renos for Heroes, in your own words?
Our mission is to give [veterans] back their independence. We’re focusing on those who have lost limbs, because the military only goes so far with what they can give them. We bridge the gap, whether that means adding an extra bathroom or access in and out of the house via a ramp. These men and women are at the start of a new life, and we want to help them as much as we can. We just finished a job in Scarborough, widening doorways and giving [the soldier] easier access to his closet. We paved his deck, and added a steel ramp all the way down the side of the house plus all-new railings. We’re working on one in Edmonton right now.
And the organization is run entirely on a volunteer basis?
Yeah. For instance, the Carpenters’ Union is a big supporter. At a recent job, five or six carpenters came out on their own time. Our suppliers have been great, too, but there are still things we need to buy. We’re supported by groups like True Patriot Love and other foundations, and we still do fundraisers, but we wish more people would hear about us, because we love being able to do this. It’s extremely rewarding work– humbling, but very rewarding.
Why is it humbling?
Well, in my business, people complain about a tile not being straight or whatever. And then you walk into something like this, where [soldiers] give their lives so that we can sit in our houses and have these conversations. You talk to them, you hear their stories and the things that have happened, and yet they’re still full of life. The fact is, you go over there, and you’re coming back in one of three ways: fine, wounded or in a box. What I do is nothing compared with what they do.
What made you want to start this project? Why give back in this way?
All my uncles and my dad were in WWII. Thank God they all came back. My uncle would not talk about it—he was one of the last ones in, one of the guys who opened up the concentration camps. I have a couple of buddies who have served, and again, they came back OK.
But the son-in-law of one of my friends was over there. He wasn’t wounded physically, but he definitely had PTSD. He couldn’t react to his daughter or son anymore. And the military was hardly doing anything for him. They took him to Ottawa and gave him a medal.
As my friend pointed out to me, we hear about those killed in action, but not about the wounded coming back. So I dug into it deeper and deeper, and decided that this was just crazy. I’m in a position where I can help. Maybe I’m known because of TV, and this was my chance to use that for good. So I am. Before somebody takes over and it goes by the wayside, I want to give back as much as I can.
Organizations like Renos for Heroes run on people-power. They need money, they need materials and they need hardworking hands. If you’re a contractor or tradesperson, consider volunteering; the organization is especially in need of volunteers who live outside of the GTA, so if you know an electrician in Moosonee, give him or her a call. If you’re interested in giving, the group has upcoming fundraisers in October (raffle), February (Valentine’s dance) and June (golf tournament). Email Deryl Caruk (Jim’s brother) at renosforheroes.org for more info on getting involved!