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Habitat for Humanity’s Mark Carl is building a stronger Niagara

If his alma mater hadn’t accommodated his learning disability and convinced him to not drop out of college, Mark Carl wouldn’t be a nominee for a 2023 Premier’s Award. Instead, he’d be one of the clients he helps.

“My professors knew I understood the coursework and had what it takes to complete the assignments,” Carl said. “But I didn’t, and it was a real struggle for me. It wasn’t until they encouraged me to talk to a Learning Resources counselor to arrange academic accommodations that I decided to stay and obtain my diploma.”

Carl, who’s been nominated for a Premier’s Award in the Community Services category, not only went on to graduate from NC’s Business Administration – Marketing program in 1997, he also received a post-graduate certificate in International Trade the same year.

Today, Carl is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Niagara and leads a team of 300 staff and volunteers who annually fundraise $940,000 to ensure low-income families have safe, secure and affordable homes.

He also oversees three retail ReStores, where new and gently used home improvement items are sold to help contribute to operating costs.

He credits his college-obtained business and strategic planning skills for preparing him for his leadership roles, and for rescuing not one, but two of his employers from financial deficits and putting them into surpluses.

It was NC’s wholistic approach to accommodating his unique learning needs that motivated Carl to get involved locally to help communally revamp social and affordable housing.

During his six years as Executive Director of the Hope Centre in Welland, Carl restored the emergency homeless shelter’s financial situation through partnerships and donations of $1 million, then heeded the community’s call to transition it into a full-fledged social service hub.

He grew the facility from 4,000 to 16,000 square feet to accommodate seven additional agencies, including a Soup Kitchen (that now serves 8,000 meals annually), Food Bank (that feeds 15,800 annually), Psychotherapy and Additions Counseling (for up to 70 clients, up from 20), Housing Stability programs, and many other support services.

He furthermore secured $3 million through corporate partnerships for an additional 20-unit social housing building, and his team is on track to build more affordable homes than ever: five by the end of 2023, and a total of 30 by 2028. Because of this, 150 individuals in 30 families will escape housing insecurity by qualifying for mortgages that charge only 30 per cent of their income.

This significant increase in construction is made possible through Carl’s prudent business and strategic planning that elevated Habitat Niagara out of a deficit and into a surplus. His team’s four-year fundraising goal is $10 million; $4 million has already been secured.

Collaborative solutions to social problems

His time at Niagara College also inspired Carl’s political career. It was a way to tangibly give back to his community by finding collaborative and collective solutions to complex social problems.

Having witnessed firsthand how lived traumatic experiences—often from childhood—trap individuals into cycles of socioeconomic strain, Carl spent much of his 2010-2018 tenure as a Welland city councillor using his collective problem-solving approach to compel community partners, local charities, multi-tiered governments, regional colleges and universities, investors, donors and developers to help solve the multifaceted aspects of homelessness, such as mental illness and opioid addiction.

He served as a board member of the North Welland Business Improvement Area and co-chairperson of Safe Communities Welland, where he worked with residents to make the city the safest place to live, work and play. Carl also helped create the Town & Gown Committee to develop and enhance relationships, communications, and policies among the local college, its students, the City, police, and the community.

In 2018, Carl helped secure $8 million in federal funding for two Niagara Peninsula Aboriginal Area Management Board projects, which provide skills and job training to 150 Indigenous youth.

The empathy of his professors at Niagara College inspired him to persevere through the disadvantages of his disability and dedicate his career to philanthropic organizations, and it was NC’s wholistic approach to accommodating his unique learning needs that motivated Carl to get involved locally to help communally revamp social and affordable housing.

And Carl is giving back to Niagara College, too.

Over the last five years, he has been a strong supporter of the College’s Community Integration through Cooperative Education (CICE) program, which enhances employability for students with disabilities.

To date, 20 college-aged students with significant learning challenges have completed their field placements at Habitat ReStore locations throughout Niagara.

This story is part of a series featuring seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community, who have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2023 Premier’s Awards.