Cardboard House initiative an opportunity to turn “dialogue into action”

Niagara College students will come face to face with the realities of homelessness and poverty next week thanks to the YWCA’s (The YW) Cardboard House initiative.

The display – a 16 x 24-foot house inspired by Raising the Roof’s Street House project – includes rooms dedicated to different issues associated with  homelessness and poverty, including misconceptions, realities, and change.

A NC student and professor, along with the Niagara College Student Administrative Council (NCSAC), were inspired to bring the display to Niagara College in an effort to raise awareness of poverty and homelessness in Niagara while generating donations to NCSAC’s student food bank.

Allison Pillwein, a Pre-Community Services student who will further her studies in NC’s Social Service Worker program next fall, learned about the initiative while volunteering with the YW.

“I think that we tend to think only of absolute poverty occurring in other countries, but don’t have a thorough understanding of what poverty here in Canada and in Niagara looks like,” she said. “I hope that the Cardboard House will challenge students to change the way they understand poverty and homelessness, to develop empathy and compassion for their community members, and to become empowered to take a stand against the myths that circulate in our society, and against the existence of poverty itself.”

“We are very excited to bring our Cardboard House to Niagara College,” said Elisabeth Zimmermann, the YW’s executive director. “Allison is a fantastic volunteer with the YW, who has been supporting our organization in many beautiful ways. We are thrilled that she chose to present about the Cardboard House in one of her classes, which really is how this collaboration started. It is so important for students here in Niagara to be aware of the challenges women and families all over the Region are facing. The Cardboard House is a great, interactive way to raise that awareness.”

Pillwein’s professor, Theresa Anzovino, described the Cardboard House as an opportunity to turn “dialogue into action.”

“We’re very grateful to the YWCA for bringing the Cardboard House to Niagara College and to NCSAC for facilitating this initiative,” said Anzovino, a professor in Niagara College’s School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The Cardboard House provides us as educators with a unique experiential learning opportunity.”

The Cardboard House will be erected on the first floor of the Applied Health Institute at the Welland Campus April 4-8. Admission is free, but NCSAC is asking people who tour the house to donate canned food items to the student food bank.

“We think it’s really important to educate students on the effects of poverty,” said Samantha Cianchino, NCSAC’s Welland Campus director of goodwill.

The YW provides shelter, food and assistance to homeless women and their families and is committed to social change and work to create a community that supports women who are living in poverty and assists them through each step towards stability and independent living.  On any given night 150 women, children and families can be found sleeping under the roof of one of the housing programs offered by the YW.

Niagara College offers more than 100 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs at campuses in Welland, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Niagara Falls; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit


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