Building Homes for Families in Need

In a reverse IMPACT interview, Russell Thomas took the place of interviewee and discussed the recent humanitarian trip he and his wife Heather took to Southeast Asia with Bracelets 4 Buildings.

Impact with Russell


Russell was first introduced to Bracelets 4 Buildings when one of the organizations co-founders, Kent, purchased a painting of his and made a generous contribution to Some Other Solutions. When the two connected, Kent said something that really resonated with Russell.

“I don’t consider myself the owner of this painting, I consider myself the custodian of it,” said Kent.

From there the two began a virtual relationship, which led Kent to invite Russell to consider joining him and his co-founder Lee in getting involved with Bracelets 4 Buildings. It was when Russell decided to move into semi-retirement from the United Way that he and his wife made the commitment to do a trip and to sponsor a home.

“We didn’t really know how we were going to do that at that point, “ said Russell. “But it all fell into place, and that was what took us there.”

Bracelets 4 Buildings was created to build houses for families in Cambodia who are in desperate need of new accommodations.

“They do that in a particular way,” said Russell. “First they go into small, small communities and they engage with either the village chief, or the commune chief, whoever the municipal leader is, and ask the question ‘What are the families that are in most desperate need?’ And they go through an interview process and eventually have to decide, based on the available resources, ‘who are we going to build homes for this year?’.”

Though the Bracelets 4 Buildings volunteers intervene when needed and assist in the building process, the bulk of the work is done by local workers. Two individuals who were recipients of new homes were on the labour crew themselves.

“We help a little”, said Russell. “ But really the purpose is to create local employment and local empowerment. That’s what I observed.”

During their time in Cambodia, Russell and his wife were able to witness five different families receive new homes and the impact that it made.

One of the individuals who was a recipient of a new home was a single mother of four children.

“She was living in what can best be described as a ramshackle shack,” said Russell. “ It was made of whatever materials they could find, it only had three walls- it was open to nature, and all five members of her family slept on this ram-shackle wood that was there.”

Receiving a new home allowed this woman’s life to change on a dime. Families also received a package of various items with their new house.

“A big part of this project was when a recipient got their house they also received a package of things with the house- rice, food, blankets, mats for the floor and various other things,” said Russell.

Three of the families who received a new home and these items also received a painting of Russell’s- done during his time in Cambodia.

One of the paintings was gifted to a family consisting of a hard working young man, his wife and their young children. The children of this family spent the day helping Russell paint an elephant, so this is the image that he gifted the family for their new house.

When asked by a translator why he hung the painting where he did, the man replied, “I want that to be the first thing people see when they come in my house.” Pictures from:– TRUSTOPT

Russell said that although the poverty there is evident, the people he encountered had so much wealth in the form of spirit.

“The smiles that we received in those countries, you can’t put a price on. Every single person that you smiled at, smiled back.”

Russell said that he looks forward to returning to Cambodia in the future.

“I enjoy doing things that have continuity to them, I’m not a one off kind of person. So I’m really interested to return to that community that we fell in love with in Cambodia- and see how it’s going with the families we connected with and hopefully impact more families.”

For more information about Bracelets 4 Buildings head to

Author: Meaghan Szpak

Meaghan has earned her degree in Public Relations from Iowa State University and has returned to work with The United Way of Fort McMurray. Her interest in the social profit sector brought her to the United Way last summer when she worked as an intern. Although she has spent the last few years in the United States, Meaghan is not new to the community of Fort McMurray and considers it home. She is excited about interacting on a daily basis with the people and agencies who give back and help make her home community a better place. In her free time Meaghan loves taking road trips, exploring new places and hiking new trails, all with her husky by her side.