April 21st, 2024

Family struggling to hold onto dream

By Greg Bobinec on February 18, 2021.

A local southern Alberta family is struggling to hold onto the property they have been working towards developing as a place to help employ people with disabilities, and is asking for the community’s support to save it.
Since moving from their successful greenhouse in Barons several years ago, Suzie Irwin and her husband Brandt moved to Lethbridge to open a flower shop and coffee shop with plans to later open the greenhouse.
The dream of a greenhouse to help people with disabilities was cut short after the contractor they hired declared bankruptcy and took their money. Years later, family friend Karlie Puchala launched a GoFundMe to revive the project and save the property.
“About seven years I went into the family’s flower shop and I was buying a gift for a family I worked with and their son had autism, and I got chatting with Suzie and she shared that she also had a son with autism, so we got chatting about the gap in society with supporting people with disabilities with meaningful employment,” says Puchala.
“I used to drive past Park Lake and see this abandoned barn and greenhouse and wondered what the story was behind that, and Suzie shared with me that it was hers and that in the year 2000, they relocated from Barons where they ran a successful greenhouse and they hired this contractor who was recommended to them because they had experience moving old barns. So they hired him and shortly after things started to go south. They noticed that materials would go missing, he wasn’t showing up on the job, and shortly after he declared bankruptcy and took hundreds of thousands of dollars of their money.”
With hundreds of thousands of dollars gone from the families’ accounts, the family had to step up and find ways to make ends meet.
“The family was forced to do a double mortgage, the father Brandt has worked full-time and then Suzie, she ran Panda Flowers and now runs a local shop on the west side of Lethbridge because they couldn’t keep up with the franchise fees,” says Puchala.
“During this time, Suzie was also working at Safeway as a pharmacy tech and she got injured on the job and lost the job.”
Once the pandemic hit the province, the troubles with the greenhouse continued to pour in, and with many attempts to fix and improve the situation, the road seemed bleak.

“COVID hit and basically their bank accounts were frozen, they were unable to pay their mortgage, and their one daughter took out a personal loan to help pay their mortgage and the bank wouldn’t accept it,” says Puchala.
“Then they received a notice there was going to be a foreclosure on the property and together we have worked to get an extension put in place, so we have until April 27 to either find a new mortgage, we have tried to meet with private lenders but with COVID it’s too high of a risk, tried to get in touch with other banks, but because the bank ruined her credit, she can’t get a new mortgage.”
With the extension on foreclosure, Puchala stepped up to the plate to try to raise as much money to help them lessen the payment owed back. With a goal of $350,000, so far they have managed to raise just under $4,000.
“We are trying to raise money through the GoFundMe to help in any way towards lessening the payment that is owed back to the bank to be able to apply for a new mortgage on the property,” says Puchala. “This property is slipping from under us right now and the number of people that go out to Park Lake every year, it’s a great location with so much potential.”
With the Irwin’s son’s disability and hard time finding meaningful work, and Puchala’s experience and education with disabilities, they are hoping to get the funding to create not only an encouraging space to foster skills and a workforce for people with disabilities, but also as a community space that so many people pass by every year.
“I used to work at an agency where we had a Youth Readiness program and a huge gap that I saw was getting kids through the program and then employed and for some reason Lethbridge has a bad rap for kids with disabilities and working, I am not sure why,” says Puchala.
“The thing with Suzie’s son, he has worked at many places but they were never fully able to support where he was at, he needs that extra support. The main goal with the greenhouse is to foster people with disabilities and employment, Ethan looks at this at his last shot at being able to have that meaningful life and we want him to be able to work.
“Not only that, we want to find individuals like Ethan in the community to come try it out here, get some job experience, we want to create it to also be an outreach community to connect them to other employers.”
Along with the greenhouse, the Irwin’s also plan to use their coffee shop – Petals, Paws and Beans, as well as their flower shop, New Hope YQL Floral & Botanical, as another safe and encouraging working space for those with disabilities.
“The greenhouse will allow for a slower paced environment, the flower shop will give them the opportunity to get that hands-on job experience and a bit faster paced like the coffee shop, but we want to meet people where they are at,” says Puchala.
If you are interested in donating to the New Hope at Park Lake GoFundMe, by April 27 visit gofundme.com/f/new-hope-at-park-lake.

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Guy Lethbridge

With so much money being spent (talking about all levels of Government), on nonsensical or “political flavor of the day” things, I wish there was a way to divert the resources to things like this that actually could make a difference. I wish them luck