Little House in the ‘borough

The townhouses on Hainford Street, near Kingston Road and Lawrence Avenue, were centrestage for Little House on the Prairie: The Musical touring cast members last week.

Melissa Gilbert and the rest of the cast from the musical partnered with Habitat for Humanity Toronto on Feb. 11 to help build 16 homes in West Hill.

“Little House on the Prairie came out today to support Habitat for Humanity,” said Neil Hetherington, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Toronto.  “To swing a hammer, put up drywall, and install windows.”

The cast suited up in work boots and hard hats and got down to business, drilling in drywall screws and hoisting up sheets of lumber.

“It’s an extraordinary feeling,” said Gilbert, who starred as Laura Ingalls in the original television series and is now playing Caroline “Ma” Ingalls in the musical. “This is my third experience drywalling, it’s really a rush.”

The cast of the musical has a charitable partnership with Habitat for Humanity by which they spend time building and helping out in every city they visit on tour. Toronto is their only Canadian stop this year.

“We appreciate all they have done,” Hetherington said.  “Little House has left a great legacy for the city of Toronto this year.”

Even the youngest member of the lot, 10-year-old Carley Sonenclar was hard at work, painting and sanding pieces of wood.

“It’s really good just to be here,” said Sonenclar, who plays Carrie in the musical.  “We actually get to build the houses”

The cast was joined by Habitat volunteers and Will Kramer, a local high school teacher who also brought along a group of co-op students to help direct the build.

“They’re really testing my skills today,” joked Gilbert as she fastened a drywall screw into place. “I feel really good about it until the drywall falls down.”

Hetherington hopes the star power of a celebrity like Gilbert will help bring more volunteers and attention to Habitat for Humanity, giving people what he calls “Habititis.”

For Gilbert, it’s all about getting hands-on and giving back to the community.

“This is not just giving money,” Gilbert said.  “It’s actually coming out here and doing the work.”

Gilbert calls the partnership between Habitat for Humanity and Little House on the Prairie natural, saying the show and Habitat are all about family and good values.

The homes are expected to be completed around April. They will be sold at the cheapest possible price to disadvantaged families in Scarborough.

“We’ve seen people on the days they have been given the keys to their new home,” Gilbert said. “It’s amazing.”