Dylan Handley didn’t mince words when asked about the impacts of Haley Street.
The Little Bras d’Or man spoke Thursday at the North Sydney Firefighters Club following an announcement of $1 million in funding to help the adult services centre rebuild after a July arson spelled the loss of the 1,500-square-foot building.
The 23-year-old who lives with cerebral palsy said the centre’s staff and clients have become like family.
Handley started attending classes at the centre roughly four years ago. He now spends most of his days working inside its woodshop.
“My guys in the shop help me out and I help them out in whichever way I can,” Handley told the crowd.
“I will try to do my best for Haley Street for many, many years. As long as I’m breathing, I’ll bleed Haley Street.”
During the announcement, Dylan’s mother Amy Handley began to cry. It’s been an emotional few months after learning that someone had sent a fire bomb through a window at a building known as Martell hall.
Firefighters responded to the blaze quickly, but the damage was already severe.
The building itself was constructed from four portable classroom trailers and used for teaching domestic and self-help skills. After hearing the news, Dylan helped raise nearly $500 for fire recovery efforts.
“When we found out, he was heartbroken,” Amy Handley said. “He was worried they were targeted personally, so it really bothered him a lot. It’s his second home. He’s there for five hours a day.”
Haley Street executive director Debra MacLean said prior to the fire Martell Hall had undergone extensive renovation thanks to $800,000 from charitable proceeds of a chase the ace fundraiser.
Centre staff was preparing for the ribbon-cutting on a relaxation room after receiving another $10,000 from one of their clients, Peter Eyking.
MacLean said not only will the non-profit rebuild, it will be expanded to accommodate roughly 30 new clients.
"We took this opportunity to say we don't just want to replace, we want to look to the future," MacLean said.
Only a small portion, or $225,000, of the rebuild cost will be covered by insurance.
MacLean said construction is expected to begin by April, with additional improvements to be made on existing facilities.
Upon completion, a new room in the building — a state-of-the-art sensory room — will be dedicated to Eyking for his kindness.
MacLean said following the blaze, Haley Street community members went through a grieving process.
“We’ve always tried to do things on our own, so being in this position was new and it was hard,” she said.
“When this fire happened, it shook us all to the core. It really did. I had so many participants say they couldn’t understand why anyone would do this to us.”
Among their plans are the creation of a multi-use space available in the evenings for local organizations or programs.
Premier Stephen McNeil, who spent some time at Haley Street following the fire, described it Thursday as a special place.
“I want to say thank you for the way that you’ve handled that unfortunate fire that you had last summer by coming together and ensuring that every participant at Haley Street still had a place to come every day and work and do their part,” said McNeil.
“I was in your facility, in your home, not too many months ago and I must tell you, you were pretty crowded.”
The investment made through the province’s Community Services department is also expected to help expand programming.