HeroWork Hero Series: Darlene Potentier


As you are likely seeing throughout the HeroWork Hero series, there are a lot of people involved that imbue not only the values of the charity, but possess a special character that inspires and draws people together. Darlene Potentier is without a doubt one of those people. And like so many of the volunteers, it was the ability to offer her specialized skills for a community cause that contributed to her becoming part of the HeroWork family.

Darlene is the co-owner of Refined Redesigns, a business she started with business partner, Lisa Gurney, in 2002. She had worked for many years at Telus, but when they shut down their public offices, she began to rethink her career path. “Friends were always saying to me, ‘you’re so good at decorating, why don’t you do something in that area?’ So I thought about it and I looked online and found some redesign training courses taught here in Victoria by Val Sharp. I contacted her and I was able to get into her next class and there I met my business partner, Lisa Gurney, and we did some projects together.” After about 13 years, they have developed their services to include renovations guidance, paint consultations, furniture shopping for clients, furnishing of spec homes, and one-day home makeovers, among other things.

It was after the completion of the course that the two serendipitously encountered each other while shopping. They went for coffee and concluded that instead of competing against each other, they were better to join their skills in a business partnership. The two scribbled four possible names on a napkin and took that list down to the business bureau. A week later their name, Refined Redesigns, was accepted and they got their business license. It was a mention in a newspaper column that kick started their debut, getting them three clients off the bat. As the first stagers in Victoria, they were able to cater to a niche, and the rest of their development is history.

Darlene (right) with Val Sharp (left).

Darlene (right) with Val Sharp (left).

“It was my segue into HeroWork, which I am so thankful for. If I hadn’t had my design company, I may not have heard of HeroWork and become involved. Probably now I would have heard of it as the name’s out there and I volunteer with many organizations, but I am thrilled that I was there with my business to be able to start at the beginning of things.”

So just how did Darlene become involved with HeroWork? “… Val Sharp, who knew Paul [Latour] through another friend of hers, mentioned myself and my business partner to him and he brought us on as one of the design teams…I just loved that [Casa Maria] project and I think that everyone who did it was on such a high. When they moved that truck I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place, and it was just such a moving experience…I just couldn’t wait for the next project.”

When the time came around for the next HeroWork project with The Mustard Seed, Darlene was out of the country while Paul was putting together the design team. When she returned, Paul contacted her and asked her to be the onsite leader. In this position, Darlene, with the assistance of Val, was coordinating everything for the outside team including food, the first-aid tent, and monitoring safety practices, among many other things. Additionally, if the inside team needed anything, she would make sure they got it. “It was a gruelling ten days,” recalls Darlene, “and from an operational viewpoint, we were kind of crazy to do it for ten days in a row because some of our contractors, painters, plumbers, drywallers, electricians, they all had their weekly jobs to do. And yet, every single one of them that was on the team went to their job during the day or the night, whichever it was, and they came after work and worked until we closed. So they were doing 12-14 hour days of labour…the dedication and sacrifices that people made to get that work done was just overwhelming.”

The hard work on the Radical Reno worksite is universal among all the volunteers, but seeing the immensely positive effect it has on the community fuels them all to come back and do it again. “That’s what keeps us coming back, it’s that feeling at the end when they do the ‘Move that Truck’ moment and the recipients of our hard labour are just crying and overwhelmed, they just can’t believe what’s been done in such a short time by so many people.” She continued, “We’re all pretty exhausted at the end of the project because it’s a lot of planning time up front, but to see the results at the end, you’re just ready for the next one.”

The friendships that are forged during the renovations is another component that fosters the great camaraderie and enjoyment of being involved. “I’ve made so many amazing friends through this project, and I know we’ll be lifelong friends. The other thing too is that all the contractors, electricians, plumbers…when I need something in everyday life, that’s who I’m going to call because I know their quality of work, their dedication, they’re going to give me an honest quote and an honest day’s work for what I spend. They’ve got such a great work ethic, so I’d be proud to hire any one of them or recommend them.”

Among a number of those friendships is the creation of some supportive business partnerships as well. Darlene has an example of this with Aaron Banks’s A.B. Painting. “…A lot of the time his clients wanted to paint, but they didn’t know what colours to choose, what paint to get, or how to blend them throughout the house, and it wasn’t really something Aaron had the time to do. So he approached Lisa and me at our company, Refined Redesigns, and we now do paint consultations for him. Whenever he gets a client that doesn’t have their paint colours chosen already, he offers a one-hour paint consultation free to the client, and then he pays us directly for that one-hour consultation, and if they go over that, the client pays us…it was just a nice connection and I know that happens throughout the different paint companies. I know John DeMedeiros has helped Aaron with his painting company and gotten some jobs with him and for him. It’s kind of a mutual giving society where everybody helps everybody else in and out of the project.” It’s encouraging to see that the spirit of giving and helping out extends to the business world with HeroWork independent of the projects.

Darlene on-site.

Darlene on-site.

Throughout her experience with HeroWork from the beginning, Darlene has been consistently struck by the generosity and support from the community at large. “We very rarely have a no from the public when we ask for donations. Standard Furniture came on board with a bunch of furniture for the Casa Maria Society and we were about to do the reveal and they had brought the furniture about an hour beforehand, so we had an hour to set the furniture up. One of the legs was broken on one of the chairs. I made a phone call to Standard [Furniture], and within 15 minutes we had a new chair there. It was amazing how the public was so on board and were there for us supporting the project.”

And it’s not just with donations that Darlene witnesses the resonating influence that HeroWork is having on the community. With her HeroWork decal proudly displayed on her car, people have noticed. “…I’ve had people at grocery stores as I’m putting groceries in my car saying ‘Oh, HeroWork, you worked on the project. Wow, I read about that, that was fabulous, good work!’ So it’s getting a name out there for sure and people are aware of what we’re doing and it keeps that song in your heart going.”

Darlene has also become used to being honked at while driving, not for any traffic infractions, but from fellow HeroWork sponsors and volunteers taking notice of her decal and giving a friendly acknowledgement. “Eventually I started looking and I’d see the HeroWork bumper sticker on them as they drove by. So it was kind of like a ‘*beep beep* good work!’ That was a really neat feeling, because at first I thought I was doing something wrong in my driving.”

As a member of the HeroWork Board of Directors, Darlene has a keen perspective about what is going on with the charity. I asked her what that experience is like. “I’ve been on boards before, but they’ve always been established boards…putting together board policies for HeroWork and our code of ethics, setting up all of the behind the scenes that operate a board, it has been a new experience for me. I’m learning a lot. Sometimes I feel like I’m a fish out of water, but everybody is so supportive…it’s been a great experience learning the behind the scenes work that’s involved with putting a board together and actually getting us formed as a charity.”

She continued to tell me about the rewarding feeling of planning out how HeroWork will evolve into the future and figuring out strategies on how to make it as sustainable as possible. The experience of the Board Director, Annette Wall, has also helped the board to progress in a strong and organized way. “Annette has been amazing. I’ve known her for many years and when she called me last year, having seen that I’d been on the HeroWork projects, and asked me what it was all about and I told her, she was on board right away to help out. Next thing I know she’s Board Chair! She was very willing to jump in and help, and she’s been an amazing leader on the board having worked in government for so long and has been very good at getting us going in the right direction.”


As a member of the board, Darlene and her contemporaries are actively considering the future for HeroWork. “I hope to see that it’s something that catches on throughout the rest of Canada. I would like to see HeroWork chapters opened up perhaps starting in western Canada and moving east. I think that every community should have something like this…this is just so different because the charities get only so much money from grants to function and keep their client base going, but the buildings they’re working in are often run down and dilapidated. When you see what these people work in, it’s amazing. I mean washing your coffee cups and making your coffee in a bathroom, you go to work and that’s your environment. But you know, they do it because they love what they do and that’s their job. They don’t have the money to maintain or upgrade their buildings and I don’t know if any other organization out there, that I’m aware of, is taking on these projects.”

As she explained to me, HeroWork is adept in taking smaller sums of seed money and catapulting it towards a renovation project with a value that far exceeds that. Darlene holds very optimistic views about the charity’s future and is very proud that she has been able to be a part of the cause from the beginning.

At this point, my questions were all answered and I asked Darlene if she had anything else she wanted to add. Like all the people I have interviewed, she humbly chose to focus on directing praise towards someone else, after having already told me about HeroWork contributors like Aaron Banks and John DeMedeiros. “I’m just so proud of Paul Latour and his vision, starting to help a friend one day and how his vision has turned into his life’s work and I’m just so proud of him and every person he’s inspired along the way…he’s inspired so many people in the community and I thank him for all the many, many friends and wonderful people I’ve met.”

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