03/14/2011 06:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Fulfilling a Childhood Dream to Build a Home

San Antonio Del Mar, Mexico
This is the second of two blog posts from a volunteer home build with Homes of Hope

During the build, some of us gravitated to one another to complete tasks because we liked certain skills. I found painting very relaxing and I think most of us found that rolling the paint on the outside walls to be especially satisfying. This went fast and because we were outside, we could enjoy the beauty of the sky, the Pacific Ocean and the sun. Some of us forgot to put sunblock on and had bad sunburns. I coated my nose and face liberally because I burn easily, but then I had the stuff in my eyes by the end of each day. That burns badly.

Painting is very messy and when people are too close, the painters end up painting one another. The drippings fly this way and that way. I wore a bandanna on my head and looked funny, but I didn't want paint in my hair. I thought that the cotton gloves that were given to me would spare my fingers, but the paint bled right through. Washing paint off was a challenge and most of us had to scrub in the shower to get clean each night.

Trim and moldings were also a challenge and tedious. We painted them Day #1 and then installed them on Day #2, but we had to cut the trim and molding to fit exactly throughout the home.

What made the home look so cute was the choice of gray paint for the walls and blue for the trim. It was very sporty. When I looked at the other homes that had been built in the months before though, I almost wished that there were other colors so families could feel as if they had a unique home.

Kids on the build had fun and worked hard

Over half the Red Team were kids, who ranged in age from 5 years old to 18 years old. And the family's three boys also worked with us. They all worked fully engaged and diligently. None of them stood by and watched or got bored, in fact, all of them worked safely and with great care for the seriousness of the final goal. They connected and bonded with one another even though some of them met and worked together for the first time.

My son knew two of the kids in the group and I watched him make friends with the other kids. He genuinely enjoyed everyone. There was laughter and private jokes, and admiration for one another. Their behavior was quite similar to the adults, pairing off to do tasks that they enjoyed and were challenged by. Everyone I think tried all the jobs to learn and experience the entire build.

Kids and adults mixed as well, but I think that the kids wanted to prove themselves and their independence at the build was just perfect. I hardly saw my son in a way, even though I photographed everything he did. I was observing him through the lens, in some way not really as his parent.

The kids actually took care of one another. They smiled a lot about their accomplishments and I was very proud of their work. At the end of each day, they were exhausted and happy. At night, they gathered and played together. On the second night, they sat at a table for hours playing card games and laughing and talking like they had always known one another.

End of Day

There is nothing like being bone tired after physical labor. At the end of each day, I loved eating cafeteria food: burritos, lasagna, peanut butter and jelly, bug juice, and a cold Coke that I hardly ever drink. It was fun to ride on the bus with someone I didn't know learning about their story. Why were they on the build, year after year? Some had lost a wife or a boyfriend. All of the connections to Sarah Cherry were so lovely to understand. Talking to Sarah was also quite special for me. I have admired her courage since Doug died on 9/11 and I love what she did for the community in Maplewood by bringing everyone together to share this experience.

I have always wanted to join and just never found the time. That Des wanted to go inspired me to go and I am so grateful to the Paradis family, especially Mike, who has quietly and generously participated for nine of the 10 years. He is a funny guy who stole my backpack a few times, and he got my goat! He also took care of me and Des in many ways and I am appreciative.


I marvel at how relaxing the build was for me. I forgot about my stress and left my cares at home. I was absorbed and preoccupied with the tasks of the building and the purposeful photography to archive Des's service project and I became preoccupied with making sure I took photos of the whole team. I especially enjoyed watching myself build and paint as I had done so many years ago when I was an assistant carpenter and did renovations on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan. Building a home, which was a childhood dream, made me very happy and fulfilled. Knowing that I can actually do something with my hands and body at 59 years of age is very surprising, and I feel very proud.

And how special it is that my son, Des, at 12 and a half years of age was completely immersed in all of the building jobs and successfully learned many new skills that made him feel independent and competent. He really did a "mitzvah" for the de la Cruz Gomez family and he fully understood their poverty and their need for a home.

Christian Mission

Though Homes of Hope is a Christian mission and we were asked to pray at the start and end of each day, Des and I never felt obligated to pray. We were both respectful and spiritual about the build as were many others. It was a pleasure to see how organized and loving the mission was and that there was no pressure from the organization. I thank Susie, Avraham, Alfonso and the leadership of YWAM and Homes of Hope for the opportunity to serve the family de la Cruz Gomez.