THE BLOG
03/11/2011 12:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Working Together to Build Homes for a Mexican Family

San Antonio Del Mar, Mexico -- My son, Des, is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah in May. A service project is encouraged for the Bat/Bar Mitzvah. Des has done service in Ethiopia where my foundation, Worldwide Orphans Foundation, works with orphans and vulnerable children, but he wanted to do something "hands on". As a very young child, my parents took me to Amish country and I watched the "raising of a barn" on a weekend in Bird in Hand, Pa in the late 1950s. I never forgot watching those people build a barn in a day and I ended up doing carpentry in the early 1970s and often dreamed of building my own home. I became a teacher and then a doctor, but home building never happened.

And what better way to spend time with your child than to build a home? And even better is that I could photograph him so that he has this memory forever.

Fast forward to March 3, 2011 when Des and I flew to San Diego to join 73 other people from 11 states and 23 towns to build four homes in two days, in an impoverished community, San Antonio del Mar outside of Tijuana, Mexico. Douglas and Sarah Cherry and their three children lived in Maplewood, New Jersey. Doug died on 9/11 in Tower #2 working for Aon. His wife created a memorial to him and for 10 years people have been building homes for Homes of Hope and Youth With a Mission.

Who is the De La Cruz Gomez Family?

Des and I were on the Red Team building a 16 by 20 foot home for the De La Cruz Gomez family. The house materials cost about $6000 and the fee is divided up among the building families; the families also donate clothes, bedding, toys and food for the family

Red Family: De La Cruz Gomez, GPS (32° 29'07N, 117° 06'03 O)
Eloisa is the matriarch of the family and she and her daughter purchased a property to build a house on, the cost of the piece of land was $3000 dlls and their payment is $100 dlls each month. They applied to Homes of Hope and went through a rigorous application process for their eligibility for a home.

Maibet (Daughter of Eloisa) (33 years old) is also a single mom and has one daughter and her name is Fernanda who is 13 months old. Eloisa has three sons. Luis Ricardo is 18 years old and he works at a convenience store and his earnings are between $60 and $70 dlls a week.

He has a younger brother named Fernando (15 years old), attends an intermediate school (seventh grade), and the youngest of all is Arbey (11 years old), who is going to 5th grade.

They were borrowing a house close by while waiting for the building of their new home.

What happens on a build? Team Work!

We awakened early on Friday morning and we traveled to the sites of for each of the four teams (red, yellow, blue, and green); our site was on top of a hill looking out on a valley to the Pacific Ocean. You can see that view from the window in the kitchen and dining room of the home.

We worked without a break except for lunch; I took on the role of the photographer because I wanted to record my son's work so that he could enjoy seeing himself building the home. The jobs were broken up into jobs that matched the sequence of how you build a home. The cement slab was already placed a week earlier as part of the preparation of the site. We carried all of the materials from the front of the site and that took about an hour. Lifting plywood and particle board, dry wall, two-by-fours, and trim was hard for me. I weigh 110 lbs. and don't lift much except my backpack. We immediately worked as a team. Everyone just naturally paired off to accomplish the tasks.

Each little group was instructed by the foreman, Alfonso who was trained by Homes of Hope about five years ago; he was never a builder before this and watching him last weekend, I thought that he was building his whole life. He was skilled, organized and a very patient teacher. He never had a moment...even when we made mistakes and we made plenty that he then helped us to fix.

There was framing, wall construction, dry wall/sheet rock preparation, painting, window and door placement, trim and molding placement, electrical wiring in the framing, and roof construction. Raising the walls was awesome. We all strategically placed ourselves in intervals along the walls and bent at the knees and then lifted slowly together. Voila, the walls were up and then they all fit together miraculously... But truthfully, it wasn't a miracle because there is science and skill to building and when it is done well, the fit happens and is quite satisfying. We all felt like we accomplished an amazing result when the walls all fit and the nail gun resounded loudly, almost deafening as the walls were safely attached to the cement slab.

Tools

I think I have the sounds of the build in my head... The electrical equipment was fascinating and necessary. If we had used a hand saw and just nails, we could not have finished the build in two days. I adored all the tools. We all had Homes of Hope T-shirts and canvas tool belts. I loved tying my belt/pouch around my waist and my favorite thing to do was to put the hammer in the tool belt loop. I also enjoyed filling my compartment with the different kinds of nails... And the types of nails were key. There were special types of nails for each part of the build... Finishing nails, dry wall nails, galvanized steel nails. And the brad air gun which was a challenge when the brads were stuck, made the trim installation easy. The saws were scary. The circular saw was especially hard because you really need to place it on the horses with the boards to cut in a very secure way to cut accurately and not take off your fingers.

Mitering window and shelf trim was elegant. I did one 45 degree cut and just admired my work... And then left it for Mike who was faster. Hammering was quite relaxing actually. I was quite satisfied when I hit the nail properly holding the hammer at the end of the handle and letting the hammer fall to the nail head... Doug instructed many of us on this important skill. Hammering can be very exhausting and many of us had cramping and muscle spasms from the sustained hammering. I used my manipulation skills on several occasions, massaging muscles in hands and forearms to help some of the builders whose hands and fingers closed and were in spasm... Very painful like a cramp in your toes! You all know that experience.


This is the first of two blog posts on my trip to Mexico.

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