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High school club helps build homes for families in Mexico

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The build team from the combined Canyon Crest Academy and San Dieguito Academy build with the family after completion of the house.
(Courtesy)

What’s a weekend worth? For some, a weekend can provide a brand-new home. That’s the idea behind Casas de Luz. Casas de Luz (Houses of Light) is a local nonprofit organization based in Solana Beach that was started in 2005 to build homes for needy families in Tijuana. It was created as a social action project of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito. When junior Vivienne Franke of Canyon Crest Academy heard about the program, she jumped right in and started a club on campus. She became an intern and then president of the on-campus club. To date, Casas de Luz has built more than 110 homes for families in six different communities.

“We raise money and then build the houses,” Vivienne explains. “On each build, we have the build team that raised the money, a few local carpenters from Mexico and a couple of high school interns to help make sure the process goes smoothly. Building is by far the best part of the process.”

Vivienne has been on five builds so far and plans on going on at least two more in the next couple of months.

“The houses we create are meant to be a jumpstart to a better life,” she explains. “We hope that every family is able to prosper enough with their new home, that they are able to add on to the existing structure.”

Build team
(L-R) Vivienne Franke (intern), Ilona Eaton (intern), Charlotte Cunningham (intern), and Oscar Ayala (master builder) after finishing a house build. Courtesy

Families in Mexico hear about the program through their friends or through one of the two community centers Casas de Luz has built in Tijuana. Families can apply for a house, and then go through a selection process. They are chosen based on need, but there are additional requirements. The families must have children, must own the land and make under $100 a week in income.

House recipient Esmeralda Gonzalez says her new home, which she shares with her mother and sister, has changed their lives dramatically. “Our home has helped my family and I feel safe and not feel so exposed. With the death of my father, our old room felt unprotected. It has also allowed us to have our own personal space and not live in an overcrowded room.

“For me personally, it has helped with my studies because a lot of times I stay up late to study and when I shared a room with my mom and sister, they weren’t able to sleep and rest well because I had to have the lights turned on and made a little bit of noise. We are so grateful for our new home where we feel so safe to live.”

“I believe that a roof and food are two of the most important things that a person can have,” Vivienne adds. “Our organization is able to give both of these to families. The best part about our process is the human connection aspect. Since we meet the families and are able to personally do the work to help change their lives, the feeling of gratitude for what we have grows each and every time.”

Casas de Luz has a total of five clubs at five different high schools. Each club has 10 to 30 members. The goal of each club is to raise enough money to build a house, and then do it all over again. In addition, interns help to organize and streamline the process. And every month, a group of high school students goes across the border to one of the two community centers built by Casas de Luz and teaches a class or has a “fun day” with the kids.

The club also recently started an initiative called “Despensas de Luz” to deliver groceries to needy families. The nonprofit also provides meal programs for local kids and a Christmas holiday party each year.

But the builds can’t happen until the money is raised. To that end, a special fundraising event for Casas de Luz is being held on May 3 from 6 to 10 p.m. It’s a concert called “Viva la Luz!” and will feature local singer-songwriter Lee Coulter. Drinks, desserts and a silent auction will be included and babysitting is available. Tickets are $25 each or four for $80 (babysitting extra). The event will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito at 1036 Solana Drive in Solana Beach. For tickets, go to vivalaluz.brownpapertickets.com. Tickets are also available at the door for $30 each.


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