United Church of Los Alamos and Unitarian Church members at a home building trip in April in Puerto Peñasco. Courtesy photo
During their April trip to Puerto Peñasco, the group built a double size home for a family of six previously living in a one room home. Courtesy photo
A profound sense of fulfillment experienced by Los Alamos youth and adults who build homes for Mexican families living in dreadful circumstances draws many to volunteer year after year.
Laura and Randy Erickson have participated in 32 of these annual week-long trips and helped build the equivalent of 134 homes. The most recent trip was during spring break last April.
“There is so much value in improving the conditions of families in Mexico and to exposing our youth and adults to a different lifestyle … teaching them they can make a difference … the sense of community and family that develops over the time we spend together is wonderful,” Laura said.
Randy explained that the United Church began sponsoring the Mexico Mission trips after hiring Youth Pastor Steven Mabry in 1985 from California.
“He had participated in this type of trip and he brought 40 United Church folks to California and they joined California folks on a mission trip to Tijuana,” Randy said. “They had such a great trip so everyone wanted to keep doing it.”
Laura added, “The missions have taken on a life of their own … everyone keeps going.”
The United Church mission trips continued to Tijuana before changing in the early 1990s to Cd. Juarez, just south of the EL Paso, Texas border. After drug violence escalated in the region, the mission trips switched in 2009 to Puerto Peñasco, a town of about 50,000 people in the state of Sonora south of the Arizona border.
“We average 60-80 volunteers per trip, with the largest trip being 156 people in 1996,” Randy said. “Typically with 60 people, the equivalent of four houses are built in tandem during the week.”
The annual spring break trip in April is geared toward high school students and many parents and other adults – volunteers are not required to be church members, he said.
“We’ve got a crew of adults adept at various aspects,” Laura said. “Pam Meyer, Sharon Stover and Loree Lynch are food prep people and others know how to do the construction. Site bosses make sure each house gets built. We take our crews of kids and adults and rotate them through various sites so they experience that sense of being a team, we don’t want it to become a competition between houses, we’re all a team.”
The last few years the Unitarian Church of Los Alamos has partnered with the United Church on the Mexico Mission trips.
“The partnership has been delightful,” Randy said.
A committee of Mexican pastors determines the families in need and ensures that they have title to the land.
Over the years women in Mexico began picking up hammers and helping build their home, and in 2008, each husband indicated that their wife should be given the keys, Laura said.
The Ericksons have witnessed the amazing results a new home can have on families.
“We find families struggling health wise and go back two years later and see how vibrant they’ve become,” Laura said.
With a solid new home replacing a rickety residence and doors that firmly lock, a father can travel farther to find better work and not worry about his family, she said.
On their most recent trip, United and Unitarian church volunteers, students and parents built a 22×22 square-foot, four room home for a family of six who had been living in a 10×10 square-foot room.
An annual auction is held each year with items donated from Los Alamos businesses. The event usually raises enough money to purchase building materials, he said. A local organization delivers the material the day before the Los Alamos contingent arrives, otherwise the family would have to guard it all night or “they would walk away.”
Preparation for the upcoming April trip to Puerto Peñasco begins in January with a series of 5 to 6 two-hour meetings.
“We want to make sure people understand what they are in for,” Randy said. “It’s hard work and a very rewarding experience.”
To learn how to participate in a Mexico Mission trip or how to make a donation, contact the United Church office at 505-662-2971.
Home building is about to begin by this group of Mexico Mission participants from Los Alamos in Puerto Peñasco during their spring break trip. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
The frame takes shape on this new home under construction. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Mexico Mission participants from the United and Unitarian churches of Los Alamos in Puerto Peñasco over spring break this year. Photo by