Home-building members of First Presbyterian Church of Newhall show off the home they helped build with some members of the family they built the home for. Courtesy photo

Building homes — one house at a time

Ten men and women with the average age of 70 built a 22-by-11-foot home in Tijuana, Mexico, over a three-day period May 3-6. Still euphoric about the house they built, many of these same individuals have plans to return for a second trip Oct. 11-14. 

The group’s leader, John Favalessa, says most, if not all, of the individuals will return, and this time, he is hoping to recruit new individuals to come with them.  

Favalessa has been part of or led 25 house-building trips to Tijuana over 19 years, all under the auspices of the First Presbyterian Church of Newhall and AMOR, a missionary group facilitating the building of homes in Tijuana. 

“Amor means love in Spanish,” Favalessa says, “and for more than 40 years the group has helped a lot of churches, businesses, and individuals build homes, one home at a time, for the poorest poor of Tijuana.”  

According to Favalessa, AMOR identifies the families in need of homes through a group of ministers, and requires only that the family own the property the house will be built on. Also, AMOR provides all the materials to build a 22-by-11-foot house, with two windows and a door, concrete floor, sturdy roof, and stucco walls, and only mandates that the building be done with all hand tools. Each time someone goes on a house-building trip, Favalessa says, they find that building these homes is a “life-changing” experience, and he hears people say this over and over.

Echoing Favalessa’s words, Bryce Morrow says, “Seeing what I did to help build a home for a family humbles me. This family we built the home for is impoverished, but they are so happy, and appreciative, and ecstatic to have a home. In the U.S., this home is a shack, but here in Tijuana, it is a safe shelter for the family. When we pounded in the last nail, many of the family members came to hug us and tell us thanks.”  

Although it was Morrow’s first home-building trip, it definitely will not be his last. The experience hit Morrow so deeply that he plans to come back for the October trip and bring his wife, and he hopes to bring some friends. 

“I will bring anyone who is interested in helping to build a house for people who really need it,” Morrow says.

A veteran of 15 home-building trips with First Presbyterian, Rachael Durley characterizes the trip as cathartic:  “I have a good life in Santa Clarita. I help in my church, and I work on a number of charities. I have a loving family. Then I go to Tijuana, and I see the extreme poverty many live in. And I am able to do something myself to help a family out of poverty by building a simple home.” 

Durley believes it is the hands-on work she does to help build a house for a family, plus her talks with the kids and adults in the family and the interaction with the members of her group that gives her the satisfaction and love that keeps bringing her back year after year. 

“I am doing more than donating money at church,” Durley says, “I am making a concrete change in a family’s life. This family of six no longer has to live in two small rooms. Now they have a whole new house.” 

Because of the older age of the church members going on the trip, Favalessa says the slab was poured before they arrived. According to Favalessa, “We built the rest of the house. We all worked hard each day, and completed the house, down to the chicken wire and tar paper. Another small day group coming from San Diego would put on the stucco.”

Favalessa emphasizes that when they left, the house was all ready to be lived in. “For the most part, we finished the house in two long, hard work days,” Favalessa says. “We all were hurting and tired each night and the next day, but it was worth it. We gave a poor family a new house to live in. And anyone who wants to experience this can come with us on our next trip.”

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