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Our world: It’s all in a day’s work

One Saturday a year, a bus full of Rotaractors, Interactors, and Rotarians crosses the U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana. They debark at an empty lot, where stacks of lumber and boxes of nails await them.

After a day of work, they leave something behind: a house.

Members of the Rotaract Club of Ventura, California, USA, help build homes near Tijuana, Mexico. 

“It’s one of the most rewarding and fun things I’ve ever done,” says Olivia Strohman, past president of the Rotaract Club of Ventura, California. “I’ve done three trips. Before the first one, I’d never built a house. I’d built Ikea furniture. That was the extent of my knowledge.”

For eight years, the club has worked with Corazón, a nonprofit based in Santa Ana, California, that manages social development programs and builds houses for families in Tijuana and Tecate. Each year, the Ventura Rotaractors have raised $9,000 for materials. Corazón delivers the supplies to a site in Mexico, and local volunteers pour a concrete slab before the group arrives.

“When we show up, there’s a slab on the ground and the lumber is all in a pile,” says Dale Jaedtke, of the Rotary Club of Ventura, a building contractor and Rotaract club adviser. “The windows, the doors. Everything is there.”

In a workday that lasts up to 10 hours, about 50 volunteers frame and finish the house, complete with sleeping loft. On each project, the family who will move in has volunteered on other projects in the community, including house builds, and assists with the construction. It’s a basic shelter, without electricity or plumbing, but for the recipients, it can make a profound difference. Corazón also offers classes in basic repairs and furniture making to help ensure that the new homeowners thrive.

The family who received the first house Strohman worked on had sacrificed housing to send their youngest son to school, she says. “He’s at the top of his class now. They were so grateful.” 

Receiving a new house is life-changing for a family, but it’s also a significant event for the Rotaractors, most of whom have never done any construction or spent much time across the border, Jaedtke says. Working on the house together creates a strong bond within the club, which helps attract new members – including Strohman, who says she joined Rotaract partly because she’d heard about the house build and wanted to get involved with the project and the club.

“It changes their lives and their outlook to know they can make such a difference in someone’s life in one day,” Jaedtke says. “It was a winner from day one.”

– Nikki Kallio

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