Annual trip is a life changer to those in need By: Colin Anderson
Rick Curson is always looking forward to his vacations to Mexico. For more than 30 years he, along with wife Stacey and often each of their four kids, heads south over spring break and again over the week of Thanksgiving. It’s not to an all-inclusive resort or timeshare with days of sipping tropical drinks by the pool; it’s to a community where the Cursons and many others have made an impact on a near countless number of lives. “The community of people we work for is beautiful. They are poor, they live in a country with corrupt leadership, so there is another layer of gratitude that is hard to explain,” Rick stated.
Rick first visited the community outside of Tecate in 1990. He and Stacey brought along their 3-month-old daughter and around 100 high school students to construct a few homes, free of charge. The experience forever changed them, and they decided to make it an annual trip. “After a few years we just made this our family vacation, and we kept inviting friends to come with us. That ‘friendship’ has surpassed 2,000 people from several states to date,” he shared.
Now each year, a group of around 50 people caravan down to the community. They stop in Salt Lake City, and again in Anaheim, before crossing the border. There are a few 15-passenger vans everyone loads into, and a truck and trailer that carry luggage, supplies and tools. Where once they had primitive sleeping and bathing arrangements, there is now a secure compound that the group can stay in while doing their home construction. The homes built are single rooms with a loft space and come out at about 480 square feet. The group can typically build about four homes per trip. While it might sound like a small space, residents are immensely thankful. “An average day's wage is $12, but all of their goods cost the same as the states. Fuel is the same, building materials are the same. But, because everyone must eat, it is usually the living conditions that suffer the most,” explained Rick.
Each home costs about $6,500 to build, and all the funding comes from donations and a yearly rummage sale at Rick’s church, which typically drums up between $5,000 and $8,000. While covering expenses is important and allows them to do the work, bringing along new volunteers as well as children is equally important to Rick. “We think it is a powerful thing to have shown our kids as they have grown up doing this that, even as children, they can change a family's life for generations to come.”
Because of the connections they’ve made over the years, some of the work is done before the group arrives. This includes the building materials being delivered and a concrete slab being poured so the group can get right to work. Rick has also planned out the build so that any age and ability can participate in the process. “We are very intentional in our building methods so that kids can be a part of the build team as well. It's a little slower, but it is designed to be a family experience. There are few things as powerful as modeling for, and with, your kids the gift of service.”
Another highlight of the trip is the annual street fair/carnival put on by the group. This started about 12 years ago at the request of a local church, and it’s become both a volunteer and community member favorite. Volunteers hand out bags and backpacks that contain a gospel of John, games, school supplies, as well as toothbrushes and toothpaste. Hot dogs are served up and kids play a variety of games like bingo, fishing, ring toss, and cake walk. This year, the group found a batch of clearance shoes each costing just $1 and were able to give out dozens of pairs to the more than 300 fair attendees.
Once a home is completed, the keys are handed over to the homeowner with no strings attached. Each has purchased the small piece of land below it, so they are the sole owners of the property. “The last family that we built for worked for eight years to pay for their tiny piece of dirt that barely held the footprint of the house we built,” said Rick. The handing over of the keys is Rick’s favorite part of each trip. If there is money left over, the group can sometimes purchase beds, a cook stove, or fruit trees, each a great surprise to the new homeowner.
After more than 30 years, Rick and Stacey have made lasting friendships—not just with those who travel down with them but with the families in the community in which they serve. “Stacey and I have been part of a wedding party; there is a little girl who was born two days after we finished her parents’ house and she was named after my wife. We are invested in the lives of the people, which is hard to do with a ‘one and done’ trip. There is no mystery as to why we are there. Everyone knows, and they are very gracious to us,” he smiled.