It’s been 11 years now. And they keep going back.
In the middle of March, during the week of spring break, a team of volunteers from Homer’s Glacier View Baptist Church packs their work clothes and heads to Mexico. Destination: San Vicente, a small town on the Baja Peninsula where approximately 20 women and 60 children call the mission, Casa del Pastor, home.
This year, four friends from California joined the team, bringing the total to 40 — 23 of them between the ages of 13 and 18; the rest of the team are older adults.
Joel DeBlaay, associate and youth pastor at Glacier View, leads the team, and local contractors Jeremy Young, Todd Martin and Jerry Vantrease lend their combined knowledge of construction to the various work projects.
“I go to help people,” said Martin, an excavation contractor. “It helps keep me centered and on track with what’s really important.”
Martin added that he uses a shovel, rather than an excavator, when he’s there.
The Vantrease family has three children, ages 15, 18 and 24, who have each been on multiple trips.
“We just feel, as a church, that our kids do better when they see that there’s something worth working for besides more stuff,” said Vantrease.
Although the first two trips were spent building houses in Tijuana, the past nine trips have all been to Casa del Pastor, a home for women and children who have been abandoned or abused.
At the home the women are taught job skills such as sewing, cooking and fruit harvesting. Once they start working, they save money to buy a plot of land, where volunteers will build them and their children a house.
This year the team cleaned and repainted a 15-foot-by-16-foot room for a mom and her seven kids to live in as they move through the program. The team also worked on a small house for another one of the moms at the home. And they built an entire playground.
Linda Reinhart joined the team for the first time this year. Although she is nearing 80, Reinhart had a special reason for going.
Reinhart’s husband, Jim, passed away in August of 2012. Her husband had a lifelong interest in children — as well as the outdoors, said Reinhart, so it occurred to her to do something special for the kids at the mission with memorial money she had received.
As Reinhart mentioned her idea to friends and family, they asked to contribute as well. The amount increased tenfold. Reinhart said originally she thought to buy a swing set, but instead there was enough for a whole playground.
“There are so many levels on which it was stirring,” she said. “It was a lot of fun to do a lot of hard work where they really appreciate it.”
Reinhart said she was impressed with the “marvelous adult leadership,” as well as the quality of the young adults on the team.
“You hear a lot of things, but the fact is we have an awful lot of splendid young people,” she said. “Parents are doing a wonderful job of raising their children. It’s really encouraging to see that happening.”
Luzma Alcaraz also traveled to San Vicente for the first time this year. Although she doesn’t attend Glacier View, a coworker invited her to join the team. Born in Mexico, Alcaraz is fluent in Spanish and English, and volunteered to be one of two translators.
In addition to translating, she joined in working on the house and playground.
Alcaraz said she met a lot of really good people whose job is to maintain the mission.
“It’s like they were born to do it,” she said, “they manage it so well.”
Alcaraz said one teenager, who had been raised at the mission, told the group how grateful he was that they came there — instead of going to some beach in Mexico.
“I wouldn’t trade that trip for a trip to the Bahamas,” she said. “If that was the only vacation I could take, I would definitely go back.”
Toni Ross is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.
In their words:
“The first team here is Glacier View Baptist, from Homer Alaska. This is a hardworking team with lots of construction experience, that has accomplished an incredible amount in the short time they’ve been with us this week. The roof and interior supports for Ceci’s house were completed in only a few days, and they have also been hard at work building a new playground for the kids. A huge new swingset has been installed, as well as an new play area connected to the original big toy. They’ve also built an airplane, a boat, and even a climbing wall! The amount of love and attention they have put into every detail is impressive, and the kids love the new additions. Thank you Lord for Glacier View!”
—From the Casa del Pastor online update (http://www.casadelpastor.com/