Eleven Central Washington University students and recent grads spent some of their spring break in Mexico, but it wasn’t your typical co-ed party on a sun-soaked beach. The group, led by CWU professor James Avey, PhD, caught some rays and even surfed a little, but only after building a home for three orphaned siblings in Rosarito, Baja, Mexico.
Avey, an associate professor in the Department of Management in CWU’s College of Business, has helped build homes in Mexico in the past. He sees the trips, organized through Baja Christian Ministries, as opportunities for CWU students to learn outside the classroom.
“This provides young guys an opportunity to work and save their money and see what they can get with it instead of buying Irish Death,” Avey said, referring to the dark beer made by Ellensburg’s Iron Horse Brewery.
Avey said the trip teaches leadership skills, too.
“The primary principle of leadership is, ‘It’s not about you.’ To go and change someone’s life and come home $1,000 poorer, you can’t get that in a classroom,” Avey said, adding that the students also take away good values from the trip
“Hopefully it will open their eyes and help shape them,” Avey said.
CWU senior Evan Tidball jumped at the opportunity.
“It’s my last spring break here at Central. What better way to go out?” said Tidball, who has a new perspective since returning from Baja that includes a better sense of the all-the-time need throughout the world.
“Here in America, we’re so overwhelmed with opportunity and money and you know, physical things that we can use to fulfill any need that we might have, and that’s not the case down there,” Tidball said after describing the absolute poverty he witnessed as the group crossed the border into Mexico.
Avey met the 11 young men on campus or around town. Some floated through one or more of his classes. Two Ellensburg businessmen, Steve Willard and Craig Ronning, also went on the trip.
“There are a lot of places where you can help. Maybe northern Mexico isn’t the best place. But it’s here, it’s close and the need is real,” Avey said.
The group flew to San Diego on March 25. From there, they drove a van across the border. When they arrived at the build site March 26, they were met with a small crew of Mexican builders and a blank canvas: a cement slab with anchor bolts. The rest was up to them.
The guys not only provided the labor, they pitched in cash to pay for the house — about $7,000 — which covered the wood, nails, drywall, paint, electrical supplies and other materials.
The new two-bedroom house with a loft went to three siblings: Carlos, 19; Jessica, 17; and Victor, 16. Their father was killed in a house fire and their mother lost her battle with cancer last year.
CWU senior Joey Race hopes the new house does more than put a roof over their heads. He hopes it brings them together.
“As three orphans who have lost their parents, that’s something that I’ve never gone through. I can’t imagine it being easy. And so seeing them kind of depend on each other was super humbling and it made me think of my family,” Race said.
The siblings chose to paint the house pink.
“Pink. It was cool. It stood out,” Race said.
Returning to ordinary life in Ellensburg was an awkward adjustment for Tidball.
Although grateful for his job, he noted, “Going back to work, it was unbelievable, just sitting down for the first time. I’m in my nice jeans, in my nice shoes, got my nice blue collared shirt on, in my nice comfy chair, got my computer screen, nice heater — it’s cold in the morning — got my cup of coffee. And it’s like, what am I doing here? This is ridiculous. I’m making $10.50 an hour to ... sit here and do a bunch of paperwork and these people are down here slaving away for $40 a day and that’s how they have to feed three or four mouths and hopefully get an apartment for the week.”
In addition to funding the new house, the group paid for their own travel, lodging, and food. Fun fact: They ate 212 tacos in three days.
“That’s another thing we learned from the trip. How good authentic Mexican food is,” said CWU junior Jesse Zalk, a starting football player for the Wildcats.
Another discovery: Intercultural communication is difficult, said Zalk, a communication major.
Ryan Wilkins, a recent CWU grad and now a flight instructor with Midstate Aviation, was the group’s most skilled Spanish speaker.
“Three years of (Spanish) in high school kind of paid off,” Wilkins said.
His takeaway from the trip is straightforward.
“Appreciate life and the simplicity of it,” Wilkins said. “Be grateful for what you have.”
CWU junior Paul Heberling was affected by the generosity he experienced. On their last day in Mexico, the guys had food leftover. They gave it to a man who appeared to need it, but the man wouldn’t take without giving something in return, and so Heberling picked out a bracelet.
“Here I’m giving them stuff that’s not even a big deal for me to sacrifice, and here they’re giving me ... what they have to make profit to survive,” Herberling said, twirling the handmade band around his wrist.
So, what did you do over spring break?
TOP PHOTO: A group of 14 men from Ellensburg traveled to Baja, Mexico to build a house for three orphaned siblings over spring break in March. Pictured back row, from left, are CWU alumnus Jason Barrom, CWU student Evan Tidball, Baja Christian Ministries foreman Hector Perez Barraza, Victor and Jessica (brother and sister), CWU student James Heberling, CWU alumnus Karl Miller, CWU students Nate Osborne (black hat) and Jesse Zalk (blue hat), CWU student Dalton Baunsgard, CWU student Paul Heberling (holding hammer), CWU alumnus Ryan Wilkins (with sunglasses), CWU senior Joey Race, and Ellensburg businessman Craig Ronning. Front row from left, Ellensburg businessman Steve Willard and CWU professor James Avey.
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