As published in the Progress Times…
Winter Texans build homes for the poor
Canyon Lake RV Resort residents have built 334 homes
By Kathy Olivarez
Editor’s Note: This story was written for publication in the Progress Times Winter Texan Appreciation Edition, however, we felt our local readers would also enjoy reading about this industrious and charitable group of Winter Texans.
Many Winter Texans are generous with their time and talents, helping those who are less fortunate. One of these groups of Winter Texans live at Canyon Lake RV Resort in Mission – Canyon Lake Builders.
Twice a week, between mid-November and mid-March, groups of men from Canyon Lake Builders go to Nuevo Progreso and build a new home for an impoverished Mexican family.
The project is a direct result from the good works started by Mabel Clare Proudly, who came to the Valley from Cleveland, Ohio about the time Hurricane Beulah devastated the Valley in 1967. When the hurricane struck, Mabel served as a Red Cross volunteer. She noticed that many children were on the streets of Nuevo Progreso because there was no school. They lived in dire conditions and she felt they would have no hope for a better future unless they got an education.
Because many of the children were homeless, Mabel asked many poor families to take in the children, with a promise to bring them food, clothing and medical needs and help with their education. She also promised to build them a house if possible.
To help with the health care of the residents and children of Nuevo Progreso, she began a medical and dental clinic with volunteer dentists, doctors and nurses from the United States and Canada. Later, a group called “Mabel’s Free Clinic” built a clinic still in operation today, although it is staffed by Mexican doctors and dentists who volunteer time.
With the promised school built and a free clinic for medical care, Mabel then turned her eyes toward housing for her Mexican friends. In 1988, Herb and Bev Feierabend met Mabel Clare. Herb was a retired minister living at Canyon Lake. In March of 1991, Mabel asked the couple to help build three houses in Nuevo Progreso. Herb asked Delmar Oldenettel, a knowledgeable carpenter, to go along.
In 1992, the three decided to build another house with the help of Lester Vetos, who became chief carpenter. The project took two days. In 1993, the Feierabend children donated the money for a house to be built in honor of their parents’ 40th anniversary. Eight residents of Canyon Lake went along to help. This house marked the start of the Canyon Lake House Building Project.
In the beginning, residents of Canyon Lake passed the hat at dances. Betty “Red” Endres acted as bookkeeper. Pancake dinners were also held to raise money.
By the time the 2008-2009 building season ends in March, residents of Canyon Lake will have built 334 homes for poor Mexican families. A total of 27 homes will be built this year. The homes are simple one-room homes with two windows and a door. In the beginning, they were built on dirt floors, but today each home is built on a cement pad.
A Mexican national is hired to build the pads and have them ready when it is time to build the home. He is the only person who is paid in the house-building project.
To raise money for the houses, residents of Canyon Lake go to their churches and civic groups where they live and talk about the work that is being done. Today, each house costs about $1,000. Some are able to raise only part of the money. But last year a couple from Alberta, Canada raised $8,000 to fund housing construction. Another couple in the park was able to raise $10,000 in their hometown.
Residents of the park continue to raise funds with an auction once a year where they make and sell items and with an annual spaghetti supper.
To be eligible for a home, the people must own the lot where the house is being built. They must have a job. And they must have children.
Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, residents involved in the building project leave Canyon Lake at 6:30 a.m. They get to the bridge in Progreso at 7:30 a.m, taking lumber with them, along with other building supplies. Today, many of the supplies are purchased in Mexico to avoid problems at the bridge. Herb says it takes about a ton of lumber to build the house. The park has a 1984 truck that was donated to the project to carry the building materials.
They cross easily at the bridge. At one time they had to pay a 24 percent import fee, but when Vicente Fox was president of Mexico, that fee was repealed.
Lumber is delivered to the site the day before it is needed. Bev says they never have any problem with any supplies being stolen. The people are grateful for the help they are receiving and would not consider taking any of their ladders or supplies.
Construction starts by building the frames for the walls that are to be covered with grooved siding. The windows are cut out while the walls are still laying flat. Bev said that windows are donated from homes or businesses that have been torn down. Many Winter Texans collect them during their summers back home and bring them back to be used by the builders. The men build the doors themselves.
Bev said the men have the steps down so well that it takes less than two hours during peak of season to build a home. In November, there are usually 15 to 20 builders, but in February there may be as many as 40 to 50 builders.
“It does not take long for 40 men to nail a house like that together,” said Bev.
The project is limited to residents of Canyon Lake. Other men living in other RV parks have offered to help build. But if the crowd gets too large, it is more of a hazard.
The women of Canyon Lake get involved in the project too. Many women help make new quilts to be provided for each member of the family. The women have started searching Ropa Usadas (used clothing stores) and garage sales to find size-appropriate clothing for the family members. If there is a baby, a layette is given. Toys are often donated to the children in the families. A box of food staples is also given to each family.
In the beginning the only piece of furniture that was provided was a bench. Today, the family gets a table as well, and the Winter Texans have started searching garage sales for beds, mattresses and chairs.
Bev recalls that they delivered a soft chair to one home, and as the woman sat down on it cautiously, they realized she had never sat in a padded chair before.
When the house is complete, a Spanish Bible is given to each family along with a wooden cross to hang on the wall.
When the house is finished, the family poses for a picture with a sign that is made for each home, telling who donated the money to buy the materials for that home.
The people who receive the homes are grateful. Often they live with other family members in very crowded conditions. Some live in shelters made of cardboard boxes or whatever materials they are able to find. But the residents of Canyon Lake do not do the project so the people will feel grateful. They do it because they love helping their fellow man. Canyon Lake is truly an RV park with a heart.
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