Dan Watson, Mammoth Lakes Noon Rotary


The Mammoth Lakes Noon Rotary Club has participated in a hands-on, international service project in Tecate, Mexico for the past two years.  Working with Corazon, Inc., a non-profit from Orange County, Rotarians and their family and friends built a house for a family in a day.

This is an opportunity for District 5190 to do a joint hands-on international project by combining forces and building several houses in a day.


A Mammoth Lakes Rotarian, and past president of the South Pasadena club, introduced the idea to the Mammoth Lakes club after he transferred his membership. The Rotarian participated in four Corazon projects while with the South Pasadena club. Three of them were district-wide “super-builds” where District 5300 raised enough money and volunteers to build as many as four houses. The Mammoth Lakes Rotarian was the project coordinator and leader for his club. 

Members of the Mammoth Lakes Noon club, their friends and family, and Interact members participated in Corazon projects in May of 2012 and 2013.  The club has already committed to another project in May of 2014.


Corazon is a non-profit organization out of Orange County, CA that provides a variety of services to the people of Northern Baja. While they are best known for coordinating the building of houses in one day, they also provide many other services such as scholarships, job training, and soccer clinics.

Corazon works with US service clubs, churches and schools. The materials for each house cost $7,800, which includes a high school scholarship, and it takes 30 to 50 volunteers. The service club raises the money and finds the volunteers.

Corazon works with volunteers in Tijuana and Tecate, another border town approximately 25 miles east of Tijuana.  Local residents have to volunteer hundreds of hours in their community to qualify to get on the list for a house. Corazon coordinates obtaining the land and materials and determining who gets a home.

Corazon also provides 2-3 “lead builders” who are experienced volunteers. They lead the construction project.

More information about Corazon can be found on their website – Corazon.org.


The house is built on a 16 by 20 concrete slab that is poured a week or two before construction. There is no plumbing or electricity.  The house is traditional stick construction with 2 by 4 studs, plywood siding, a shingled, gable roof, with one interior room, a loft, and a kitchen counter.  The house has four windows and a front door with a lock.


The sponsoring organization provides a $1000 deposit to reserve the date, and recruits 30 to 50 volunteers. Volunteers can range in age from 13 to 80, and all skill levels are welcome. There are typically a handful of experienced contractors, carpenters, and other skilled workers.  There are also usually a large number of semi-skilled volunteers who, with direction, can frame walls, install roofing material, etc. The least skilled volunteers paint.  And everything gets painted.

For a house built in Tecate, volunteers travel to El Cajon on Friday. Corazon will recommend two or three local hotels that offer a discount.  On Saturday morning, the volunteers meet the lead builders and a Corazon coordinator in a shopping center parking lot in El Cajon. After a briefing from the Corazon builders, the volunteers form a caravan of cars and head for the Tecate border crossing, about 40 minutes away.  The vehicles cross the border as a group and travel through Tecate to a village about 10 miles south of the border. The cars are all marked and the Corazon volunteers do a good job of keeping everyone together. 

The volunteers drive to the build site and are met by the previously poured concrete slab, piles of lumber, roofing material, windows, the door, and five gallon cans of paint. Most important, the volunteers will be met by the family who will be receiving the home. They are typically shy and reserved, but by the end of the day, they have made 30 to 50 new friends. There will also be some local volunteers who will provide additional assistance.

After a safety briefing from the lead builders, the work begins. The materials are moved off the slab and cutting begins. The only power tools used are saws and they are restricted to the lead builders and one or two very experienced volunteers. 

The walls are framed and sheeted with plywood and raised in place. The windows are installed and the roof rafters go up and are sheeted. The loft is constructed and everything is painted.  All of this occurs before lunchtime!

Lunch is provided by the family receiving the home. It may not be a gourmet meal, but it is prepared with appreciation and love. During lunch, a brief presentation on Corazon will be provided.

After lunch, it’s back to work. The roofing material is installed, the kitchen counter goes in, trim is installed, and more painting. The house if usually finished between 3 and 5 pm. If it’s not finished by 5, the project ends and the finishing touches are completed later by local volunteers.

Everyone works at their own pace. There are always more volunteers than needed, so breaks are encouraged! 

The project concludes with a simple but moving ceremony where the keys to the new home are presented to the family. This is often accompanied by warm hugs, lumps in the throat, and a few tears. 

Once the ceremony concludes, the volunteers travel as a group again and cross the border. The crossing can take 10 minutes up to an hour. It’s much quicker than crossing at Tijuana or Otay Mesa. Everyone returns to the hotel where it’s not uncommon to share a Tecate beer or two in the parking lot. After a shower, most volunteers head towards Por Favor, a nice Mexican restaurant with a nice outdoor patio and very good margaritas!

It is strongly encouraged that volunteers spend Saturday night in El Cajon. After an early wakeup call and a long day working in the sun, everyone is tired and in need of a good night’s sleep before traveling home.

On Sunday, everyone returns home, tired but happy and satisfied.


The only cost to volunteers is the cost of travel and two nights lodging. Volunteers should bring comfortable clothes that can get painted (everything gets painted)! They should bring a passport, snacks, water, gloves, hand tools, and most important, an attitude of service above self.


A Corazon project is a wonderful way to introduce Interact members, children, grandchildren, and other young people to the benefits of service. They will see how most of the rest of the world lives and learn that the people of Mexico are far more alike us than not. Their perceptions of Mexico and its people will change. They will gain confidence in their skills – most of today’s youth have never built anything with their hands. At the end of the day, they can look at the house and honestly say they helped build it! 


The benefits to a Rotary club and its members are multi-layered. This is a relatively easy and inexpensive for many members of a club to participate in a hands-on, international project. Many members will get the same benefits that the youth will. A breaking down of stereotypes and an appreciation of our neighbors to the south. In return, perceptions of Americans that some Mexicans have are changed for the better.

This is a good opportunity to introduce family members and perspective Rotarians to what a local club and Rotary International is all about.

Service builds fellowship, and that results in a desire for more service. A Corazon project can really energize a club and its members.  This is an opportunity for a new Rotarian to have his/her first “Rotary Moment.” Many Rotarians have said that this was the best thing they’ve ever done as a Rotarian. Those that join others for dinner on Saturday night will experience a level of camaraderie and esprit d’ corps rarely seen as evidenced by the laughter, stories, and reminiscing about the day.


Building a house in a day for a deserving family in Mexico epitomizes Service Above Self