Each year, we mobilize thousands of people to Mexico through build trips. Working alongside local families and our construction staff, trip participants mix cement, hammer nails, and cut wood. All while doing their best to stay hydrated.
The work they do is important. They are literally helping to put roofs over people’s heads. So we’re always grateful when people take time off work to sweat it out in the hot sun, helping to build a house for people they’ve never met before.
But we remind everyone – including ourselves, at times – that when we organize build trips, we’re not primarily connecting people to projects. We’re connecting people to people. And one of the most gratifying parts of our work is watching that happen in organic, unplanned ways. Here’s one of our favorite connection stories.
If you’ve ever been on a build trip to Puerto Peñasco with us, you’ve likely met Ramón Corrales. If not, you’ve definitely been served by him. Ramón is our chef, overseeing the dedicated kitchen team that provides delicious, nourishing meals to trip participants at our basecamp. (Ramón and his family are 1MISSION house recipients as well.) Among other culinary delights, Ramón is known for his incredible homemade salsa. And yeah, I can attest this salsa can be picante. En fuego. Spicy.
This hot sauce is how longtime 1MISSION supporter Brad Flahiff first connected with Ramón. Brad had been on a number of build trips over several years and had been impressed by the strength, resilience, and friendliness of the families he worked alongside. But he hadn’t yet had the opportunity to get to know many of the basecamp staff.
“Ramón was one of those background people to me,” he says. “I recognized him but didn’t really know him. Neither of us is bilingual, so communication can be a struggle.” One night at dinner, Brad reached for the salsa – an especially spicy kind – and a member of the kitchen staff smiled, warning him to be careful. “After I could speak again and feel my tongue, I found Ramón and told him I loved his salsa,” Brad recalls. “He offered to send some home with me, and since then he’s known me as the Hot Sauce Guy.”
Brad and Ramón have also connected more recently over a shared love of CrossFit. At one point in the not-too-distant past, Ramón weighed well over 300 pounds. He had tried various ways of getting in shape and losing weight, but always without success. Then a friend invited him to come to one of the CrossFit gyms in town. Ramón did, and he hasn’t looked back. “I like CrossFit because it’s so different from typical gyms,” Ramón says. “You show up at CrossFit and you don’t know what you’re going to do that day. You’re always trying something new, practicing something totally different, using every part of your body.”
Already, Ramón has lost close to 90 pounds, even while working to put on muscle. He’s also had to adjust his wardrobe. “I used to wear XXXL shirts,” he says. “Now, I’m wearing XL or large.” More than that, his new lifestyle has taught him that every single day he can pursue goals in all areas of life. “If your body is healthy, you can do anything.”
Brad had taken up CrossFit himself in 2013 after years as a self-described “off and on exerciser.” At first, he was put off by what he knew (or thought he knew) of CrossFit gyms: for one thing, they can be pricy, and for another, they didn’t even have the basic equipment one would expect. Brad gave it a try, though, and was quickly won over. He too loves how he feels after a good workout.
But it’s something else that motivates him and keeps him coming back, not just to workouts but to build trips as well. “There are a few communities I feel especially tied into, and 1MISSION and CrossFit are two of the main ones,” Brad says. “When I go on a build trip or I go to the gym, I always feel like I’m part of a community.”
Today, Ramón and Brad compare notes about their workouts. Brad continues to serve on build trips. And Ramón continues to send Brad home with new batches of his salsa. In all of this, they creatively navigate the language barrier that still exists between them. Brad says, “When someone wants to talk about something you love” – whether hot sauce or box jumps – “you figure it out.”
As Brad and Ramón remind us, building community means refusing to let our circumstances divide us. It means that labels cannot and will not have the last word. It means being open to wonderful surprises.
It means there’s no such thing as “us and them.” There’s only us.
When you give to 1MISSION, you’re both joining and building community. With 100% of public donations going to projects and programs in the field, more families like Ramón’s will soon have safe, secure shelter – changing the trajectory of their lives in ways we cannot imagine.
That’s the story we’re inviting you into. Will you join us?