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Building up homes and lives

Posted: September 17, 2010 9:35 p.m.
Updated: September 18, 2010 4:30 a.m.

A group from Santa Clarita helps build a home in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.

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At 11 a.m. on a Monday, Bret Wims scribbled some notes in his journal.

“Our first build day — survival appears unlikely,” he wrote.

It was just a few hours after Wims and 30 others began building homes for needy families in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.

The heat reached 98 degrees coupled with high humidity.

But the group, a mix of Santa Clarita church members and friends, were eager to get to work despite the weather conditions. They wanted to show their dedication to the project.

“We jumped right in, shoveling dirt, mixing concrete, digging gravel and sweating through our clothes,” he said. “You never saw people sweat like this.”

After day one, the group made some changes. They went back to the build site with more ice in their water bottles, they set up more spots of shade and they took longer water breaks.

 The groups each put in four full days of hands-on labor, leaving the local masons with only about a week left of work to complete the homes.

The four teams, mostly made up of Christ Lutheran Church members and friends or relatives, worked on four homes in the small town of Puerto Barrios. The 10-day trip from late August into September was partially sponsored by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans through their Thrivent Builds program. The program donated $24,000 to the local
Habitat for Humanity International affiliate in Izabal, Guatemala, as to provide partial funding for future homes.

The trip wasn’t all work. The groups took plenty of time to sight-see, explore the culture, eat some gourmet food and relax.

“It’s a really excellent getaway, emotionally, physically and spiritually,” Wims said.

Interest in the mission has grown over the years and brought together 31 teammates this year, with increased participation from local youth. Six of the groups members were under 25 years old.

“Everybody raved about how hard the youth worked,” Wims said. “They just were the workhouses. It was inspiring.”

Each team met and interacted with the families that would live in the homes once completed.

Nick Grover, 21, helped build a house for a family of seven that had been living in a one-bedroom home. A grandmother, mother and five children shared one bed, Grover said. The kitchen adjoined the bedroom.

Grover, of Saugus, and his teammates worked on a four bedroom home for the family.

“It was a good feeling to be building a bigger area for them,” Grover said. “It’s definitely touching and it definitely makes the work more meaningful.”

Grover has taken the trip three times.

“Once you go on one trip to Guatemala, you want to go back every year,” Grover said. “You feel great doing really meaningful work.”

Wims and his team worked on a home for single mother Brenda and her son.

Brenda is a nurse at a children’s hospital in Guatemala. She and her son had been living in an expensive, small apartment, Wims said.

“It’s really relationship building,” Wims said. “I just love those people.”

Wims also won’t forget Carlos.

“Carlos, our mason, said he always wanted to work with Americans,” Wim said. “He thought he was going to have to go to America to work with Americans.”

Before the groups left, Carlos asked to take a picture with the team. He wanted to show his friends that he had worked with Americans in his own country, Wims said.

“There were moments like that all the time,” he said.

The homes were dedicated at a ceremony, where the team members provided a Bible and prayer for the families.

“They are always so grateful; you can see it in their eyes,” said Wims, who has headed the trip for several years.

Valencia resident Wayne Schulze, 73, wished he could have stayed and built longer. The workload is minor compared to the reward.

“It’s so surprising to see how little it takes to make them so pleased to look forward to what they’re going to receive,” Schulze said. “They’re very gracious people.”

Schulze was most touched by the neighbor children who played on the streets with very little material entertainment.

As a first timer on the trip, he was pleased to see another culture, he said.

“It was very rewarding, very memorable,” Schulz said, “and I might even consider doing it again.”

Anyone interested in participating in the trip next year or sponsoring youth can contact Wims at


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