Early Beginnings, 1972- 1978
Corazón began in 1972 when Jennie Castillion left the safety and security of middle class Orange County to visit and minister to the needs of the poorest people within her reach, the residents of a marginal community on the outskirts of Tijuana, Mexico, known as Pedregal. Jennie met up with two equally enthusiastic young men, Mike Echolds and Mark Vanni, also from Orange County, who were independently taking on similar work. Together, they founded Corazon in 1978 as a nonprofit and nondenominational corporation. Corazón’s activities at this time were focused on meeting the immediate needs of low-income Mexican families, such as food and blankets.
Corazón’s Start, 1978-1979
In its first year Corazón mainly repaired some very basic shelters, but in 1979, Corazon developed its first “One-day house build.” This was a one-room plywood house on a raised wooden floor. The one-bedroom homes cost roughly $600 to build, and although small, these homes were safer and better then what the typical Tijuana family lived in. Homes were built completely by volunteers with their own tools. In fact the first houses were built without power tools. There was no slick organization. Corazón lacked communication and promotional materials. There was no staff, meeting schedule or newsletters. Yet volunteers somehow kept finding Corazón and even more impressively, kept getting up at 3:00 a.m. to make the 20 hour round trip. The eagerness to help those in need was evident; they just wanted to help and to make a difference. This was the something special that fueled Corazón’s remarkable growth.
Casas con Corazón, 1983-Present
In 1983, Corazón embarked on a significant re-design of the ‘Corazón House’. The new house was 12’ x 20’,with telephone-pole foundation piers, painted wood siding, vinyl floor covering, a sleeping loft with two small rooms below, a gable (pitched) roof, solid, locking door, four aluminum sliding windows, and a tiled kitchen cooking counter with a vented hood above. The last significant change occurred in the mid 1990’s, when we changed the raised, wood floor assembly to a concrete slab. The growth of the organization in Mexico enabled the local participants to begin pouring these slabs, and the cost savings enabled us to increase the size of the house from 240 square feet to 320 square feet. It also decreased the technical difficulty of the construction, making for shorter, less intense Saturdays in Mexico. While there have been some minor changes in materials and construction methods, the house has remained virtually the same since the late 1990’s. The feasibility of alternate types of construction, including adobe block structures, has been explored over the past twenty years, but they are not as practical for the “Build a House in a Day” program.
Success calls for Organization, 1993-1998
With the growth and success of Corazón, there was a need for a new, organized system. In order to simultaneously organize and nurture the growth of the organization, Corazón created promotional literature for prospective volunteers. It defined how outside organizations could sponsor projects, trained leaders in various parts of the organization’s management and purchased capital equipment to execute goals, such as, trucks, tools, and office machines. In 1997, an organizational chart was created with volunteers appointed to provide management and oversight for the growing organization. This change had a stabilizing influence in subsequent years and included an established office and warehouse with posted hours, regular communications through newsletters and publications, an executive level of volunteers, and a skilled board of directors. This was when Corazón began to mature, growing and learning through its many years of experience, while continuing to perfect the systems to better serve the poor within their reach.
Progress 1999 - 2008
Perhaps the most significant philosophical development took place at the turn of the Century. While an all-volunteer organization was able to manage the construction program adequately, the growing social development programs required much more management and administration. The decision was made to add paid staff to the organization. After a great deal of debate and soul searching, it was agreed that Corazón should be more than just a house building program, that the people inside those houses were more important than the physical structures. And so we moved forward, beginning with two paid positions leading to our current six employees in Mexico and the US.. We still take great pride in being more than a 99% volunteer organization. We have continued to focus on the social development programs, seeing special growth in our youth programs, which have expanded into the extracurricular spectrum, with activities such as soccer tournaments and summer camps, along with after school tutoring. Corazón boasts the support of more than 300 sponsors, consisting of associations, churches, civic clubs, high school and youth groups, alumni groups, families, and individuals.
Corazón from 2008 - Today
Today The economic downturn at the end of the decade, coupled with the Mexican government’s crackdown on the drug trafficking and the ensuing narco-violence, led to some lean years for Corazón. The organization responded by cutting overhead and staffing, while still trying to maintain a high level of support and service for our participants in Mexico. While many programs similar to ours in Mexico have either put their programs on hold or abandoned their work completely, we have endured. Corazón has touched the lives of thousands of families and volunteers on both sides of the border by continuing to provide opportunities through an array of programs designed to provide a safety net of services for our participants in Mexico. Corazón has built a total of approximately 1,500 homes. Corazón has served over 7,000 participants in 7 different communities. With the continued love and support of caring people, like you, Corazón will continue to change lives by creating mutually beneficial relationships across the borders.