When Brad and Kim Christensen first began traveling to Tijuana, Mexico, more than 21 years ago, they never envisioned creating a nonprofit focused on helping the people in that community. But after seeing firsthand how impoverished the community was, they knew they needed to do something to help. Subsequently, Brad and Kim founded their nonprofit organization called Spark of Hope Foundation.
Since 2001, Spark of Hope has completed 75 trips to Tijuana, Mexico, building small homes that provide better safety and security to families in need.
Poor in Material Yet Rich in Spirituality
Sitting on the Baja California peninsula, directly across from the United States border, sits Tijuana, Mexico. The city is home to more than 2 million residents and is a popular US tourist destination thanks to its right-across-the-border location. Despite the tourism, Nearly 30 percent of Tijuana residents live in poverty or extreme poverty.
One of the reasons for such poverty is due to a large portion of the male population suffering from alcoholism and drug use. This then leaves the wives, mothers, and children at home with no means of actual income or assistance. Several of the impoverished areas of the city have families living in structures built from whatever materials could be found nearby, including old palettes. These structures have no actual means of running water or protection from the heat, or security from intruders. The majority of the families in the city’s poorest neighborhoods have experienced this poverty level for many generations. Brad best describes the people of the community of Tijuana that they have worked with over the years as “poor in material things, yet they are rich in spirituality.”
Seeing this extreme level of poverty firsthand, Brad and Kim knew they had to do something to help.
“There were many moments in a row that planted the seeds along the way for Spark of Hope,” says Brad. “We just knew we needed to do something more for these women and children.”
Providing a Spark of Hope to the Community
In 2001, Brad had been tasked with leading a young male youth group. While many groups focused on attending a camp for their youth group program, after seeing firsthand the poverty of the impoverished neighborhoods of Tijuana, Brad wanted to provide a more incredible experience for his youth group. As listed on the foundation website, “Brad Christensen and 28 young men make their first trip to Tijuana, building a chapel onto a drug rehab center in El Hongo, MX and finishing a room for Kristina’s disabled son in Otay, MX. Thanks to Charity Anywhere, it made this trip possible, and Spark of Hope Foundation is then born.”
From there, seeing all these single mothers and families struggling, the foundation focused their attention on helping the women and their families of these Tijuana neighborhoods with a small place to call home. They set forward with their mission to start with building one tiny home for one family at a time. They started their trips to the area with people they knew within their church and community to make safe and secure structures for these poverty-stricken families. Having no real building background, Brad and the volunteer teams that would travel their area focused on using their naturally handy skills to build these structures.
The homes that the volunteers build for the families are often an average of 20 by 20 (400 square feet) structures that would be about the size of a large shed. The most significant structure the foundation has built for families was a 30 by 30 frame. Given that the poorest neighborhoods of Tijuana had no actual structural building code, the volunteer teams would build every structure to meet the US building code standards and build everything to last. Each frame is built like a small home with a full bathroom and electricity. The foundation has made over 66 service trips to Tijuana and built 53 homes to date.
Creating Greater Sparks of Hope
Even though Spark of Hope originated as a youth group opportunity for young adults, it conducts trips from youth groups and families to corporations today. The foundation has welcomed volunteers in their 75 plus trips to Tijuana from all over the United States and Canada. The process for volunteers is relatively simple: they can sign up for a trip, attend the informational Zoom meeting, and show up at the meeting location on the first day of the trip. Volunteers are expected to pay their expenses and route to the meetup location, and then cross the border with the entire team.
An average volunteer trip with Spark of Hope is approximately five days with three or four days of building the home for the selected family and then the fifth day celebrating the Sabbath as a team. No real construction or direct handyman experience is needed as the Spark of Hope leaders train all the volunteers on the site.
According to Brad, “Many of the families take a full week’s vacation and then spend their last few days of the vacation volunteering their time to help us build a poverty-stricken family in Tijuana a home. In America, we are inclined to believe we need things and material items for life to be fun and fulfilling, yet many people are anything but that. The kids and parents walk away from their trip with far more out of it than they gave initially. They often tell us that they enjoyed building the home portion of their trip more than riding the rides at Disneyland. That is what makes what we do with these trips matter the most—the fulfillment of being of service to others.”
Creating Opportunities for Women
When Spark of Hope originally started building homes in the surrounding Tijuana community, 75 percent of the homes being built were for single mothers and their families. Realizing that these women carried the world’s weight for their families, the foundation knew there were more opportunities to be created for these women. One of these opportunities that Spark of Hope began was Amiga. In addition to building the houses for these families living in poverty, Brad and Kim took the opportunity to teach these women and mothers simple sewing skills to provide them a chance to learn new skills to earn a small income for their families.
The team brought donated fabric, bought sewing machines, and taught 15 women how to sew and create beautifully hand-crafted purses. They offered to help the women earn money from their hand-crafted by paying them $10 per purse and selling them for $15. While it may not seem like a great deal of money to earn, in a poverty-stricken area like some of the communities of Tijuana, $10 is a great deal of money to provide for their families.
“The women there are full of desire and talent but not given opportunity to learn these skills and grow independently,” says Brad.
The Amiga project from Spark of Hope only lasted a short time until they had to cancel the project but what came from it changed some of these women’s lives forever. After the project was ended, many women were given the sewing machines, and they were able to continue to create purses to sell at the local markets for an income to support their families. It shows that even in poverty situations when given the opportunity to grow, many will choose growth over status quo.
Continuing to Spark Hope for the Future
The Spark of Hope Foundation is gearing up for their next trip to Tijuana this month.
“There are 38 people signed up for our April trip, and we are excited to have them be a part of this journey to bring hope and build a home for a family on this trip,” says Brad.
The foundation is looking to do more than just service trips in the coming future for the Tijuana community. They are working to build and establish a women’s center for the community and an orphanage for the children of Tijuana. In the expansion of the Spark of Hope Foundation, they aim to have a fully function women’s center that will:
- Teach women a trade skill so they can provide for their families
- Provide women and their children with health care and health education
- Deliver a place of sanctuary and fellowship for women
- Educate women on how to find self-reliance
The women in the Tijuana community are rich in spirituality but face a lack of opportunity; Spark of Hope wants to be an avenue to create those opportunities for them. The goal of the women’s center is to help these women of the Tijuana community learn vocational skills for free. The program will work with women who will take a six-week course on specific vocations and then need to pass it to receive the tools to do it and build an income source for themselves.
The past 21 years have established Spark of Hope as a firm foundation in changing the lives of everyone it touches, from the families they build homes for to the people who volunteer for the trips to have these homes built. In addition to their upcoming Women’s center, they are driven to expand their impact exponentially to help better these women’s lives in the Tijuana community. Spark of hope aims to bring more to the community than just a home, and they aim to create more opportunities with the hope of healing their generational poverty one family at a time.
Visit sparkofhopefoundation.org to learn more.
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