By Carina A. Brunson
The residents of Canyon Lake have a secret, or not so secret, mission of building homes for needy families in Progreso, Mexico. This mission, Mabel’s Building Mission, was started in 1992 by a resident named Mabel Clare.
Mabel was in the Valley with her sister for rehabilitation for an injury. It was then when a hurricane struck the area and wreaked devastation on the small town of Progreso. After seeing such devastation, Mabel and her sister first started a clinic, built a school, and provided clothing and food for those in the area. Next, was to provide housing for the poor – and Mabel’s Building Mission was established.
The first houses were built on a dirt floor, 12’x16’, walls, two windows and a door with a rolled roofing roof. All materials were precut in the US, hauled over in vans and pickups and then assembled on the site. The original design is still used today but part of the materials is purchased here, and the rest in Mexico.
Herb and Bev Feirabend, a retired minister and wife, were the leaders until 2011. Currently the program is headed up by Bill and Phyllis Kunzman.
While there have been some changes since its inception, the clinic is run by another organization, Canyon Lake residents still head up the Building Mission. The organization is a charitable group, therefore contributors can deduct contributions from their taxes.
At the beginning, the group built a couple of houses each year. Now they have built up to 20 houses, on average, in a given year. In 2023-2024, the first house built will be number 564.
A lot goes on in the building of the house – even if it takes less than three hours to put it all together.
Quilters at the park make sure that each person in the family gets a quilt. Sheets and other household items are usually donated as well. Families are given a box a food, a Spanish Bible, kitchen utensils and other items donated by park residents.
There is a selection process, said Bill. Without a lady named Gloria Martinez, none of this would be possible, he added.
“If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have people to serve.”
Martinez helps select the families that receive the home. She does a lot of the legwork in Mexico. A family must own the property where the home will be built, have no intention on renting the home out, and have a job – Afterall, they do have to pay taxes and the upkeep after it’s built. Martinez’s husband has the cement poured for the group before they arrive to build.
“These people are so appreciative of what we do,” said Bill adding that they don’t know how poor they really are compared to us. They are very happy people. When the work is done, they usually feed us, he said.
They have built homes for a family where two members washed cars for a living. They built a house where as many as six family members were going to live.
At most, the group has about 25 builders, but he never knows how many will show up on the day of the build. There are 15 to 18 regulars, and more during peak of season. Mabel’s Builders own a 2004 Ford Truck, ladders, a generator, and assorted tools. All materials are paid for by donations and fundraisers.
When the mission started, the houses cost about $750. Today, those same houses cost $2,000. Almost from the beginning, one family has bought/donated one house every year. Churches and organizations in places like Wisconsin and Michigan help support the mission by holding fundraisers and collecting donations. When Winter Texans come back to the park each year, they usually bring something back for the mission.
They’re all volunteers, said Bill. We don’t have to beg people to help – everyone wants to chip in. And when members of the group age out of being able to help out, there is always someone in the wings to take over, he added.
The park recently had an auction where there were several parts. The silent auction alone brought in about $1,800. People bring stuff to donate to be auctioned off, he said. During their live auction they had 18 eggs go for a couple hundred dollars. The biggest thing that went was a peach pie for $800. One resident said it was also as a tribute for the lady that made the pie that won’t be able to return next year.
Bill said it is unreal what people will bid on items just to donate to such a great cause.
There is also a little replica of the house they build. Each year the little house is ‘leased’ during the auction. This year, the little house was leased for $2,100. The bidder also gets their name put on a plaque that is hung up by the mission’s bulletin board where pictures, a sign up sheet, and other materials are posted. Included there is a hammer that started the initial project in 1992 and used by Delmar Oldenettel.
To help assist in building a home, you must be a resident of Canyon Lake or contribute to the mission in some way.
This coming Saturday, February 18th, Canyon Lake RV Resort will have a spaghetti dinner fundraiser to support Mabel’s Building Mission. The event will take place at 5 p.m. and include spaghetti, salad, and a dessert for $8. The park is located at 4770 N. Mayberry Road in Mission.