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Araceli and her 7-year-old daughter are dressed up in Christmas clothes, coming from a school Christmas recital. Araceli’s 1st grader sang in front of the entire school this year, which she so much enjoys. Araceli smiles with joy as she recounts the performance and shows pride in her daughter.
Araceli grew up in Tijuana, spending almost her entire life in the neighborhood of Pedregal de Santa Julia. She is the third of six kids, who grew up at Hogar de los Niños orphanage. She recounts that her family was the orphanage, as she never knew anything else. Some of her siblings still live there all these years later. She talks about the orphanage with a heart full of gratitude. Hogar de los Niños filled a void for her, not just one of physical needs with food and clothes, but also the necessary intangibles of love, growing up with family, and role models.
Rosa and Eduvigues, who worked in the orphanage, practically became her parents. Rosa taught her to read, write, and memorize math tables. Araceli recounts that she was never really a good student, but always tried hard and Rosa did see value in that. Araceli gets emotional when talking about Rosa, as she passed away a couple years ago. Rosa left a strong impression on her that she still carries with her to this day. Perhaps that’s where her strong work ethic came from.
What Araceli lacked in study skills, she made up for with her love of physical activity, exercise, and spirit of determination. Putting all that together led her to open a neighborhood Zumba studio. Not bad for someone who didn’t finish middle school. She operated the Zumba studio for years, teaching many in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, she had to close that business due to the pandemic, but her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in again as she went back to school to be a masseuse.
Araceli shares that she wants to open her own Zumba and spa business once her house is built. She already has it planned out, where the house will be on one side of her property and the other will be dedicated to studio and spa. She hopes rent payments for housing and business space will finally be a thing of the past.
When talking about her daughter, Araceli’s face starts to brighten up. She says she wants to impart humility, a good work ethic, and persistence onto her young daughter. All qualities that have served her well throughout her life. Araceli also shares of a deep desire to break the cycle of family trauma, specifically of absent biological parents. She starts to get emotional again when explaining her motivation to be an active and present parent in her daughter’s life. Wanting her daughter to have access to family in all its fullness.
Taking a moment to reflect on her life, Araceli says that she’s learned to recognize when things change, it is always for the better. Even when it doesn’t seem like it at the time, change brings opportunity. Whether its leaving Hogar de los Niños, starting a new business, becoming a mother, or dealing with a pandemic. She shares that each stage in life should be used as a step that leads to bigger and better things. Moving on before dependence and complacency have a chance to creep into the picture. Better days are always ahead for Araceli.
In hearing how Araceli describes change in her life, I can’t help but think of her on the waiting list for a Doxa house. How a house will be another big change in her life and how it will fulfill a need that will help catapult her and her daughter to better things.
It was my 8th grade science teacher who first introduced me to the concept of “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Sounding funny at first, but is so true. Every decision we make has some element of unknown that we are unaware of. In Tijuana, Doxa has seen this happen frequently with youth who have to make decisions about school and work earlier on in life. Without the opportunity or access to try new skills, learn new things, and more fully develop their giftings these critical decisions are made with far too little information.
Schools in Tijuana operate on a permanent half-day schedule. This allows school buildings and teachers the ability to service twice as many students. However, it also means significantly less classroom time for students. While students receive the usual core subjects, such as math, history, reading, and writing, almost all schools lack access to the performing arts, visual arts, sports, technology, and counseling services. Furthermore, as students finish high school and look towards college, they must declare a major prior to enrollment. This pre-mature decision, forces them into a path with too many unknowns.
Likewise, Doxa has found that youth who decide to exit school prior to finishing college, often choose work in the same area as their parents. While not necessarily a bad thing to do what your family has done, youth need to be empowered to experience the world and have the opportunity to develop their own giftings before making such a large life decision. After all that, if they decide to follow in their family’s footsteps, that’s great. And if they choose a different path, that’s great, too. This is at the heart of Doxa’s value of empowering young people.
Recognizing the void of access to the performing arts, visual arts, sports, technology, and counseling services, Doxa sees an opportunity. Several years ago, Doxa started with a little dance group called Yelitza. Juan Sabino, the dance instructor, has since grown that group into one of the premier youth dance groups in Tijuana. Over the years, kids have shown a curiosity and desire to learn dance. They keep showing up!
Earlier this year, Doxa’s Tijuana staff assessed what other opportunities we may have been missing and how best to address them. The top three were visual arts, music, and counseling. Over the past several months, we have undergone pilot programs in each of these areas. Ultimately, the goal is to grow Doxa’s offerings into permanent programs. I had the opportunity to interview a few of the newer instructors earlier this week.
Susy is Doxa’s art teacher. She started with Doxa about 6 months ago in partnership with Tijuana’s cultural center and has a background of working with vulnerable communities. She believes that “art is therapy that changes lives” and that “art is important for the full human being because it opens doors that allow us to develop our talents.” She has seen how autistic kids have used art as therapy to become more independent and others have used art to calm their anxiety attacks. Susy hopes that exposure to visual arts will spark “changes in kids’ personality, growth in their confidence, self-esteem, and the skill of working in teams.” Susy’s motivation comes from her belief that cultivating the next generation of adults starts now, with how we treat and view the youth around us. She says that “while I may not be able to change a kid’s life in one day, I can help them to express themselves and mitigate their burdens through art.”
Manuel is Doxa’s music teacher. For about the past 8 months, he has been teaching acoustic guitar and singing. His classes consist of teaching basic cords, rhythms, reading music, singing, and putting it all together in a finished song. His class’s first public performance was last month at Doxa’s fall fair. Manuel knows that his music classes are a success when “kids enjoy the class, learn the song, and their parents like what their kids have done.” While Manuel provides the instruction, he often lets students pick which songs they’d like to learn. He sees motivation in each student to keep getting better.
Jorge is a psychologist, who works with Doxa a few times per week. He works with groups of elementary-age kids and adolescents. The age-appropriate workshops focus on emotional intelligence, depression, anxiety, family trauma cycles, and identity. Jorge has also dedicated time to grieving and processing losses experienced by the pandemic. Almost every single student at Doxa has experienced the loss of someone since March 2020. In addition, Jorge provides one-on-one sessions where necessary. Jorge strives to “form human beings who are emotionally intelligent and conscious of their surroundings, that can accept their errors and see them as a learning opportunity, that will be empathetic and help others without wanting anything in return.”
While Susy, Manuel, and Jorge have all been a tremendous value-add for Doxa this year, it is only the start. Susy hopes to undertake a community-wide mural next year. Manuel can expand classes to other instruments besides acoustic guitar. And Jorge would love the opportunity to work with parents, as so much more progress can be made when families are in sync with each other. Additionally, Doxa sees opportunity in the areas of sports, technology, and engineering (to name a few). Whether through partnership with other organizations or directly with subject-matter experts, Doxa can facilitate impactful programing that exposes youth to the world around them.
Doxa’s community center is a gathering place and facilitator of quality programming. Ely, Doxa’s director of operations, has worked hard to build a pipeline that can be flexible to changing needs. A way to bring experts into the community to share their passions and knowledge. These opportunities afford Doxa’s youth exposure to new things and a safe space to explore their curiosity. A way to find out what they like and don’t like. Youth emerge better-equipped to make decisions in their own lives and know a little more about themselves and the world around them. Doxa serves as a stepping-stone to greater things.
Since the early 1990s, Doxa has been active on the West side of Tijuana. We’ve had the privilege of building over 2200 houses, thereby providing shelter to over 11,000 people. Over the last several years, needs have been changing and Doxa has started to also build houses in East Tijuana.
Doxa absolutely wouldn’t have been able to build so many houses in West Tijuana without a great home base. A place where volunteer groups can come, stay, and prepare for their building days. A place that is well-known throughout the local community and trusted so that families can come and apply for houses. A place to store house building materials and tools that is safe and secure. Apart from the right place, it also takes the right relationships. The people that activate those places and make them come alive. People who are deeply embedded into the local community, know the families, know the needs, and can be present year-round.
For West Tijuana, Doxa’s home base has always been Hogar de los Niños. We’ve had the privilege of growing alongside that orphanage for decades and used house building as a launching point for even more partnership.
When thinking about the vision of an East Tijuana home base, we strive to embrace Doxa’s values at all levels of implementation. This means collaboration with local organizations to the maximum extent possible. There’s no need to recreate the wheel, if we can partner with another organization who is already active. Working together, we can often have a larger impact than working alone and complement each other’s strengths. This also means being deeply committed to people, communities, and places. Making targeted and high-impact investments in relationships and spaces that will further strengthen the local community and help Doxa to achieve its mission. Cultivating and being committed to long-term partnerships sets the stage for future collaboration. This is exactly how house building led to the creation of Doxa’s education program.
In 2017, Doxa started to build houses in East Tijuana and has built around 70 houses so far. We’ve been able to hobble along without the benefit of an established East Tijuana home base. Groups have stayed at Unidos por Siempre and Rancho. House building materials have also been stored at both of those locations, and even at a neighbor’s house! Doxa’s supplies have been scattered everywhere. When it rains, we need to throw tarps over the lumber piles! It’s a real chore to keep everything organized and accounted for.
What Doxa has lacked in an established facility, however, it has made up for with relationships. Maria Figueroa (pictured right) and Jaime Ortiz (pictured at top) are the two principal relationships that have been cultivated over the past few years. Maria is the founder and director of Unidos por Siempre. She heads up family selection and on-the-ground logistics for groups. Jaime is the manager at Rancho. He heads up Rancho facilities and interfaces directly with groups who stay there. Together, these two (and their respective coworkers) are integral to working in concert with groups during their time in Tijuana.
With the relationships in place, it is now time for Doxa to work on a more established East Tijuana facility. Unidos por Siempre is a good place for small groups to stay, but we also need to be mindful that it is a working orphanage without much space. Rancho, on the other hand, is a very large place with over 20 acres of land and can accommodate groups of all sizes in their dorm-style rooms. Unidos por Siempre and Rancho are only about 3 minutes away from each other and are both focal points in the neighborhood.
The most urgent need is now a shed in East Tijuana that can accommodate 14 houses of materials, tools, and storage. This will complete the vision of having an East Tijuana home base where groups can land and launch out of in service to the local community. Rancho has graciously offered to provide room so a storage shed can be built. Plans are already finished and its time fundraise to make this a reality. Our goal is to complete fundraising for this project as part of Doxa’s December matching campaign and build the shed in time for groups to use in 2023. While there will always be more projects to further enhance and improve an East Tijuana home base, the addition of a shed signifies that all the pieces are present and functioning.
The team of Maria and Jaime, as well as their respective spaces at Unidos por Siempre and Rancho, provide Doxa with partners for the next 2200+ houses! We are so thankful to them for working with Doxa and ultimately bringing glory to God through their service!
Empowering young people has been central to Doxa since day one. At a basic level, empowering others involves equipping with necessary tools and facilitating opportunity. When both of these are done well, it leads to intentionally holding space for growth. Allowing young people to surprise you as their unique gifts blossom and develop.
Another essential part of empowering young people is not controlling the outcome. Allowing space for failure also means allowing space for success. Having young people develop their own motivations and agency results in growth. We, meanwhile, fully acknowledge that this process may be a bit bumpy. Afterall, life isn’t always perfect.
Doxa has been careful to incorporate the value of empowering young people into the fabric of each mission area: house building, education, and community. It certainly looks different in each area, but the central ideas of equipping and facilitating remain constant.
In the early 1990s, house building operations were just starting. Volunteer groups were all comprised of high school youth from churches. James B. Notkin, youth pastor at the time, recalled using the house building experience as part of a shift in youth ministry from an entertainment model to an empowerment model. An opportunity that allowed young people to push themselves, see Christ in a new way, and make a big impact on others in the process.
Doxa provides the materials, qualified recipient family, tools, and manual necessary to build a house. The design of the house is purposeful in its simplicity, utility, and appropriateness for the context in which it is in. A wood structure that is easy enough to build for those without experience, but also of necessary building standards and quality for life in Tijuana. This intentionally provides space for groups of young people to successfully build a house in less than a week’s time with little or no building experience. It is not necessarily easy, days can be long, hard, and dirty. However, it is more than doable and each team completes it in their own way.
Oftentimes, the takeway message is that young people do not need to wait, get more educated, have more experience, or grow up in order to make a meaningful difference in the world. That through the gifts they already have, and those they will develop along the way, young people are ready to start now. Another factor, which sometimes gets overlooked is that building a house is a very tangible outcome. It’s easy to step back at the end of the week, see the difference and the life-changing impact on the recipient family (not to mention the cross-cultural relationships that have been formed). It’s a very perceptible experience from start to finish.
It is Doxa’s hope that this house building opportunity of empowering young people will spill over into other areas of their lives. As they return back home, changed from their experience in Tijuana.
Doxa takes a holistic approach to its education program. Mexican students come from varying backgrounds, so each needs a little something different in order to have the opportunity to succeed scholastically. Equipping students can mean providing uniforms, shoes, backpacks, school supplies, tuition fees, transportation, and medical/dental/vision checkups. These are the basic necessities just to get in the door and have an opportunity.
Thinking beyond the basic necessities, Doxa further provides the opportunity to study well and succeed. We do this by operating after-school resource classrooms with qualified tutors, Internet, and computer/printer access. These dedicated spaces, provide the opportunity for students to study in a focused atmosphere that is not distracting or full of other temptations. Almost all of Doxa’s students live in houses that are no larger than 500 square feet and house 4-8 people. It’s extremely rare that any of them would have a dedicated study space.
Thankfully, in the past several years, it has gotten easier to find spots in school for incoming students. However, in the event that a family can’t find a spot in school for their child, we use our network to help. Tijuana’s school system is made up of several types of schools: federal, state, municipal, and private. Each school has its own teachers, principal, and rules. It results in a complicated patchwork system for parents to navigate.
Doxa is committed to do anything in order to provide a quality opportunity for students to succeed in school, but only when they are also motivated. Each family and student drive their own success, while Doxa takes care of providing the necessary tools and opportunity. This approach results in ownership over their school journey, with almost all students achieving higher levels of education than their parents did.
In 2017, Doxa interviewed over 70 families who had received houses since the early 1990s. One of the key takeaways of this study was that youth who did not experience much outside of their own neighborhood ended up following in their family’s (and neighbor’s) footsteps. While not necessarily bad to do the same as your parents, it’s important to be equipped with the knowledge that there’s other options and avenues.
Empowering young people at Doxa’s community center is all about exposure and opportunity. It’s exposure to new skills, things, and experiences. It’s opportunity to put into practice, perform, and showcase what one has learned or seen.
For example, Doxa’s dance group (called Yelitza) is led by Juan Sabino. He not only teaches the dance moves, history, and meaning; but also uses his connections to get performances lined up. Yelitza performs about 35 times per year in venues that range from city-wide performances to private parties. He takes the group all over Tijuana. It’s a way that Doxa’s youth get exposure to others within the dance world and can use Yelitza as a stepping-stone to bigger things. In this way, Yelitza’s reputation has also been elevated and is known for cultivating some of the best new dancers in Tijuana.
It’s also important to get young people exposure to new surroundings. Baja California is an extraordinary state, rich in history and natural beauty. However, you wouldn’t necessarily know that from living in the city of Tijuana. Each year, Doxa takes its youth to the cultural center and then out of the city for a camping trip. An opportunity to leave one’s surroundings and see something new. For many young people, this is their first time outside of the city of Tijuana.
Through exposure to new and unfamiliar things, young people’s imagination and curiosity are awakened. They can see possibilities that they didn’t know existed and try many different things to see what fits them best. After all that, if they decide to follow in their family’s footsteps, that’s great. And if they choose a different path, that’s great, too. It’s the provision of opportunity that allows them the freedom to choose and become motivated about their own futures.
On October 12, 2022 Unidos por Siempre celebrated its 20th anniversary. A big milestone for any organization. Located in Rojo Gomez, a neighborhood in Eastern Tijuana, Unidos por Siempre has seen its surroundings change dramatically. Back in 2002, Rojo Gomez was largely vacant land with no utilities, schools, or infrastructure. Nowadays, Rojo Gomez is much more developed with access to running water and electricity (in most areas), schools that offer K-12 classes, some paved roads, and stores. Just as the surrounding neighborhood has evolved over the past 20 years, so has Unidos por Siempre. Maria, who founded Unidos por Siempre, and Angeles, who grew up and now works at Unidos por Siempre shared some of their experiences over the past 20 years.
Angeles explained that Unidos por Siempre has gone through three major chapters in its life: soup kitchen, orphanage, and social assistance. The constant, though, is its commitment to the Rojo Gomez community and maintaining relevance by adapting to changing needs.
From 2002 until 2008, Unidos por Siempre was only a soup kitchen. Angeles was just 6 years old at the time and remembers helping to bring out chairs and tables each day for other kids to come and eat lunch. She vividly recalls that one of the tables was made of particle board and the corner would slowly get chipped away from all its use. Maria remembers a big tree that used to provide shade, but also get in the way. During those years, Unidos por Siempre established itself as a place where the community could come to eat and gather for a little bit each day.
Then, from 2008 until 2020, Unidos por Siempre became an orphanage. Angeles remembers that it all started with a pull-out couch, which was the first bed. She recalls there being a mountain of kids around as they would have pajama parties regularly. Maria reminisces on all the energy and excitement there was as more beds and rooms were slowly added. Most kids were from the surrounding community and needed outside support to survive. There were also some kids from DIF that the government temporarily placed there. Maria is proud about those days, in which they didn’t always have everything needed, but did they best they could. What they lacked in resources, they made up for with kids and community.
Maria specifically recounts three kids who have had a lasting impact on her. Osvaldo came to live at Unidos por Siempre when he was 9 and was very timid a first. What ended up bringing him out of his shell was the food and sharing mealtime with everyone. He lived at Unidos por Siempre for years, ended up completing college, and is now a criminologist. Luis is another child who grew up at Unidos por Siempre, who is now an engineer. Gustavo is yet another child to complete college and is now an accountant. Maria’s face beams with pride as she recounts their stories, like she’s being taking on a trip down memory lane herself.
Angeles calls the current chapter of Unidos por Siempre “social assistance.” While there are still kids who call Unidos por Siempre their permanent home, it is not the same quantity or need that the orphanage used to fulfill. Angeles explains that the community of Rojo Gomez isn’t quite as poor as it used to be and the needs are slowly changing. Maria adds that the main focuses of Unidos por Siempre are now temporary housing for kids and families, education, childcare, and food. Maria’s desire and call to the community of Rojo Gomez is as strong as ever, even as needs change.
When asked about the legacy of Unidos por Siempre, Maria gets a little emotional and conveys her hope that each person passing through would know and love God, be well-educated, and learn the value of cleanliness. She states that the best inheritance she can leave for kids is a good education. Angeles agrees and adds that her journey to finish college wasn’t always easy, but wouldn’t have been possible without Unidos por Siempre’s help.
Today, Maria sees the impact of her many years of work as most of the kids still keep in contact. She gets invited to quinceañeras, weddings, and baby shows. It’s not uncommon for her to see kids that grew up in Unidos por Siempre with kids of their own now. Just as Unidos por Siempre has made a big difference in the lives of many children, Maria has also come out changed. It’s impossible for anyone to forgot those formative years together.
Maria closes our time together on a note of thankfulness. She is grateful for all the help and opportunity to know so many people. She has crossed paths with kids, Tijuana government officials, volunteers, families, and various partners on both sides of the border. She’s joyful and thankful to have been in a position to invest time, love, and care into so many lives that have come through Unidos por Siempre.
Prior to the early 2010s, sustainability wasn’t much talked about at Doxa. The organization had hummed along just fine and survived various ups and downs (thankfully). A good testament to diligently taking things one step at a time and not concerning ourselves with things too far into the future. While that strategy worked for a while, if Doxa was to grow its impact as an organization, the topic of sustainability would need to be explored. The addition of education programming and community development to ongoing house building operations further emphasized the need for sustainable leadership and funding.
By 2011 Doxa’s operations and partnerships were becoming more complex on both sides of the border. Even with these changes, it took several more years to implement some sustainable leadership and funding practices. In fact, the COVID pandemic actually helped to speed some of this work along and put sustainability back on the minds of everyone at Doxa. Two distinct areas where Doxa has focused on sustainability are in its leadership and staff structure, and its financial and funding sources.
Leadership and Staff Structure
Prior to 2015 Doxa had only 1 full-time staff member in Tijuana, which was Rosa. For those that knew her, she was an incredibly capable and efficient person. At times, we marveled at how she seemed to do the work of many people at the same time! Everyone has their limits, though, and even Doxa’s operations got to a point where it was getting to be too much for Rosa on her own. Starting in 2016 and over the course of the next couple years, we added 5 more full-time positions and various part-time positions.
With the exception of Doxa’s executive director, everyone else is employed in Mexico to carry out Doxa’s operations on the ground. This serves as a direct commitment to employing and building up people in the same neighborhoods in which Doxa works. Staff are active community participants, regularly involved in the local church, orphanages, and other activities apart from their Doxa work. Doxa’s staff have a culture of love, hard work, joy, and fun (we’re still working on having a little more grace sometimes!) Simple things, like giving vacation time to staff no longer necessitates the pausing of operations as there are people available to temporarily fill various roles. This allows Doxa as an organization to more easily grow and adapt as necessary without being dependent upon one person.
Another change has been the creation of a Mexican non-profit entity, Doxa Tijuana A.C. This entity provides Doxa with legal standing in Mexico, ability to own land, legally provide employment, and creation of a local board of directors. It also qualifies Doxa for resources throughout Tijuana that are only available to legal and registered non-profit organizations. Having Doxa legally exist in Tijuana allows for future opportunities and adds an additional level of staying power for future generations.
Finally, regarding the U.S. non-profit entity, something as simple as term limits for U.S. board members has helped gently nudge Doxa to recruit some new leadership. Developing a pipeline of new board members also helps to continuously expand Doxa’s footprint. Whether its governance, fundraising, organizational history, leadership, or just about anything else, it can help to have more people, expertise, and resources under the same tent.
Financial and Funding Sources
Prior to Doxa’s expansion into the education and community mission areas, its funding model was fairly simple. Volunteer groups would pay for house building materials and a few other items that helped them successfully stay in Tijuana during their trip. Items such as drinking water and even a small donation to the orphanage where they stayed. While this was sufficient in the early days, there were years where both Doxa and the partner orphanage were not even covering their own costs. Upon realizing this, Doxa reworked its house building model to fully cover building materials, administration, family selection, and make it a revenue generator for the partner orphanage. This ensured financial sustainability with regard to house building operations and also helped contribute to the financial sustainability of the partner orphanage.
From the early 2010s, as Doxa’s education and community programs started to grow, we sought to diversify funding sources and develop new ones. These included individual giving, private company matching, applying to church mission budgets, board giving, and in-kind donations from Tijuana sources. COVID provided the first big test of these other funding sources, as groups were unable to come build in 2020 and 2021, so house building revenue dried up. Thankfully, we made it through, but still have work to do. In 2020, Doxa saw a total of 134 donors and 79 first-time donors. In 2021, Doxa saw a total of 124 donors and 63 first-time donors. When you give, you’re in good company and part of a larger community!
There is still lots of room for improvement as Doxa evaluates what sustainability looks like through various lenses. It is something that needs careful and diligent stewardship; commitment for the long-run. We are so thankful to everyone who has stepped up and journeyed along with Doxa, especially over the past few years. We hope to continue building on this progress towards an organizationally and financially sustainable Doxa that can continue for generations to come.
Lucero and Alonso are in their mid-20s and met at work, in one of Tijuana’s many factories (called maquiladoras). They were previously renting a house, but in late 2020 the landlord did not renew their lease. As a stop-gap measure they moved in with Lucero’s parents and simultaneously announced that they were expecting a boy. While exciting, they were in need of a space of their own.
Lucero spear-headed the effort of applying for a Doxa house. She found Maria at Unidos por Siempre on the East side of Tijuana. After going through the interview, submitting required documentation, and doing 250 hours of community service, she was put on the waiting list.
In April 2022, a group from First Presbyterian Church Spokane came to Tijuana, and over the course of a week a house was built. This was one of three houses that they built while in Tijuana. Lucero and Alonso now live in Terrazas del Valle in East Tijuana with their son, Jasiel.
Maria went back to visit with Lucero and Alonso at 2 months and 4 months after the house was built. Follow-up visits allow a continuation of a relationship with each family, to see how they are doing, to come alongside in other needed ways, and share in the joy of the new place to live. We’d also be lying if we didn’t add that we double-check to make sure the house is holding up well and performing as designed (haha!).
As Maria arrived, Lucero emerged from her house, walked across the dirt patio, and around a big pile of sand and gravel to open the front gate. She welcomed Maria in with a smile, asking how she’s been. Maria slowly makes her way towards the house and when entering, Lucero offers her a chair and asks about the volunteer group. Lucero remembers them fondly and says she still keeps in touch with some of them. Alonso reaches for a picture of the group and points out the ones who made the biggest impression on him. Lucero shares how she worked alongside the group to build and, unexpectedly, saw the students working so hard each day. She felt humbled by the fact that these people came from so far to help her and her family. To help provide them with something that they could never repay, but just with their thanks and appreciation.
Alonso shares his appreciation for the solid concrete floor, sturdy walls, and roof. He’s quick to share about future projects they have planned. A living room and kitchen addition, bathroom addition (in progress), interior drywall, and small cement patio out front for Jasiel to play. They are already thinking forward to when Jasiel will need more of his own space. Alonso gets up from his seat and shows Maria behind the house, the walls of the kitchen and bathroom are already going up and the bedroom is already partially drywalled.
Jasiel, meanwhile, is just starting to walk around the house. He uses a little plastic cart to push around and bumps into just about everything. He smiles as the dog occasionally swings by to give him some attention. The dog is a more recent addition, came one day and decided to stay. So, a dog house was also made in the same style as their house.
As Maria wraps up her visit, Lucero and Alonso light up with gratitude. Humbled to receive such a gift and now a desire to be good stewards of this new opportunity. They are excited for all the future milestones that they will have here, a place they are proud to call home.
One of Doxa’s values is empowering youth, to help develop the entire person as they grow. This can be seen in house building, education, and community programming. In the areas of education and community, Doxa has experienced its middle and high school age kids grow significantly in number. This is a product of scholarship students who have practically grown up with us for the past several years.
This past summer, we specifically felt called to offer more age-appropriate experiences for middle and high school aged youth to mature and develop. As Doxa continues to grow, we would like to continue developing offerings for older kids.
First was summer camp, during the entire month of July. Doxa welcomed a total of 94 kids to summer camp. Typically geared towards elementary aged kids, this year offered several activities for middle and high school aged kids. Activities included teamwork on various environmental projects, making a pitcher out of plaster, volleyball, and making new paper out of recycled paper materials.
Second was a dance group exchange, where some of the older kids in Doxa’s dance group (called Yelitza) were given the opportunity to train with a professional dance group (called Ixchel). This exchange provided them with exceptional experience working alongside dance professionals in Tijuana. Maybe some of our dance students will pursue this in the future!
Third was a camping trip to a ranch just outside of Tecate. The overnight was full of activities, games, a hike, campfire, and some work with Jorge (Doxa’s on-site counselor). The camping trip was the first time that some of the older kids were ever outside of the city of Tijuana. Exposure to different areas around Baja California is key to waking up each kids’ imagination and an overnight allows for some much-needed bonding time between everyone.
Fourth was a house build. While almost all of Doxa’s houses have been built by volunteer groups from the United States, we do have a local team in Tijuana that has built houses during the pandemic when volunteer groups were unable to come. This team continues to build some houses every year and we wanted to give Doxa’s high school aged kids an opportunity to work. They suited up and went to the worksite for a week of building a house. While it was hard work, they learned about the process and are excited for the opportunity to do it again next year.
One of the things we’ve learned over the past 15+ years of working with kids in Tijuana is that they’ve got to get out of their comfort zone to grow. They need to get out of their neighborhood and into the world, where they can have the opportunity to try, discover, and learn new things. These experiences help guide them as to what they like and don’t like. Perhaps they’ll also get the privilege of knowing just a little more of the fullness that God is calling each of them into.
Surrounded by their parents, Ely, Flavio, and Jorge as good guiding examples, Doxa’s middle and high school aged kids can reach new heights. It was busy summer, but also an extremely rewarding and exciting one.
Yelitza is the name of Doxa’s dance group, which focuses on original and historical dances from Mexican culture. Most states in Mexico have a traditional dance and accompanying clothing, which all tell a story.
Juan Sabino is the dance instructor, who not only directs the group, but does so as a way to connect with and mentor youth. He likes to say that dance “rescues youth.”
Annually, Yelitza performs at over 20 events all around Tijuana. They are invited to churches, private parties, dance expositions, and culture fairs. Earlier this year, they even performed on a moving flatbed trailer as part of a city-wide parade!
Every September, though, the group takes one Saturday afternoon to host a neighborhood dance event at Doxa’s community center. Parents prepare food, Yelitza presents its latest dances, and families from the neighborhood come out to support. This event also serves as a fundraiser for new dance clothing. This year’s performances did not disappoint!
Over the course of that Saturday afternoon, Yelitza’s 20+ kids took turns dancing on stage. Showing their best moves, with parents cheering in support, and delicious smells of food circulating. Doña Lupe’s enchiladas, the Camacho’s pozole, Mar’s fresh baked bread, just to name a few that were on hand. This year the kids performed dances from states of Sinaloa and Jalisco. Over 80 people attended!
Reflecting on the event, Juan was proud to see the older kids, especially Angel, stepping up to lead the younger ones. Most improved goes to three girls this year: Dana (9 years old), Mia (10 years old), and Viane (13 years old). Each brought down the house with their performances! Juan shares that even he was particularly surprised by the quality of their dances.
Roberto Estella, another dance instructor in Tijuana, even brought his group (Ixchel) to dance a few songs and show support. Ixchel is a professional dance group made up of adults, but has allowed a few older kids from our Yelitza to practice with them recently.
Also in attendance, but unknown to Juan, was the director of Tepeeg Notú, which is one of the most prestigious dance events in Tijuana. After seeing Yelitza’s kids dance, they were invited to present at Tepeeg Notú, alongside the best professional groups in Tijuana. Juan was speechless!
All in all, a great community event! Yelitza’s kids got to show off their latest and greatest dances, Juan got more exposure and connections than planned for, funds were raised for some new dance clothing, and the community got together to show their support for these young kids. We are beyond thankful for all that is happening with Yelitza!
Collaborating with other local organizations is more than just joining forces for good. Specifically, it means the following:
Recognizing that Doxa is just one piece of the puzzle. Too often, organizations enter into situations where they feel they must solve everything, becoming the end-all and be-all. Doxa strives to enter with a humble and teachable spirit, one that recognizes the work that is already being done and how best to complement it. We know that God is doing a much larger work throughout Tijuana, to reconcile each and every person, and pray that He would continue to use Doxa as a meaningful part of that larger work.
Not recreating the wheel. By understanding the work that is already being done, Doxa can be a compliment to it instead of a duplication. Working together, everyone according to their strengths. This also means appropriately honoring the work of others and their unique giftings.
Letting the Holy Spirit lead to greater things. We don’t know where each partnership will lead or the end of this story. Doxa takes one step at a time, doing the best we can in that moment in time. This mentality frees us up to relinquish all control to the Lord, to let Him lead. We focus instead on journeying along with like-minded organizations, and even some not-so-like-minded. Wherever and with whomever the Hold Spirit leads, Doxa will go.
When done right, collaborating with local organizations results in exponential impact. Something significantly greater than each organization could achieve on their own.
Doxa has enjoyed the privilege of partnering with many Tijuana organizations over the past 30+ years. Some of the organizations include the Tijuana Cultural Center, Trompo Museum, Police Department, DIF (child protective services), various offices within the Tijuana Government, Care Mission, World Vision, Comité Binacional, and many churches. Three of our closest partnerships are with:
Casa Hogar de los Niños – It’s impossible to talk about Doxa’s beginnings and not mention Hogar de los Niños. This continues to be the home base for all house building operations in West Tijuana. This partnership has also helped form how Doxa approaches other local organizations. We have enjoyed over 30 years of working together.
Casa Hogar Unidos por Siempre – Starting in 2016, Doxa was introduced to Maria, the founder of Unidos por Siempre. This eventually led to Unidos por Siempre being the East Tijuana home base for house building in 2017. Education scholarships, also based out of Unidos por Siempre, started a couple years later.
Grupo Unidad, Rancho – Starting in 2019, Doxa partnered with Rancho to host larger groups in East Tijuana. Their space is an excellent launching point for various activities, not just house building.
Doxa continuously stewards these partnerships, being active and present year-around. Afterall, they are some of the most important relationships we have! We are continuously humbled by the way that the Holy Spirit has led and evolved these long-term partnerships. So thankful for all of them – past, present, and future!
When we learnt that we were expected to put up the walls, roof, doors, windows and paint in four days, I was daunted – professional contractors take much longer and we were all amateurs. But, with hard work, the help of the entire team and the great planning booklets from Doxa, we found that we were able to complete the house on schedule. It was a great experience, and it was heartening to see the joy in the eyes of the family as they entered their own house. It brought the spirit of Thanksgiving into sharp focus for us.