Rancho Feliz sends ‘renegade volunteers’ to Mexico for community work


GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO
HORIZONTE.
LEARN ABOUT AN ORGANIZATION THAT
PROVIDES PEOPLE OPPORTUNITIES TO
VOLUNTEER ON THE BORDER.
AND, A PROJECT THAT HELPS WITH
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT BY TALKING
TO KIDS IN THEIR LANGUAGE.
PLUS, A GROUP CHANGING THE
FUTURE FOR GIRLS.
ALL OF THIS
COMING UP STRAIGHT AHEAD ON
HORIZONTE.
"HORIZONTE" IS MADE POSSIBLE BY FRIENDS OF ARIZONA PBS, MEMBERS OF YOUR PBS STATION.

Jose: RANCHO FELIZ, IS A NON PROFIT
PROGRAM THAT DEVELOPS, SHELTERS,
HOUSING, VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
AND EDUCATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE
IN MEXICO.

PKG: WORKING IN A MEXICAN BORDER TOWN, TWO HUNDRED MILES FROM PHOENIX, I SEE FAMILIES WITH NO OPPORTUNITY FOR EDUCATION OR A DECENT JOB.
WHAT IF I TOLD YOU I ALSO ENCOUNTER POVERTY WHERE I LIVE IN SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA? A LIFE OF OVER OBUNDANCE CREATES POVERTY OF THE SPIRIT
IT'S A GNAWING POVERTY OF PURPOSE.
I HAVE VOLUNTEERED FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS.
BUT I HATE THE WORDS VOLUNTEER AND CHARITY.
THEY ARE WEAK INVOKING SACRIFICE AND SELFLESSNESS.
AND WHO THE HELL IS INTO THAT?
AT RANCHO FELIZ, WE’RE REDIFINING CHARITY SERVICE IS TO OTHERS ABUNDANT TO OUR OWN LIVES.
WE CALL THIS ENLIGHTENED SELF INTEREST.
YOU COULD EVEN CALL IT SELFISH.
WE ARE A GROUP OF RENEGADE VOLUNTEERS, GUARDIAN WARRIORS.
WE DON'T PLAY POLITICS OR RELIGION.
WE DON'T BELIEVE IN HANDOUT.
WE JUST GET THINGS DONE, OUR PROGRAMS PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES NOT WELFARE FOR FAMILIES TO LIVE WITH DIGNITY IN THEIR HOME COUNTRY.
WE EMPOWER THEM INVITE THEMTO BREAK THE CYCLE OF POVERTY AND BECOME CONTRIBUTING MEMBERS OF THE PLANET.
WE HAVE CHANGED THE LIVES OF THOUSANDS OF OUR MEXICAN NEIGHBORS.
THE MOST SURPRISING IMPACT HAS BEEN ON US.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIFE OF ANOTHER HUMAN BEING ULTIMATELY BENEFITS YOURSELF.
WE CAN CHANGE YOURSELF, WE CHANGE THE WORLD.

Jose: JOINING ME NOW IS GIL
GILLENWATER, PRESIDENT AND
FOUNDER OF RANCHO FELIZ.
THANK YOU FOR JOINING US ON "HORIZONTE."
ONE OF THE POINTS MADE IN THE VIDEO IS THAT YOU LIVED A RELATIVELY PRIVLIGED LIFE GROWING UP IN SCOTTSDALE.
WHAT LED YOU TO GET INVOLVED IN THIS MEXICAN COMMUNITY?

Gil: WELL I GREW UP AND WENT TO SCHOOL AT ARCADIA HIGH SCHOOL, HAD EVERY OPPORTUNITY FOR EDUCATION.
GRADUATED FROM ASU, PARENTS WHO CARED FOR ME EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES AND THINGS LIKE THAT.
EVEN AS A YOUNG BOY WE TRAVELED AS A FAMILY IN MEXICO.
I KNEW THE POVERTY THERE.
I THINK I WAS LIKE 32 YEARS OLD SITTING DOWN FOR THANKSGIVING DINNER.
IT WAS LIKE "GROUNDHOGS DAY" BILL MURRAY'S MOVIE.
WE WERE GOING TO DO THE SAME THING, OVER AND OVER DRINK BEER WATCH FOOTBALL, EAT TURKEY.
MY BROTHER AND I LOOKED AT EACHOTHER AND SAID, THIS IS CRAZY YOU KNOW.
FOUR HOURS FROM HERE THERE ARE PEOPLE WITHOUT A ROOF OVER THEIR HEAD. SO WE GOT UP GOT A COUPLE THOUSAND DOLLARS OF FOOD DRIVING TO NOGALES.
Jose: THAT SAME THANKSGIVING DAY WEEKEND?
Gil: YEAH ON THE SPOT MY BROTHER IS TELLING A FUNNY STORY. WE WERE GOING TO NOGALES I MISSED THE TURN TO 19. I'M TRYING TO TURN AROUND.THIS IS WERE I GOT MY FIRST BIG LESSON IN CHARITABLE WORK. WE SAID LET'S SEE WHERE WE END UP. WE WENT THROUGH BENSON AND TOMBSTONE AND ENDED UP IN DOUGLAS, ARIZONA. AND CROSSED OVER TO A COMMUNITY CALLED AGUA PRIETA I NEVER HEARD OF IT. 180,000 PEOPLE THERE. FOUND A LADY IT WAS ACTUALLY A GIRL.

Jose: AND YOU GOT THROUGH CUSTOMS WITH THAT FOOD?


Gil: YEAH THAT’S ANOTHER THING WHEN YOU ARE DOING GOOD STUFF, THINGS HAPPEN FOR YOU. IF I WERE TAKING JEANS DOWN THERE TO SELL OR SOMETHING, WE WOULD STILL BE IN JAIL. WE FOUND A GAL COOKING TAMALES OVER A BURNING TIME FOR EIGHT CHILDREN SHE RESCUED OFF THE STREET. WE SAID THIS IS CRAZY. HERE WE ARE IN SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA AND THIS IS GOING ON. SO WE GOT PHELPS DODGE TO OPEN UP A HOSPITAL UP IN JEROME AND WE THREW A HALLOWEEN PARTY UP THERE AND RAISED MONEY AND WENT DOWN AND FUNDED I CANT BUILD ANYTHING BUT WE FUNDED THE CONSTRUCTION OF INDOOR TOILETS AND SHOWERS. AND THAT'S HOW IT STARTED.

Jose: AND IT'S GROWN PHENOMENALLY. I’VE SEEN OTHER PICTURES OF A HOUSING COMPLEX.

Gil: YES.

Jose: THAT SHELTERS WHAT, 40 SOME ODD FAMILIES?

Gil: YES.

Jose: TELL US ABOUT THAT?

Gil: WELL WE GOT THE CITY OF AGUA PRIETA TO DONATE THREE AND A HALF ACRES. WE BUILT 42 HOMES. OUR CONTENTION IS IF WE CAN PROVIDE PEOPLE WITH DIGNITY AND AN OPPORTUNITY TO RAISE THEIR CHILDREN WITH GOOD EDUCATION, THEY DON'T WANT TO IMMIGRATE ILLEGALLY INTO THE UNITED STATES. AND THAT'S TRUE. IN FACT ON OF OUR RESIDENTS JUST CAME UP TO ME THE OTHER DAY. HIS SON WENT TO BROPHE, FROM A CARDBOARD SHACK IN AGUA PRIETA, GRADUATED FROM JACOBS UNIVERSITY IN GERMANY AND NOW HAS A JOB IN MUNICH. HE CAME UP TO ME AND SAID GIL YOU KNOW WHAT? I FOUND MY AMERICAN DREAM RIGHT HERE IN MEXICO. SO THAT'S WHY WE BUILT THE HOUSING PROJECT.

Jose: BUT THAT’S NO THE ONLY THING YOU GUYS HAVE DONE. EDUCATION SEEMS TO BE A BIG COMPONENET

Gil: WE SPONSOR ALL KINDS OF PRIVATE EDUCATION, PUBLIC EDUCATION, WE’VE HAD KIDS GRADUATE ALL OVER MEXICO WITH DEGREES. THAT'S HOW YOU CHANGE. IS EDUCATE THESE KIDS. THEY'LL RAISE THEIR KIDS EDUCATED. THIS IDEA THAT WE HAVE TO HAVE A WALL, AND PEOPLE HAVE TO LIVE ON… YOU KNOW WHAT THE AVERAGE WAGE IN AGUA PRIETA IS 8 TO 10 DOLLARS A DAY AND THEIR COST OF GOODS IS 80% OF WHAT MINE ARE IN SCOTTSDALE. NOW YOU TELL ME WHAT YOU WOULD DO. I KNOW DAMN WELL I’D BE JUMPING THAT WALL.

Jose: THE OTHER THING THAT STRUCK AS VERY UNUSAL OF YOUR ORGANIZATION GIVEN THAT LEVEL OF ACTIVITY YOU WOULD EXPECT MAMMOTH STAFF RUNNING THIS BUT IT’S ALL WHAT ONE PERSON?

Gil: ONE GAL. WE ARE ALL VOLUNTEERS. I'LL TELL YOU, JOSE, I’VE LEARNED THIS MY EXPERIENCE OVER THE YEARS IS, WHEN YOU ARE IN SERVICE TO THE OTHERS, SPIRIT OR GOD OR WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL REVEALS ITSELF AND IT DOES. WE HAVE DONATIONS COME IN RIGHT WHEN THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO COME IN PEOPLE COME IN AND PROVIDE SERVICES WHEN THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO. I'M NOT FROM SEDONA. I'M A REAL LEFT BRAIN ANALYTICAL GUY, BUT YOU ENTER A MAGIC WORLD WHEN YOU SERVE OTHERS.


Jose: WE WERE TALKING A LITTLE BIT OFF CAMERA YOU MENTIONED YOU ARE ACTUALLY PROVIDING SERVICE TO THE VOLUNTEERS.
Gil: OH MY GOODNESS, YES.

Jose: YOU HAVE AN EXCHANGE PROGRAM

Gil: WE HAVE A PROGRAM. WE BUILT A DORMITORY DOWN THERE. WE’VE OUTGROWN IT. WE BROKE GROWN TODAY ON A NEW ONE WERE BUILDING DOWN THERE. BUT WE HAVE HOUSED 22,000 VOLUNTEERS OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS, MOSTLY STUDENTS, MOSTLY KIDS WHO COME DOWN FROM PRIVILEGED LIVES LIKE I HAVE. ANYBODY THAT LIVES IN THE UNITED STATES IS PRETTY MUCH PRIVILEGED, WHETHER WE WANT TO FACE THAT OR NOT. GOES DOWN STAYS IN MEXICO SMELLS THE SMELLS TASTE THE TASTE SEES WHAT IT IS WE PUT THEM TO WORK IN THE CARTON LAND WHICH IS CARDBOARD LAND. THEY MEET THE FAMILIES WHOSE ROOF THEY ARE PUTTING ON THEIR HOUSE, AND IT CHANGES THESE KIDS. THEY COME BACK BETTER PEOPLE.

Jose: AND THESE ARE BASICLLY THREE DAY STAYS?

Gil: THREE DAY STAYS.



Jose: THERE IS ANOTHER ASPECT OF YOUR EXPERIENCES. THAT I KNOW HASN’T BEEN YOUR FOCUS BUT I DO WANT TO TOUCH ON. IN THE SHORT TIME WE HAVE REMAINING. DEATHS IN THE DESERT YOU REFER TO AS KILLING FIELDS WE’VE GOT A PICTURE OF SOME MURALS THAT KINDA CAPTURES WHAT'S GOING ON DOWN THERE. AND THEN YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE? WITH SKULLS IN THE DESERT.

Gil: YES I CAME ACROSS THAT SKULL AWEEK AGO WALKING IN THE CABEZA PRIETA IN THE MIGRANT TRAILS. SOUTHERN ARIZONA BORDER IS AMERICA’S KILLING FIELDS. THIS IS GOING ON WHILE YOU AND I ARE SITTING IN THIS ROOM. I’VE SEEN IT FIRST HAND. THERE’S A PICTURE OF IT. WE SHOULD BE ASHAMED. OUR POLITICIANS CAN FIGURE OUT A WAY TO SET UP A SLUSH FUND OF HUSH MONEY TO PAY FOR THEIR SEXUAL INDISCRETIONS AND PERVERSIONS, BUT THEY CAN'T SEEM TO FIGURE OUT A WAY TO MAKE A HUMANE BORDER POLICY WHERE PEOPLE DON'T HAVE TO DIE IN THE DAMN DESERT TRYING TO GET A BETTER LIFE. FUTURE GENERATIONS ARE GOING TO LOOK BACK ON OUR GENERATION LIKE WE LOOK BACK AT THE MARTIN LUTHER KING DAYS, WHEN THEY HAD BLACK WATER FOUNTAINS AND WHITE WATER FOUNTAINS. WE’RE GOING, WHAT THE HELL WERE THOSE PEOPLE THINKING ABOUT? PEOPLE ARE GOING TO SAY WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT. FUTURE GENERATIONS YOUR GRAND KIDS ARE GOING TO SAY WHAT WERE THEY THINKING PEOPLE WERE DYING IN THE DESERT I MEAN ITS ABSURD. MY CONTENTION, IS IF THAT GUY HAD HE GONE INTO ONE OF OUR VECINO’S HOMES, HE COULD HAVE FOUND HIS DREAM RIGHT THERE IN MEXICO AND HE WOULDN'T HAVE OR SHE HAD TO DIE ONE OF THE MOST HORRIFIC DEATHS, YOU CAN IMAGINE EXPOSURE IN THE DESERT.

Jose: SO THERE’S A LOT GOING ON SOME OF IT VERY SAD BUT YOU’VE MADE SOME PROGRESS MADE OTHER LIVES BETTER THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINONG US IN HORIZONTE AND TALKING ABOUT IT.

Gil: IT’S BEEN MY PLEASURE THANK YOU

Jose: THANK YOU.
COMING UP NEXT, A PROJECT DEDICATED TO HELP STUDENTS WITH CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. IN ADDITION TO READING AND WRITING CHARACTER PROGRAMS ARE A PART OF EVERY SCHOOL CURRICULAM TONIGHT PRODUCER ALICIA ADAMS AND PHOTOGRAPHER SAM MENA SHOWS US A PROGRAM THAT USES A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE TO PROMOTE POSITIVE SOCIAL CHANGE.

Founded in 1987 by brothers Gil and Troy Gillenwater, Rancho Feliz sends approximately one thousand volunteers a year to impoverished Mexican border cities to build homes and help improve the community.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1987, Gil and Troy made plans to take $1,000 worth of food Nogales, Arizona, and donate it to people in need. But they missed their exit on the freeway and crossed the border into the town of Agua Preita, Mexico. Gil says they found a woman looking over six kids and she was trying to cook them a meal over a tire. From that moment on, the brothers committed to concentrating their outreach on border towns.

“We got the city of Agua Preita to donate 3.5 acres, and we built 42 homes,” Gillenwater says. “Our contention is if we can provide people with dignity and an opportunity to raise their children with good education, they won’t want to immigrate illegally into the United States.”

Gillenwater says a man he has helped has told him that he had end up finding the American Dream right there in Mexico.

Rancho Feliz does more than build homes. They sponsor private and public education to encourage kids all over Mexico to earn degrees. By educating these kids, they’ll want to educate their own kids, and that’s the key, Gillenwater says. He says educating the population will do more to stop illegal immigration than a wall would.

Within the entire foundation, there’s only one person who is formally employed. The rest are made up of young volunteers. Rancho Feliz has housed over 22,000 volunteers during the last two decades. The volunteers are given three day stays in the volunteer dormitories. It gives them the opportunity to meet the families they are helping.

“I have learned in my experience over the years, when you’re in service to the others, the spirit or God or whatever you want to call it, reveals itself. It does,” Gillenwater says. “We have donations come in right when they’re supposed to come in. People come in and provide services when they’re supposed to. I’m a real left brain, analytical kind of guy, but you enter a magical world when you serve others.”

For more information on Rancho Feliz, go to ranchofeliz.com.

Sponsor message:

In this segment:

Gil Gillenwater: Founder, Rancho Feliz

Sponsor message:

Sign up to receive the Arizona PBS Insider

Get up-to-the-minute information about your favorite programs and learn more about Arizona PBS news and events.

'Poldark' returns for a fourth season

Poldark, season 4

"Poldark" returns to Masterpiece for a fourth season Sunday nights at 8 p.m. beginning Sept. 30 on Arizona PBS.

Elemental: Covering Sustainability

Elemental: Covering Sustainability is a multimedia collaboration covering urbanization, climate change, water and renewable energy.

'POV' investigates Ebola survivors, campaign money and more this fall

New "POV" documentary investigations are airing on Arizona PBS on Monday nights this fall.