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

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.

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Gil Gillenwater: Founder, Rancho Feliz

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