Benefit to raise funds for Guanajuato housing

    Putting a roof over someone's head has perhaps never been so easy.

    Coordinating with Ashland's Sister City, Guanajuato, Mexico, Ashland's Rotary Club will hold a fundraiser Friday to promote its affordable housing program. Called Mi Casa Diferente (My Different House), the program has helped build homes for low-income families. Ashland community members have contributed $75,000 to the project since 2007.

    For every $750 raised in Ashland, the state and local governments of Guanajuato will each add an additional $750, totaling $2,250 to purchase building materials. The Mexican government will then match those supplies with a family in need.

    The Ashland Rotary Club is part of Rotary International, a global coalition working to improve quality of life in communities around the world. Club president-elect Deedie Runkel says the housing program is a marriage of philanthropy and efficiency, proof that sometimes a few resources can go a long way.

    "So far, with funds from when the program started, we've been able to build 90 homes," Runkel said. "We've tried to concentrate on those communities where income is especially low."

    The program began simply enough — with a conversation among Rotarians in Ashland, as well as with the mayor of Guanajuato. Both sides wanted to address the lack of low-income housing in the community. The relationship each city had built culminated in an agreement by the Guanajuato government to add on to the Ashland donations.

    Money that is raised is transferred to a development department in Mexico, similar to a U.S. Welfare agency. Runkel said the department identifies local families and determines their eligibility for the program.

    "They actually purchase building materials, and the families build them themselves," she said.

    While that may seem a tall order, families are hardly on their own at this point. Runkel said they often receive support from their own neighbors, who are eager to lend a helping hand.

    Angelica Ruppe can testify to that. An Ashland Rotarian, Ruppe is the financial director of La Clinica. She also grew up in Guanajuato. Working with Runkel and fellow Rotarians Brian Conrad and Juli Di Chiro, she has spearheaded the housing project, traveling to her hometown several times to facilitate building projects.

    "Every time we go, we take 12 to 15 people to go there and work," Ruppe said, recalling firsthand the desperation many in her hometown still face. "These people don't have hope, when you see how they live, sometimes 10 people living in a shack.

    "$750 really makes a difference."

    This Friday's fundraiser, "Taste of Guanajuato," will be held at the Historic Ashland Armory. Starting at 5:30 p.m., the event will feature gourmet Mexican cuisine, and performances by the musical ensemble Ballet Folklorico.

    Live and silent auctions will offer gift packages, from landscaping work and dinner in town, to vacations throughout Mexico. Tickets to the event are $50, with proceeds going toward securing the $750 to build a home. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Brian Conrad of the Ashland Rotary Club, at 482-8470.

    Runkel and Ruppe take pride in their accomplishments and say the housing program is just an example of the work Rotary clubs in general — and Ashland's in particular — have been doing for years.

    "It's just amazing what the city of Ashland has done," Ruppe said, "it's a gift to be able to do something like this for my people."

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