Casa Hogar — A House and a Home

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Chris Mills and Casa Hogar boys

Chris Mills and Casa Hogar boys

Casa Hogar de Cabo San Lucas, more commonly shortened to Casa Hogar (House Home) has a easy-to-find website. Send a message and Director Chris Mills is quick to reply. Finding the actual place, gets more complicated. At the hotel, I hand my phone, with instructions that don’t include an address, to the taxi driver who consults with the doorman. At one point on the route, I say that, according to the instructions, the driver should have turned right at the last stop sign. Finally, we spot the dirt road where we should turn left.

In 2013, non-profit Casa Hogar was home to a total of sixty-three boys, ages three to seventeen.  Some have been there since Casa Hogar opened its doors in 2008. For others, it’s a temporary home. In Mills’ office, he points out to me that many of the boys have some family. There might be only one parent who can’t care for the child, or the child may have been removed from the home. “About half of our boys are ‘adoptable’,” he says. In the last two years, twelve boys have been adopted and sixteen returned to their families.” You quickly understand Mills, a native of Vancouver, Canada, likes to focus on the positive.

Casa Hogar Spiderman and SoccerCasa Hogar was a long time in the birthing process. The land was donated in the mid-1990’s, but the project languished for a decade until the Boulder City Sunrise Rotary Club in Nevada stepped in with a significant donation. Mills, who was already living in Cabo, started volunteering through his church and spending time with the boys. He gradually got more involved and, two years ago, became the director.

The job pulled him in many directions. There were complex government processes that often didn’t have accurate documentation on the boys. There had only been two adoptions in four years. These days, Casa Hogar works well with the government agencies, and the adoption process can take less than six months.

Casa Hogar Boy with hatCasa Hogar survives on private donations with no government assistance. “Local businesses have been very good to us,” Mills says. “There are regular donations from a milk company, large national stores in Cabo and a bakery. We receive funds from resort foundations like the Solmar Foundation and Eagle’s Wings Foundation. We even got 7000 kilos of beans (over 15,000 pounds).” Mills sees to it that Casa Hogar doesn’t hoard such generous gifts. They shared the beans with several other charitable organizations, including Los Niños del Capitán Daycare (see “The Other Side of the Peso’s” January 27th post). At Christmas, gifts roll in. The staff asks each boy to choose two unwrapped presents to give back to the community. The boys make a field trip to a needy neighborhood where they give the gifts out to children who have little.

One of Chris’ biggest concerns when he took over was that too many of the boys didn’t want to be at Casa Hogar. He and others went to work to make it a happy place. They changed how discipline was handled. No more sending a kid to stand in a corner when he misbehaved. They hired a full-time psychologist to work with the boys and staff. Now, when a boy misbehaves, a staff member like Omar Venegas, Operations Manager, takes him aside, asks questions (i.e., what happened?, why did you react the way you did?) and listens before determining a consequence. “Our discipline model today is based on respect and trust by the boys,” Mills says.

Casa Hogar boysDiet also has a huge focus. To bring down hyperactivity, sugar and processed foods are kept to a minimum. “Our cooks are absolutely amazing,” Mills says. There are outdoor areas for sports, including a soccer field, and activities to look forward to, some on site with others off site. The “Cuadro de Honor” (roughly Honors Corner) bulletin board displays photos of individual boys. A separate board shows monthly birthdays.

As for education, the boys are currently enrolled in nine different schools, including an English school. As they get older, the staff works to prepare them for the day when they age out at eighteen. Together, they look at job options, work programs, the military, scholarships to continue studying. Each boy leaves with a plan. “We lose track of some, but many come back to visit,” Mills says.

Our tour escort, Emilio

Our tour escort, Emilio

Our interview wraps up with a tour. We enter the first of two large dormitory-style bedrooms, followed by Emilio, an adorable pre-schooler, who proudly shows off his bed which he and his brother make each morning . In the older boys’ dorm, Mills wryly comments that, as with most teenagers’ rooms, this one isn’t quite as neat as the younger boys’ room. In the commons area, three boys take time out from their board game for a brief conversation and photo op with us.
Asked about future plans for Casa Hogar, Mills ticks them off.  “We want to expand to serve more boys. We’d like to have a new building to house girls. We plan to pave the road out front. We need new fences and increased water storage.”

To help or find out more, visit the Casa Hogar website. Donations can be made directly to Casa Hogar or through the Solmar Foundation. Both are tax deductible in Mexico and the U.S.

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