Helping hands: La Jolla tennis players travel to Tijuana for home-build project their group financed


Over the Labor Day weekend, some tennis-playing La Jollans served up charitable acts in Mexico through the Build A Miracle program. On Sept. 1, 17 San Diegans traveled across the border for the first of what will be three trips to build and furnish a home for a family in need.

The modest house will be home to two parents and two young boys — one who loves Mickey Mouse and one who loves board games.

Lori Abnos and Genevieve McConnell started the initiative, “Community Tennis to Tijuana,” to raise enough money to build the 400-square-foot, two-bedroom home with insulation, stucco and drywall, and to decorate and furnish it. They reached out to fellow tennis players who joined them on the La Jolla Tennis Club court, and held a happy hour-themed party to raise donations. Within 45 days, they reached their $16,000 goal.

After being introduced to Build A Miracle in April 2017, Abnos accompanied a friend to a build in Mexico, and said she was moved by the experience. Since its inception in 1999, Build A Miracle has created more than 320 houses, three community centers and one cafeteria, as well as funding high school and college scholarships.

Founders Chris and Julianne North started the organization to build houses for children living in orphanages — not because they were orphans, but because their parents believed an orphanage would be better than their conditions at home.

“I was blown away by what Build A Miracle accomplished, not just with housing, but with an education component,” Abnos said. “Their mission is to break the poverty cycle, so they also built a million-dollar community center with donations, and it provides a safe place for families to play and take classes together.

“It was very rewarding for me to assist in past-build days. I’m a strong Christian and believe we’ve been blessed, and this is what we are supposed to do: give blessings to others. One time, standing out there, I saw what was around me and I looked back toward San Diego and realized that I was not that far away and yet it’s like a whole different world.”

The September trip was Abnos’ first for which her fundraising efforts would directly be responsible for the house.

“It was great. We met the family and they made a sign that said ‘Every family has a history, thank you for being part of ours.’ The mom, dad and older son wrote us a letter, and we wrote them a letter. It was really special. We got to talk to them about what they like and what their lives are like,” she said. “They are a really hard-working family and the mom makes piñatas to sell and she gave me one to take home.”

And this was all part of Day One.

In the first build day, the volunteers mixed concrete by hand and laid the foundation for the new house, side by side with the family and other members of the community. The next build days are Oct. 20 and Nov. 10.

McConnell explained her commitment to the project: “Physical volunteer work means as much to me — if not even more — than a participating financially because it requires more effort, more planning, more time, more commitment than the gesture of wring a check. Plus, sharing of the experience with other people adds to the gratification of doing something meaningful.”

Abnos continued: “The family we are building for had taken five garage doors to make a home. There are holes in it and all their stuff gets wet when it rains. There is an outhouse, but no shower. This new home will be the first time they’ve had a real shower in their home. Inside their shack was a makeshift kitchen area and one bedroom.”

Having seen these conditions during past builds, Abnos said she wanted to fund a house from the very beginning, but needed the right partner. “I thought I would save up for a few years and could sponsor a house with my son. But, I play tennis with Genevieve, and she thought we could get 30 people to give $500 each within our tennis community. She is a spunky, energetic lady! We sent out pictures and e-mails and talked it up during tennis. Within a week or two, we got $3,000. Another friend offered to host a happy hour at her home so we could talk more about it. By the end of the happy hour, we had the house funded.”

When they realized their goal had been reached, some in attendance suggested starting a fundraiser for the next house.

“I was so impressed by the work this association is doing for poor deserving families south of the border, that I couldn’t help feeling drawn to participate,” McConnell said. “Looking in the tear-filled eyes of the Mexican family taking possession of their new little house — along with their expression of hope for a better future for their children and community — was all I needed to see to know any effort and donation I could provide was more than worth it.”

A second private happy hour to thank donors and raise funds for another house is scheduled for October. Learn more at