On a trip to Guatemala 20 years ago, Sven Gustafson met the two women who would change his life. He met his wife, Anna, and Betty Merida, a woman who runs a mission, working with local pastors in the community of Sumpango, a suburb of Guatemala City. And it was through his connection with Betty that Sven was able to start a project that would change many lives: the 141 Project.
The idea for the 141 Project came about when Sven, founder and CEO of Stonewood, which builds custom luxury homes, was round-tabling with a group of builders. The question came up: what do you give your clients as a move-in gift?
Sven recalled, “A lot of really run-of-the-mill ideas came out like, we give them a toolset or fill their refrigerator with food. To give a client something as trivial as a bottle of wine or a set of screwdrivers seemed trivial given the scale of the project that we’d just completed. As upper bracket home builders, building multi-million dollar homes, clients have everything they need. I felt we could do something more meaningful."
Inspired by his trip to Guatemala and seeing the housing crisis, Sven knew how he and other builders could help. Instead of a bottle of wine as a move-in gift, for every home they build in the US, they would build a home for a family in need in Guatemala.
“Reflecting on how appreciative the families in Guatemala are as they see their new home being built, I can’t think of anything more meaningful to do for our clients as a move-in gift. The blessing of building a home for a family here and then doubling that blessing by building a home for a family who would otherwise never have one,” says Sven.
And the 141 Project began. One home for one home.
Working with Betty alongside her organization, Breaking Cycles in Guatemala, Betty has now become known as the one who can give people homes. “They’ve got a long list of people interested. A pastor will go around and determine if they’re truly a family in need who qualifies for a home,” explains Sven.
To qualify, the families need to have children, and often, being a single-parent family is one of the qualifying factors. They need to own the land and be able to pay a small percentage of the cost of building the home so that they are invested in the project.
“For us Americans,” says Sven, “home doesn’t seem like the right term for it. The homes we build are 12x15 feet, with a window and a door, concrete floor and walls, corrugated tin ceiling, and white plaster on the exterior.”
But home is exactly the right term. Typically, they’re replacing a structure made of corn stalks or collected sheet metal or sometimes only cardboard, where a family of four or six were living and all sharing one bed. As a part of the mission, Breaking Cycles will also provides bunk beds for the kids to give them a separate space from the rest of the family.
Having this home is life-changing. It provides safety, protection from the weather, improves the health of the family, and allows for children to attend school.
Sven shares the story of Celeste. “Not only did we build her family home, but we’ve been sponsoring her to go to school. Now because her mother doesn’t have to worry about where they live, she can work and send her children to school instead of needing them to work alongside her to help make ends meet.”
The partnership between 141 Project, Betty, and Breaking Cycles, enables kids to take a different path in life where, otherwise, they wouldn’t see it as an option.
In partnership with the 141 Project, Breaking Cycles has helped build over 150 homes for Guatemalan families. “We’re hoping that’s a small milestone,” says Sven. Looking forward, they’ve been working with partners in Haiti and elsewhere with the hope to expand into other countries in need. “The 141 project has become part of our company’s culture. It inspires our employees and increases our collective passion for what we do building and remodeling homes,” says Sven.
“We’re working to draw in builders around the country to join the 141 project and donate a home with every home they build. We have several local and national builder partners like Highmark Builders in Savage that share our vision.”
You don’t have to build a home to donate a home. Learn how you can donate at: the141.org