Heart and Home

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R. CHRISTIAN SONNE sure hoped the famed Kinsella line “If you build it, they will come” was true, because if they didn’t come, not much would be built. Last fall, Sonne committed his business, Self Storage Economics (SSE), to lead an ambitious charitable project in Mexico. In a partnership with “Corazón for Christmas,” the California-based real-estate consulting company would erect an entire house in a single day for a family in need.

SSE’s formidable task was to raise $5,500 and enlist the help of 50 volunteers to travel to Nuevo Milenio, Mexico, for 12 hours of hard labor on Dec. 11, as directed by organizers of the familia Corazón program. Sonne strongly believed in the project. But would his enthusiasm be contagious?

“One thing that really appealed to us about Corazón is the people who receive the benefit really work hard for it—they prepare for it and are on the site working with us. It’s really a hand up, not a hand out,” he says. “We saw this as an opportunity to do something tangible, meaningful and lasting for a reasonable amount of time and money.”

In September, SSE launched its campaign with a letter to clients across the United States, asking for help. Details about the project were posted on the company website and e-mailed to registered users. At the company’s Huntington Beach home office, staff quickly rallied behind the program. “We have four appraisers, along with myself, a database manager and one administrative-support person,” Sonne says. “There was no requirement or anything, but everybody decided to participate.”

And staff members weren’t alone. Something about Corazón for Christmas, or “Heart for Christmas,” resonated with SSE customers. Within six weeks, $4,000 had been donated and dozens of people had committed to the trip. Bank clients called to say they’d bring four or five people to volunteer. “It’s just been overwhelming to see the response to the program,” Sonne says. “Even people who’ve known us only through the Internet, with whom we’ve exchanged data and other things over the years, are contacting us to say they just like the sound and feel of this project.”

House Proud

Corazón for Christmas is an all-volunteer, longstanding nonprofit organization formed in 1978 to serve the poor in Mexico. Corazón helps the poor by allowing them to earn their way out of poverty. Through working on neighborhood projects, family members earn hours they can exchange for food, clothing, tools and other supplies.

House building has become a cornerstone of the organization. One day isn’t much time to build a house, but Corazón has perfected the process over the years. Each structure is 16 by 20 feet, built on a concrete slab poured ahead of time by village residents as a community project. The house has no plumbing or electricity, but includes four windows, a tiled kitchen counter, stove, sleeping loft and provisions for a future toilet. Such a design lends itself to the program because families can later earn assistance in improving the home with drywall and bathroom upgrades.

Corazón is similar to Habitat for Humanity, acknowledges Sonne, who was drawn to the idea of helping the poorest of the poor in Mexico, where social services are scarce. He discovered the home-building project while actively seeking a worthwhile charity. “The self-storage industry and business in general has been very good for Self-Storage Economics,” he says. “I subscribe to the idea of corporate philanthropy, of giving something back and sharing the good things we have. Corazón brought to mind our personal values of relieving suffering wherever there is need.”

Alive in 2005

This past Christmas season was the first time SSE participated in the Corazón program, but it won’t be the last. Already Sonne is planning for next year and inviting everyone in the industry to join the effort. Information regarding donations and volunteering in 2005 is on the company’s website.

“This project is new for us, but I hope it’s only one of many in years to come,” Sonne says. “People are so generous in the selfstorage industry, and it’s fun getting to know them. I really enjoy serving as an appraiser to the industry, and this takes it a step further: It’s great conversation with people about how life is good, and how it’s good to give something back.”

As of press time, more than enough volunteers had committed to the Dec. 11 home-build date, and Self Storage Economics was well on track to reach its monetary target. For photographs and a summary of how the project unfolded, visit www.selfstorageeconomics.com.

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