UF class constructing a safe haven for migrants

University of Florida senior architecture students put up a beam along the inside of the mobile home on Feb 14, 2014 in Newberry. The project is for their senior architecture capstone course and they will be receiving credit for their work.

Alex Sanchez/Correspondent
Published: Friday, March 7, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 8:51 p.m.

Nestled between the Tioga Town Center and expensive homes on Newberry Road, several migrant farmworker families live squeezed into a rotting 1978 mobile home and a tiny camper trailer.


How you can help

If you would like to donate supplies to professor Charlie Hailey's class, contact Hailey at 256-1216 or email him at clhailey@ufl.edu. If you would like to donate money for the repairs, send donations to Dr. Maria Coady-Bedard, president of Language Education and Development, at 11124 NW 18th Road or at maria@languageeducate.org. In a memo line or attached note, indicate that the donation is for "Project Build for Migrants."

Early in the morning, the adult migrants who live there go to the fields and work for $7.50 an hour preparing for the watermelon season. At night, they travel back along the dirt road to sleep in the mobile home and trailer that are falling apart.

The roof of the trailer leaks when it rains. At night, raccoons and other large rodents break through the mobile home's rotten floorboards and wreak havoc in the kitchen, while rats sneak into the pantry and eat the families' food.

The mobile home and trailer, which are shrouded from the path by trees, belong to Latino church pastor Dino, 50, and his wife, Maria, 48. And although they don't have much, Dino and Maria, who asked that their last names not be used out of fear of persecution, offer their home to anyone in the migrant community — even a stranger — who needs a place to stay.

Now a University of Florida architecture class is working to make sure Dino and Maria can continue sharing their home with others.

Charlie Hailey, an associate professor in the College of Design, Planning and Construction, said his class of 16 senior architecture students has been working three days a week since January to rebuild the mobile home and trailer for the families who live there as part of their semester class. The class is working in collaboration with the Alachua Multi-County Migrant Education Program of Gainesville on home repairs that are critical to the families' safety.

The team tore down a wall and put in a new beam in the mobile home; replaced the kitchen, dining room and living room floors; insulated a wall panel that was rotting; and they are constructing a deck that connects the mobile home and the trailer, Hailey said.

"We've gotten about $400 so far, but the expected cost is about $5,000 for everything," he said.

The family has been happy with the students' work so far, Maria said. Early on, the team sat down with the family to design their new home.

"They're very friendly and loving," she said in Spanish. "We're so grateful for what they're doing to our home."

Jennifer Dianison, one of the students working on the mobile home, said the team also plans to replace the cabinets and windows and make an office for Dino. The team works around the family's schedule and is expecting to be done before the spring semester is over.

"It's the first time a lot of us here have actually done any actual construction," she said. "It's cool to see it come to life."

Jessica Klink and four other students recently were marking with string the distance between posts for the deck that will connect the mobile home and the trailer.

Klink said her team is planning to install benches on the deck that will function as extra storage space and create more living space. In the trailer, a woman named Irma and her two children sleep cramped in one bed, so the team is planning to switch the large bed for individual fold-up beds, Klink said.

"It's been awesome working on this," Klink said. "We're limited on our budget and limited on supplies, but it's a lot more rewarding."

For Jonathan Jimenez, the most surprising thing about working on this project is how close the mobile home and trailer are to some of Gainesville's most expensive residences.

"I was talking about it with my parents," he said. "There's such an extreme difference in wealth in the area."

Although Jimenez and many in his class don't speak Spanish, they say they've grown close to the family. On Maria's birthday, the family invited the students to a bonfire, where Maria cooked them chicharrones and tortillas, Jimenez said.

Ruth Reyes, a migrant advocate with the Alachua Multi-County Migrant Education Program of Gainesville, has worked with Dino and Maria for some time and said many workers routinely stay at their home. In the migrant farmworker community, it is easy to find people who aren't related who live together for a season and even extended periods of time, she said.

Irma, who has been staying with Maria and Dino for more than a year, came to stay with the family after she and her children were forced to leave a women's shelter near Live Oak because of a limit on the time individuals can stay at the shelter.

Although her family lives squashed into the trailer, here she is safe from the domestic abuse she escaped from before she moved into the women's shelter, Reyes said.

"Anyone is welcome in their home," Irma said. "Maria and Dino don't charge anyone. They offer what they have, and they don't turn anyone away."

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