PIEDMONT -- During the upcoming spring break, a group of Piedmont High School students will learn a variety of lessons -- some of them lifelong -- from a trip to build houses for the poor in Mexico.

"I think they (the students) benefit in many ways," said Scott Kail, youth pastor at Piedmont Community Church, which sponsors the annual trip that has been going on for the past 10 years.

Kail said the students learn how to serve others, and they also get to know a lot of other people. He added that the work breaks down class and status barriers and said the students work in tight-knit groups of 15 students. In past years, students have learned lifelong principles from the Mexico trip, Kail said. For some, he said, the lessons learned strengthen their faith in God, while others choose careers as church missionaries. He also said it has affected the students' choice of college and job careers.

"It changes the way they (the students) see people in need," Kail said. "And it makes the kids appreciate the kind of life they have in Piedmont."

For the past 10 years, the event has grown from 30 students to 260 students who go each year. The church charters buses from Piedmont to San Diego. Once in San Diego, the students board 15-person passenger vans to the Greater Tijuana area -- between Tijuana and Tecate, Kail said.

To help buy building supplies and offset student costs, the church holds a "Treasure Sale" each year. This year, the sale is on Saturday and Sunday at the Piedmont Community Church.

"The fundraiser is a very popular," said Mary Margaret Sinnema, Piedmont resident and PCC member. "Over 300 local families donate to fill over five large rooms and outdoor areas with items ranging from antiques, to bikes, to jewelry, furniture, tools, toys, women's accessories, housewares, small appliances, collectibles, books, artwork, sports equipment and more."

In Mexico, the students will help build 16 houses. Each house has a single pitched roof, a locking front door and two windows. Each house is for one family -- who typically have been living on the street, in a car or under a lean-to, Kail said.

"It's a dramatic improvement in their living circumstances," Kail said of the families receiving the houses.

The house means the children of the family will be sick less often and have a chance at an education. The students from Piedmont get to hand the family the keys to the house, which costs the family nothing. Students have built more than 145 houses during the past 10 years.

Ninety-eight percent of the students who go on the trip are from Piedmont High School, but the trip is open to students from other schools. About one-half of the students attend PCC, but many are from different faiths such as Judaism and Islam.

"It's the best week of my year," said Pam McBain, a Piedmont resident and parent, who goes on the trip. "And that includes vacations."

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