Converting Homebuyer Move-In Gifts to Homes for the Poor

The 141 Project is a nonprofit coalition of home builders that raises money to build homes for impoverished families overseas while fostering goodwill with clients in the U.S.

By Mike Beirne, Senior Editor | July 1, 2020
concrete block home under construction in Guatemala
Putting up the concrete-block walls of the Xicon family's home in Guatemala. | Photos: courtesy The 141 Project

Sometimes the answer to a problem isn't the obvious solution that's right in front of us. The story behind the formation of The 141 Project is that a germ of an idea sprouted from somewhere unplanned and turned into a movement. The nonprofit started in 2019 by Sven Gustafson, president and CEO of Stonewood, a custom builder in Wayzata, Minn., along with  members of his NAHB Builder 20 ClubPlatinum Homes by Mark Molthan, in Dallas; John Buchan Homes, in Bellevue, Wash.; Mike Schaap Builders, in Holland, Mich.; and Highmark Builders, in Savage, Minn. They raised funds to hire local masons and carpenters in Guatemala to build 22 concrete-block homes for families that were living in shacks with dirt floors. Funding for each home was about $3,500, but that cost likely will be lower in other countries where The 141 Project is expanding. Forty more homes already have been funded, and Gustafson is aiming to build 100 houses in 2020.

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Sven Gustafson is the president and CEO of custom building company Stonewood
J. Sven Gustafson
President/CEO
Stonewood
Wayzata, Minn.

Pro Builder: How did you get involved in The 141 Project, and how does it work?

Sven Gustafson: A few years ago, I was sitting with a group of builders discussing the move-in gifts we purchase for our customers. As the conversation progressed, I couldn't help but reflect on the amount of money we were spending on these gifts, which, although they're a nice gesture, have a relatively insignificant impact on our customers. The ratio just seemed out of balance to me. We could literally build an entire home in some parts of the world for the price of a couple thousand dollar move-in gift. 

So that's where The 141 concept started: a simple strategy to use the move-in gift money to purchase the materials and build a home in an under-resourced part of the world. Then, as builders, we can offer that built home as a gift to our customer. 

Our companies, Stonewood and Revision [Stonewood’s remodeling division], have been making this donation directly for many years. In speaking with other builders, we found they love the idea but don’t have the time or capacity to manage the effort on their own. 

We started inviting other like-minded builders to join our effort, and the response has been fantastic. We’re hoping that by year’s end we’ll build 100 homes in 2020, then grow well beyond that figure in subsequent years. Currently, The 141 Project functions as a nonprofit that builds homes around the world. Our mission is to empower local community development initiatives by funding and building homes. The process is simple: any builder can donate their move-in gift amount to The 141 Project. In turn, we allocate 100% of those funds to build a home with one of our trusted community partners around the world. And finally, the builder is then able to engage the customer by offering the move-in gift of a built home for a family in need.

 

The Hernandez family in Guatamala and their new home built by The 141 Project
The Hernandez family in front of their new home.

PB: Tell us about some of the recipients of these homes. How are they selected? What were their lives like before and what are they like after receiving their new home?

SG: The 141 Project prides itself on being a community development organization, meaning that all of our home projects are selected and built by local leadership in their own communities. Our team has more than 30 years of international missions experience, so we're fortunate to have many strong international partners. These partners select the families based on need and the family's commitment to partner in the process. 

For example, one of our strongest partnerships is in rural Guatemala. Our local community leader has selected over 20 families this past year to receive homes. One of those was the Hernandez family, in which a single mother of five children lived in a 10-by-10-foot hut with dirt floors and temporary walls. Through the donation from one builder to The 141 Project, local Guatemalan builders were able to build her a modest but safe 500-square-foot home with block walls and a concrete floor. Her children are thrilled to have a bedroom for the first time in their lives. And, to bring The 141 Project full circle, there is now a beautiful picture of the Hernandez family and their new home in the customer's new home in Wayzata, Minn. 

The interior of the Juarez family's new home
Interior of the Juarez Cruz family home.

PB: How do the donations find their way to funding the crew that builds the home?

SG: The 141 Project operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and 100% of the funds donated through a builder's gift go toward the international home build. The money is distributed throughout the year to our trusted international partners who hire the local labor and oversee the building process. All international building projects are reported and published in our annual report, for celebration and transparency. Our team regularly visits the international sites to review the work that’s been done and to support our local partnerships.

PB: How does a builder get involved?

SG: If you're a builder interested in donating your move-in gift funds or getting involved in any way, please contact us on our builders page. Once a builder signs on, we take care of everything—managing the donations at the completion of their projects and providing information and photos of the family that has received a home. 

 

The courtyard at the Juarez Cruz house built by The 141 Project in Guatemala
Exterior of the Juarez Cruz concrete block home in Guatemala built with funding from The 141 Project.

PB: How are the operations of The 141 Project funded? What are the goals for 2020-21?

SG: Like most nonprofits, there are operational costs for our organization to support our community partnerships. The 141 Project hosts separate fundraising events throughout the year to support these costs. We're proud to say that 100% of the builder's funds go to building and funding our international home builds, making this a true one-for-one project. To date, the organization's overhead has been funded by builder partners that support The 141 Project's work. 

In 2021, we are excited to expand the reach of our organization to two new community partnerships in the Bahamas and Tanzania. As our organization grows, this means more homes built in more communities. Our goal is to build 140 homes by the end of 2021 in Guatemala, the Bahamas, and Tanzania. We are also excited to introduce volunteer trip experiences to all three of these locations in 2021. Whether you are excited to build alongside our local community partners, meet some of our amazing international families while on a voluntourism vacation, or summit Mt. Kilimanjaro alongside some of our Tanzanian community partners, we have the trip of a lifetime experience available for you.

 

Mike Beirne is the senior editor of Professional Builder and Custom Builder magazines. A two-time Jesse H. Neal Award winner, Mike has nearly 30 years of journalism experience plus numerous news and feature writing awards, including honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of Business Press Editors, and the National Association of Real Estate Editors. He also operated a masonry restoration business for more than two decades.

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