1. Can you explain what your program, De Colores, works to accomplish?
Katie North (K.N.): It is a weekend immersion program in Mexico. It was started in the 1980s by my parents, but essentially nowadays it’s about 15 to 20 [LMU] students that go down to Mexico for the weekend and they usually work on a project with our nonprofit to build homes and then they do activities with the community. They’re really focused on integrating with the community and sharing people’s stories and working alongside the community in Mexico and they also focus on immigration. So they stay at a home for migrants who have either just been deported or are moving up north. They go to the border and learn a lot about issues on immigration and poverty.
2. What influenced you to found De Colores while at LMU?
Chris North (C.N.): The inspiration behind the founding of De Colores was a particular home in Northern Mexico, in Tecate, that was for boys from 9 to 18 years old. There are hundreds of orphanages or children’s homes that are for little kids and we as a group of LMU students went and visited this place in probably 1982 and just fell in love with it. So, I personally wanted to stay involved and started inviting more people and then met Julianne at that very place and it all clicked. Once she decides she wants to do something and likes something, she puts all her effort into it. She’s a great organizer. Once she went, between the two of us we started inviting other people and almost every weekend they would go to Tecate with other students. And that wasn’t even formally part of Campus Ministry at that point, but it became more and more a part of Campus Ministry and now it’s a formal thing that’s been going on for 30 years.
3. How are the two of you still involved?
C.N.: After graduating and getting married, Julianne and I went down and took over the administration of that place and were running it. LMU students kept coming and participating. When we were there in 1989, we realized that most of the boys came from loving families that were just really poor, and we were putting all of this effort into raising these funds and getting all of these people excited about growing a place for people to send their kids. As we were about to move back to the U.S. and start our family, we transitioned to building homes so the families could stay together. We almost decided to put our own beloved boys' home out of business because we thought those kids should be [with] their families if they could be. So then, just throughout the '90s and on we built Build a Miracle, but De Colores stayed involved. They followed us into the community and out of the orphanages and that’s what their involvement is. So all of the stuff that Katie described [De Colores does] happened as De Colores followed Build a Miracle into the communities to build homes and provide scholarships so families could earn enough to stay together and have a safe place to live together. The idea was that boys would not have to live away from mom and dad.
4. What service project would you say has been the most significant or impactful in your life?
K.N.: My freshman year we ended up raising money for a family, which was really cool because throughout the year we were going on trips and raising money. We had a big garage sale. We had people who went on the trips reach out to people. We were working alongside this family for a year and they were the family that we raised money for. So then at the very last trip of the year we finished their home and that was a super awesome moment. I love that family, I’m still really close with them. I see them now as I still go down.
5. What role has LMU played in your service journey?
C.N.: So from Julianne’s perspective, LMU is where she got to learn how to be a leader. Especially when we were here, when the students started something, they could run with it. We had friends in the same era who go [went] into [working against] the apartheid because that was a big issue and it just took off and they did so much. And I really think it was the place where Julianne learned that absolutely anything is [possible]. It was an LMU-specific thing because at too many places or universities people don’t have the opportunity to make things. Katie came and basically did the same thing. She got involved in so many different programs and affected so many different lives. It’s pretty amazing.
K.N.: I grew up going down to Mexico all the time and being very involved in that community, but at LMU I feel like I really made it my own; it was my choice. LMU was an amazing place to learn and grow as they were saying today. I got involved in tons of things like Belles Service Organization, [and] I got to study abroad in El Salvador and be a part of the community there. I feel like at LMU I really learned a lot about the power of listening to someone and hearing their story and making someone feel like they matter – and I decided I wanted to be a nurse while I was here. I wanted a career that is literally serving people everyday.
6. How long have you been doing service?
K.N.: I was 2 when I first went down so it was kind of something that you just did. You go to soccer practice and then you go to Mexico. It was something I could easily jump into and from there it opened so many friendships and windows.
7. Have you been faced with any challenges on your service trips?
K.N.: I think sometimes, at least as a college student, I went to nursing school and I stayed involved in Mexico. The actual trips are amazing and fulfilling, it’s more juggling it with other things in your life because you always want to make it a priority but you might have homework and other projects and things are just going on and you’re like “oh, I’m going to Mexico two weekends this month." But then you get there and everything melts away and you’re in the community like “wow, this is why I’m here.”
8. What does the future of the De Colores program look like to you?
K.N.: Well the cool thing is, when my parents first started [Build a Miracle], they had the idea of building one home a year and raising money to help one family. This past year, we built like 45 homes. At this point we would’ve been on home 20, but instead it’s almost 400 homes. So I think the cool thing was that was never predicted and it totally snowballed into this whole thing because the community in Mexico completely stepped up and have their ideas and are running things. We just built this community center that I couldn’t have even imagined a few years ago. I feel like anything can happen.
C.N.: I think some of it may be predictable. In our case, it wouldn’t be something that we necessarily guide, but people that have been involved for generations happily give their opinion on. One thing I noticed is the Campus Ministry leaders have been in charge of it for probably six or seven years–every one of them, because it’s a student led organization, they bring in a certain aspect to it. Every year one group graduates and another one comes in. So every year there’s a combination of these students influencing it. So it really is, in a way, this cool blank slate. Unless some external force comes in like a University policy that makes it hard to do what the students want to do or something happens outside. I think it’s a fun question not to answer because there could be a freshman starting next year who adds some really cool aspect to it. I noticed we’ve had waves of groups that have a more spiritual aspect to it and get into the more prayerful part of it, and others really connect. There are groups where there’s a lot more bilingual students involved. I could go on and on.
9. What has the Hidden Heroes recognition ceremony meant to you?
K.N.: I had no idea what to expect from this event, but I thought it was super cool to see. It was really awesome to hear the other stories. All three of us really love LMU and it was really cool to see these LMU alumni, professors and affiliated people and all the incredible things that they’re doing in the world. Then to see them blend the stories at the end and they used these key words. It was really cool to see how LMU plants these little seeds everywhere and they’re just grown into these incredible things. Who even knows out of all the people who have been here, graduated from here, like what’s happening in their world.
10. What advice would you give to students wanting to get involved in service?
Julianne North: I always tell students even when they come to our house, it’s always important to find a life where you’re thinking of other people above yourself. It brings joy to your life and it brings good people into your life. So anyone that we know that we’ve met through our work is always an amazing person. So then you’re just surrounded by all this goodness all the time. Plus the people who you are now working with are amazing. I don’t think there’s anything better than you can do with your life, really. I love it when they come to Mexico with us but, if not there, they can do it anywhere they are in life. So at their church, at their school, in their neighborhood, whatever it is, but just find something where they’re thinking of someone other than themselves.
C.N.: They can bring that into their family life as they go forward, or their work life. You can be in a job, you can be a stockbroker, a mechanic, and you can approach life as working hard for those that are on your team. It’s a way of living. It brings a lot of special things to life. Also bring your gift. I think our gifts are suited to what we do. If someone’s gift is something else than they should find a place where their gifts can benefit.
Additional reporting done by Molly Jean Box, asst. news editor