As executive director of entertainment advertising for People and Entertainment Weekly, Chrissy Elmore Miles knows how to rock the latest fashion trends on the red carpet. But in truth, she’s most comfortable in a pair of jeans with a paintbrush in her hand, building homes in Mexico.
Chrissy first became acquainted with Youth With A Mission, an international service-based community, when she was 18. From a Youth With A Mission base in Virginia, she learned of the need in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco and felt called to serve there.
“I thought I was gonna live and die there,” she says. At that time in the ’90s, the area was home to several Cambodian refugees who lived in extreme poverty. She and a couple of her companions ran after-school programs for teenagers to keep them off the streets, such as hip-hop classes, tutoring and Friday night Bible studies.
“We were doing something,” Chrissy adds. “When you’re confidently walking in what you feel you’re supposed to be doing with your life, fear disappears.”
Eventually, Chrissy left San Francisco to attend the University of Nations and later moved to the South Bay. Little did she know how important the work she had done would be to her future.
“You realize what you’re doing is changing the trajectory of their lives. You become transformed along with the family receiving a home.”
Through her work in the Tenderloin, Chrissy became acquainted with Dick and Pat Eachus—leaders of the Youth With A Mission San Francisco base. Years later she received the news that Dick was dying of throat cancer. Chrissy, now with a husband and two kids, took the trip to San Francisco to see him one last time.
“He knew me very well. He knew what he was doing,” Chrissy says, laughing. During the dinner, Dick told Chrissy about the most impactful thing he’d ever done: build a home for a family in need in Mexico. Dick looked her in the eye and said, “I want you to promise me you’re going to take your family and you’re going to build a home.”
How could she say no? Chrissy worked to assemble a team of South Bay families to go with her to Mexico and build a home during a weekend in July. Then she reached out to the Youth With A Mission ministry Homes of Hope.
Though Homes of Hope was the parent organization, Chrissy’s team needed a name. After a long night of brainstorming, a dear friend suggested Miles of Hope, “because what if this goes on for miles and miles?”
At the time, they had no idea they would go back for a second summer. The initial build in 2012 started with just one house. The only requirement to join is a desire to serve others. Their community has grown so much that they build five houses per summer, for a total of more than 35 houses in 11 years.
“You realize what you’re doing is changing the trajectory of their lives,” Chrissy says, “You become transformed along with the family receiving a home.”
The transformation is instant. In parts of Tijuana the million-dollar ocean view is the same, but the homes are drastically different. Though residents own the land, they often live in cardboard structures with dirt floors. Most are families of five or more living on $60 USD a week.
“We make it a point on the very first day to unpack as much of this family’s story as we can,” Chrissy says. Last year one of the family’s daughters had cancer. Three times a week, the family would walk 30 minutes to the bus stop just so they could get her chemo treatments. In the Miles of Hope budget, there was enough money to purchase the family a car.
Working alongside the families to build the home, the South Bay kids on the team are also significantly impacted. The children form friendships with the kids whose houses they are building. In between moments of painting walls and hammering roofs, you’ll find kids who come from two different worlds bonding over the universal language of soccer.
“Those relationships have been transformative for them,” Chrissy says. The children on the inaugural builds are teenagers now and have started a club at Mira Costa High School to fund the home builds: Mustangs of Hope.
Many consider having a place to call home a human right. “In the course of a weekend, we take these families from floor-level poverty into the middle class,” Chrissy says. “There’s a place for them to sleep at night and dream about the future.”
The organization lives up to its name. The hope it gives these families will go on for miles and miles.