Krusty Gamez has dedicated his life to volunteer work.
“I gain energy from doing something for others,” says Gamez. “When someone says thank you, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Yet, when an engineering friend of his asked Gamez to help build a cafeteria for a school hidden in the mountains of Colombia, he wasn’t initially keen on the idea. Gamez, who trained in college as an electrical engineer, has taken on construction projects in the past. This job, however, was significantly larger both in scope and budget.
So, he wanted to say no.
The Francisco Julian Olaya School, located in a remote mountainous area of Colombia known as Rio Blanco, is home to 600 students.
Half of the students have to walk to get there. Due to the mountains in the area, some spend as much as 2.5 hours walking to and from school. Others have to walk as far as nine miles.
And once they get there, it’s an 8.5-hour school day.
Gamez and children of The Francisco Julian Olaya School saying hello to folks back home.
These children come from economically challenged backgrounds. Many of them walk through fields where animals may attack them should they bring food along. Animals aren’t the only threat the kids might face.
“If the students walk to school, there’s a chance they may be robbed,” says Gamez.
The Colombian government is ready to provide students with snack and lunch as part of a program they offer. However, there is no space on the campus that could be used to prepare and serve the food, so the school has been unable to take advantage of this program. These children may go hours without food while trying to learn.
Gamez did not want to say yes. However, he couldn’t say no.
So, he asked his boss at Louisville-based Buffalo Construction, Inc. if he could do it. He realized it would mean missing some work time and working remotely.
“My boss said it was a great idea,” recalls Gamez. “He sent me to talk to the CFO and vice president for their approval, and each of them approved and said they would try and help.”
Sierra Baumle, Brand Curator at Buffalo Construction, says, “The herd’s motto is Building Better! and I can’t think of a better cause to build than this.”
Not only did Buffalo Construction approve Gamez’s mission, but they also offered support. Gamez has been granted the time in Colombia to manage the project, and the company has significantly helped to fund it. They’ve even encouraged others to volunteer and help manage the build if they choose to.
Footing the Bill
Funding the project has been a big concern of Gamez.
“One of the reasons I didn’t want to do the project is because I don’t like asking people for money,” Gamez says.
Gamez’s colleagues at Buffalo Construction suggested a GoFundMe page.
“Krusty approached me because he was looking for a way to communicate the project to different groups in an effort to raise funds,” says Baumle. She, in turn, created the GoFundMe campaign which has given donors an easy way to support the cause as well as to share the message with a larger audience.
Students at Francisco Julian Olaya School
And what is the budget? According to Gamez, $47,000 is needed for the project. Currently, they are around halfway to that number. Gamez contributed $8,000 himself.
The building is a 40- by 60-foot open frame structure with a metal and tile roof. It will also include a kitchen. Once complete, the dining area will seat 80 children. Gamez describes it as the basic “jungle-style building.”
The project may touch a chord with many; Gamez himself feels especially connected. He was raised in California, Philippines, Panama, and Colombia, yet his heart remains in Colombia.
When war broke out in Colombia, Gamez and his family left. After his parents passed, he migrated back to Colombia.
“It’s home for me,” says Gamez. “I love the people and the food and am at peace there.”
While he lived in Colombia, Gamez served as an ESL teacher. He taught construction classes on his days off to students of all ages. They did work for schools, churches, and medical groups.
In 2001, Gamez’s life changed dramatically when his wife was killed in a car accident. He left his job and migrated back to the United States.
Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Gamez was hired by Living Color Aquariums. He served as a design engineer for fish tanks. He was also on a television show called Fish Tank Kings. It was the show that led him to Buffalo Construction —a friend who knew him from Living Color invited Gamez to work at the company.
While Gamez’s official title at Buffalo Construction is Project Engineer, Baumle says, “He’s a jack-of-all-trades and wears several different hats within our organization, from project manager to photographer.” Gamez also manages Buffalo’s Vendor Partner approval process and database and is the company’s Procore learning ambassador.
It Will Be Built
Though Gamez is hoping to have volunteers to help him, he understands some people may be reluctant to join him due to the misperceptions of the area. If he has to do the work himself, Gamez says the project could take up to one or two years (his plan is to be on-site for three-week increments every 6–8 weeks).
Director explaining what Gamez and crew are building.
That timeline hasn’t swayed Gamez who says he is committed to completing the new cafeteria.
“I never give up on anything,” says Gamez. “Whatever it takes, I’m going to build it.”