Tamale Fundraising Success!

#TeamBLV catches up with Sofia Perez, a young woman that has been fundraising in order to cover the expense to participate in our service program in Cuba. Sofia and her entire family cooked, sold,  and delivered 200 dozen tamales – that’s quite a feat!

The scoop from Sofia below:

BLV: What is your known cultural heritage? 
SP: My entire family is Mexican and I am Mexican as well. My mom was born in California but both her parent were born in Mexico and my dad was was born in Baja California, Mexico. My first language was Spanish, at home my mom and dad speak Spanish, and at all family gatherings Spanish is usually the language being spoken.
BLV: Do you consider yourself multicultural?
SP: I would consider myself very multicultural, especially considering my environment. Going to a school where the majority of the population is caucasian, it is easier to blend in and ignore my background, but I do my best to avoid that. Like I said earlier, my first language was Spanish. I am fluent in both English and Spanish, but I tend to feel slightly insecure with my Spanish skills, just because there was a period of time where I did not speak Spanish as frequently as I do now. All of my family trips are usually to Mexico and I love them. Since  I was a little girl, my family and I visit my dad’s family in Baja California. The last two trips to Mexico have been to Quintana Roo and Guanajuato. Both trips were amazing experiences but Guanajuato allowed me to see more culture because it was less touristy. I come from a family of immigrants. My dad immigrated when he was 18, my grandma and her siblings immigrated when they were teenagers between the ages of 13-18, my grandpa immigrated when he was 18, and the list goes on and on. My family is the biggest reason I choose to embrace my culture, everything they’ve worked for and achieved motivates me to remain true to my background.
BLV: What about the global service learning program in Cuba interested you?
SP: I’ve always wanted to go abroad to do something like a service trip or study abroad. When I was told about the program in Cuba, I was instantly on board. One of my biggest goals is to be able help my community, for example when I go to Mexico and I see the living conditions and just the way of life in Mexico, I’m humbled but I always leave wishing I could have done something bigger to help.
This service program in Cuba is the perfect opportunity for me to help and it allows me the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone with this experience.
BLV: Where did you get your fundraising idea? Who helped? Give us the scoop on everything!
About 4 years ago my family and I did a similar fundraiser for my dad’s coworker. His coworker has a son with a chronic lung disorder and they were trying to raise money to fly him to Pennsylvania and my dad volunteered my grandma to sell her tamales. So when my family found out that I was going to Cuba, we collaborated and decided to do another tamale fundraiser like we did in the past. I would like credit mostly my mom and grandma and dad for everything.
My family that wasn’t able to help with the making of the tamales donated money to buy the supplies, my grandma offered to do everything at her house so we could use her newly renovated kitchen.
My dad works at Enloe Hospital in the surgical department, his department alone ordered half of our total order of tamales, which is an estimated amount of 80 dozen. The rest of the orders were placed by family, friends, teachers, neighbors, coworkers…you name it.
The actual process of making tamales is quite rigorous and time consuming. On Friday morning my grandma began to cook the meat, so it would cool down by the time we needed it and so we could use the broth to make the masa. Friday night we started to actually make the masa, clean the tamale husks, and make the chilé sauce, this was all done by my mom, my Yaya (grandma), my Tia Ceci, and my Tia Lili. Friday night we made about 6 dozen. Saturday, we spent the entire day making tamales from 9am to midnight. Saturday we were given a little more help, my Yaya’s neighbor Kathleen and two of my Yaya’s comadres. Saturday we made about 130 dozen. Sunday, we took it a little slower and made an additional 50 dozen.
My Yaya was the “leader”, we used her recipe, she made the salsa and masa. My mom and tia’s spread and filled the tamales. I would make masa with my Yaya and I packed all of them into the bags. We delivered them throughout the week to everyone who ordered the tamales.
BLV: Were you surprised by the results of your tamale drive?
SP: Yes! I was very surprised. Not only with the amount of people that ordered tamales ordered, but how much people loved them. The following week my family was overwhelmed with messages asking to order more tamales.
BLV: Would you be interested in sharing tamale making with your host family in Cuba?
SP: Yes I would love to share tamale making with my host family. I think that will be a perfect way to bond and create a connection with my host family!


#TeamBLV catches up with Marysol Perez, the proud mother of 14 year old Sofia, a program participant that has been fundraising in order to cover the expense to participate in our service program in Cuba. Marysol and the entire family made and sold 200 dozen tamales – that’s quite a feat! We sat down and asked to get the scoop on their recent fundraising success!


BLV: Tell us about the fundraiser and how you assisted with the project.


MP: This time of year is actually the perfect time for making tamales; because the weather is cooler and the holidays are upon us. This project was made possible by the help and tremendous support of  family and friends; we are a very tight knit traditional Mexican family. So when Sofia let the family know she was participating in a service trip to Cuba with BLV and needed to raise funds for the trip in March the family all jumped in and said “TAMALIZA”! Our goal was to sell 50-75 dozens, at least cover 50% of the cost of the service trip, we were not expecting the turnout we had.

We knew we had a very busy schedule coming up with Sofia; school, social events, athletics, vacations, etc.  We decided that the weekend of November 9-11 would be best, since we were all available and it was a 3-day weekend, when I say  all available I am referring to; my mom, my two aunts, my husband, Sofia and I. My sister was out of town that weekend but she contributed towards the purchase of supplies. My mom also contributed towards supplies and provided her kitchen and command central; her home is our family hub anyways, she also enlisted the help of her two girlfriends and neighbor;  my cousin that lives two hours away surprised us and showed up to help.

We are actually quite organized when it comes to the tamale making process, this isn’t our first rodeo with the mass production of them; four years ago my husband volunteered our family to make tamales as a fundraiser to benefit a coworkers chronically ill child; we made 150 dozens that time, but in the span of 2 weekends.

In our family tamale making is no joke!

In our family you earn the task you are allowed to do, in the tamale making process.  My mom, known in the family as “Yaya” is our leader when it comes to the Mexican kitchen and your tasks is assigned by her; she being the leader does it ALL. So in the tamale making process my aunt Lili and I are in charge of spreading the masa on the corn husks, my aunt Cecilia fills the tamales with the meat and Sofia wraps the tamales. Sofia was also in charge of cleaning and soaking the corn husks, as well as packaging the dozens. No one was left without a task.

We used my mom’s stove as well as a Camp Chef 3 burner outdoor stove to cook the tamales, had about 7 huge steamers going at different times, one of them was a triple decker and held about 8 dozens per level, that was our favorite steamer!


BLV: How much masa does it take to make 200 dozen tamales?


MP: Ahhh- the masa…If you know anything about tamales, you know that the masa is the most important part of the tamale, you have to get the masa right! This is an estimate based on the bags of masa flour and supplies,  to give you a glimpse of the process; we purchased about 20 5lb bags = 100 lbs of just masa flour (unprepared) once you prep it, with the stock, fat, salt, baking powder etc. I would say 250 lbs of masa was prepared for our tamales.


BLV: Did people pre-order? How did you deliver the tamales?


MP: Yes all orders were pre-ordered, though we kept on receiving orders as we were making them. To be honest I was quite nervous because I felt I didn’t announce the fundraiser to friends and family with a lot of time; I believe I personally gave my contacts a 2 day notice. My mom, aunt, and cousin also shared fundraiser details with their contacts. Sofia emailed teachers (past and present), and told friends, one of the teachers she emailed took it upon herself and told Sofia she would forward her email to the staff at the Junior High. The staff there was very supportive and delighted to hear Sofia was embarking on this journey.

I’ve got to give credit to my husband Daniel, he actually spearheaded the fundraiser for us. He works at the local hospital; in the surgery department and started spreading the word; they had been waiting for this day! One of his coworkers really stepped in and assisted him in taking orders; his department alone placed 80+ dozens of tamales. The first day he texted me I’ve got 48 orders, then another 9 and then another 12 and so on.

We delivered tamales starting Sunday, my husband picked up a huge batch – his departments orders, and texted people he knew that he could deliver in that moment if needed. We had tamales stored in multiple refrigerators… five (5) to be exact. Our orders came as far north as Red Bluff, CA and down to the Central Valley in Merced, CA a span of 245 miles.

Sofia and I spent Monday, November 11th delivering tamales to local friends in Chico. We also took 2 trips to my husbands workplace; delivering the a.m. crew order and then in the evening to deliver the p.m. crew order. The next day I delivered to my workplace and to the middle school.

The whole experience was very gratifying, we were overwhelmed with the amount of support we received from everyone that supported the Tamale Fundraiser. The most rewarding part was the experience of togetherness; family and culture that Sofia gained from participating in her fundraiser, she was in it the whole time. I am still receiving messages from people saying how much they enjoyed the tamales, that they were the best they ever tasted. They tell me they could tell they were made with love… which they were!


BLV: Would you share your tamale recipes with us to share publicly? You will be given credit.


MP: I would have to ask the family matriarch for that one – my mother; she has never kept a recipe for anything, takes after my grandmother, it’s sacrilegious to use recipes, in the Mojica-Barajas household.


BLV: What do you hope that Sofia will gain from this global service learning program?

I just want her to experience the world and appreciate other cultures.She is our wanderlust, she has the travel bug, loves visiting new places and meeting new people.  Both my husband and I want her to learn, appreciate and most importantly respect other cultures. I also believe it will be an excellent opportunity for her to challenge herself and use her Spanish speaking abilities. Spanish was Sofia’s first language growing up until kindergarten, she lost her confidence in speaking it along the way. Being in a Spanish speaking country by herself, will push her to use her Spanish.




Dallas Teen Inspires Change in the World via Education, Travel, and Service


Alexis Soria is a young woman on a mission and she’s got a lot of supporters cheering her on along the way. Last month, Alexis participated in a comprehensive global service learning program in Costa Rica, thanks to generous grants and support that came in from multiple sources after Alexis was awarded a Bright Light Volunteers scholarship sponsored by DFW’s Hispanic 100 – a nonprot organization that promotes Hispanic women’s leadership roles in the private and public sector.

After receiving the H-100 scholarship, Alexis was awarded additional support in the form of a Road Scholarship from the Student Youth Travel Association (SYTA) as well as support from Si Se Puede, an organization that provides advice to students to work for academic success, encourage volunteering, and help students grow into leadership positions.

Alma Garcia, Board Member of Bright Light Volunteers says, “The fact that several nonprots jumped in and helped leverage a small scholarship from H100 into being able to completely fund this opportunity for Alexis is powerful and will, no doubt, have ripple effects throughout our community.”

Alexis, now a Junior at DISD’s Irma Lerma Rangel School Young Women’s Leadership School, isn’t new to this sort of experience. Last year, thanks in part to private sponsorships, Alexis served in the highlands of the Sacred Valley in Peru where she spent time teaching, aiding in the construction of water filtration system, and immersing herself in the people and culture of Peru.

Alexis Soria while volunteering at an animal refuge in Costa Rica with Bright Light Volunteers.

“International education allows me to stretch and grow.”

Recently we got to sit down and debrief with Alexis after she returned home from her latest global service learning experience in Costa Rica and asked her some questions to get a sense of how these experiences have shaped her life and future ambitions:

BLV: What has the opportunity to serve, learn, and lead meant for you?

AS: To serve means that I take a part of my community into another country and plant a seed there. To learn means learning about other cultures and nding ways we can help. We don’t know the struggles other cultures have until we engage with them. To lead means bringing what I learn in other countries to my local community; international education allows me to stretch and grow.

BLV: Has this experience changed you in any way?
AS: Yes … it has changed me in different ways. I learned that we have a lot of commodities living in the U.S. and people in other parts of the world don’t have the basic necessities (toothbrush, towel, bed, etc.) to not only survive … but to thrive. In America we hustle, hustle, hustle and take a lot for granted. In other countries, people value other things like family and tradition.

BLV:Is it important to travel? Why or why not?

AS: Yes. It is important because we get to learn how other people live, their culture and traditions. You learn a lot about how communities work together within a country. In Costa Rica, for example, everyone is laid back, but they do not take anything for granted. A local man explained how their country recovered from the last hurricane by every person contributing in the restoration process. It takes a lot of heart and pride from its inhabitants.

BLV: What are your dreams for yourself and how do you plan to get there?

AS: My dream (as a little girl) was to become a doctor. But the more I learn about the lack of respect for the Mexican community (we are always bashed; we are not appreciated), I want to be a role model for other Mexican girls to love their heritage and help empower the Mexican community. I have volunteered helping Mexicans complete immigration forms and being an activist as a way to gain awareness of the immigration crisis. Doing something in the immigration eld would put me in a position to be encouraging and show compassion to those entering our borders.

About Bright Light Volunteers

Bright Light Volunteers is a 501(c)(3), non-prot organization, designed to empower program participants and community partners through education and service. Specifically, our programs adhere to global service-learning best practices, which combine community service with both experiential learning in the eld and online coursework through our university partner, Bethel University. Our vision is to make the world a brighter place by creating a more peaceful, just, interconnected world where global challenges and opportunities are met by educated, compassionate, global citizens and leaders.

About the Hispanic 100:

The Hispanic 100 is a network of D/FW-area Latina leaders who are committed to increasing business development opportunities for Hispanic, women-owned businesses and to promoting Hispanic women’s leadership roles in the private and public sectors. The organization’s endowment fund supports initiatives that address the needs of Hispanic women and girls in the D/FW area. For more information, visit http://www.dfwhispanic100.org. Visit us on Facebook at DFW Hispanic 100 or follow us on Twitter @DFWH100.


Finding Family in Cuba

Finding Family in Cuba

By Ethan Besnard

For most Americans there is a great deal of interest and mystery in Cuba because, until recently, we have not been able to explore the country. When offered this once in a lifetime opportunity with BLV’s award winning Cuba program, it was an automatic yes for me and I knew I would enjoy every second of it. I had already experienced one BLV program and was excited knowing how much that first trip impacted my life. I couldn’t wait to learn more from a different culture and lifestyle.

Upon arrival in Cuba, there was an immediate realization that Cuba’s economy appeared to be suffering. The airport in Havana was small, run down, had no air-conditioning and little organization. As we waited for transportation, I watched dozens of Cubans carting out TVs and other electronics that were difficult to obtain or too costly on the island which resulted in Cubans traveling to other countries to make purchases.  This was a shocking contrast to our quick Costco runs or Amazon orders.

Our BLV guide told us that one of our most important jobs was to help increase Cuba’s middle class, which was why we weren’t staying in hotels, but casitas: local homeowners who rent out rooms.  I quickly learned there were many advantages to staying in a casita over a hotel.  I was able to get to know the owners personally, became part of their community, practiced my Spanish, and enjoyed delicious home-cooked meals.

In our first night in Havana, our casita owner Maria hosted a big welcome party for us.  She and her family decorated, cooked langosta (lobster which is difficult to purchase), and hired professional salsa dancers for our entertainment.  Despite my language barrier, I could still communicate with our hosts through their patience and gestures.  Before long, there were no more barriers and we all danced and clapped together enjoying a true cultural celebration.

Havana’s streets were lined with brightly colored 1950s cars.  The buildings stood tall and closely together.  The ocean breeze provided comfort from the hot sun.  While Havana was overgrown with buildings and history, the small western town of Viñales was much more rural and provided warm people, beautiful views of greenery and the famous mogotes, and incredible food.

The real joy of the program came when we started our service on an organic farm in Viñales. After learning that the Cuban government takes 90% of the farmers’ crops for their own use, we knew the more we helped on the farm, the more the farmers could keep for themselves. We would walk to the farm everyday and spend hours planting, digging, weeding, and preparing for new crops. All of the farmers were very gracious and offered plenty of food throughout the day.  We did our best to keep up with the farmers and could tell they appreciated our work ethic.  After long days of working alongside these men, it was quite difficult to say goodbye. We gifted them tools, gloves, socks, etc. and they gifted us memories and gratefulness.

I have noticed similarities between my two BLV programs but the one that occured every single day on each program was the generosity of the local people who had little to offer; the farmers, who made just enough money to support themselves and their families gave us food from their farm, the casita owners who opened their homes for us to stay in overfilled our plates at each meal, the baseball players who played friendly games with us offered fresh pineapple to quench our thirst. Seeing the generosity of the Cubans was eye opening. While Cuba is a beautiful place, it is the people who make the country magical.