Alice in a Wonderful Land

Five years ago, my friend & fellow Book Babe Alice Sperling, aka the arts organization queen of Denver, up and moved to San Miguel de Allende Mexico – a move that shocked everybody in Colorado. Born and raised in New York, Alice is almost 6 feet tall, with a husky growl of a voice and a wild mop of gorgeous black curls – a one-of-a-kind woman, except that she isn’t. Her twin Maggie is almost as tall, with the same memorable voice and that distinctive hair. So one can only imagine the vivid impact they had upon their arrival in San Miguel, a beautiful, resort colonial town of 140,000 artists, expats, and indigenous people in central Mexico.

What you see of San Miguel...

It didn’t take Alice long to ramp up and throw herself into the vibrant life of the community – volunteering at the San Miguel Author’s Sala, Opera de San Miguel, the San Miguel Chamber Music Festival, Amigos de Animales, and most especially, Casita Linda. She wrote and asked me to share the story of her fave cause.

...and the poverty right outside town.

Casita Linda (meaning “pretty little house”) was started in 2001 by Jeffrey Brown, a stonemason, and Irma Rosado, a consultant, to build homes for the poorest of the poor in San Miguel, and alter the destiny of poverty for these families. Right outside the charming town, hundreds of families are living on small plots of land they own, in open lean-to shacks with no water, electricity, sewer or paved roads. The volunteers of Casita Linda found the extreme poverty of their neighbors unacceptable, and they reached out to help.

The beautiful people of San Miguel de Allende

For six years, using only volunteers and poured-cement methods, Casita Linda built 13 houses for needy families. Then in 2008, Rhode Island School of Design grad students spent a month in San Miguel, exploring design alternatives for the casitas that would be warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, and hold up to 11 people in 500 square feet of space. They came up with a flexible adobe brick design using local materials, vaults, arches, and sleeping lofts that can be built for about $7,000 including materials and labor.

The new adobe brick Casita design - bueno!

Ready to pitch in and help build their new homes!

Since then, Casita Linda has been able to build these pretty little homes in about 25 days using four local workers, about 20 volunteers (90% of them over the age of 60) and the new homeowners themselves. With 14 young people’s brilliant design ideas, a bunch of not-so-young people’s hard work and enthusiasm, and some sturdy adobe bricks, they’re building hope for 30 families, one house at a time.

Home at last.

Alice & Maggie had a birthday on Sunday – and in honor of that, and all the good work being done out in the campo of San Miguel, I’m donating $100 to Casita Linda. Gracias, amigas!

If you’d like to donate, click here:

And to read a great story from the LA Times, click here

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