A year of empowering each other

A year of empowering each other

Donors Mike and Cindy Breider and advisor Doug Gross are part of the generous and strategic giving that fuels San Diego-based nonprofit Build a Miracle’s network of goodness.

Even at first glance, one thing is clear. Build a Miracle (BAM) is more than a nonprofit; it’s a community rooted in transforming people’s lives for the better.

In that way, it’s nothing short of a miracle in action.

While BAM was formally established as a nonprofit in 2001, its origins date back to October 1985, when founders Chris and Julianne North met while working at an orphanage in Tecate, Mexico. By 1988, the couple was married and fully devoted to lending their time and talents to orphanages across Tecate and Tijuana.

Eleven years later, Chris and Julianne planted the seeds that would eventually flourish into BAM while working at a boys’ orphanage housing nearly 70 children.

“Something we noticed was that 99% of the kids who lived in the orphanages had families,” Julianne told Raymond James Charitable. “The orphanages were almost more like boarding schools because their parents just didn’t have the means to care for them.”

With their three young children in tow, Chris and Julianne embarked on an ambitious but straightforward mission: to gather friends and families and build a house each year in Mexico. Soon enough, their good intentions unleashed a powerful chain reaction of good that’s endured for more than two decades.

Today, BAM has built more than 400 homes across Tijuana.

The residences typically cost around $13,000 and take volunteers two to three months to build. They have two to three bedrooms, insulation, stucco, plumbing and electric. They also come completely furnished – each equipped with a new stove, refrigerator, table, chairs, beds and even decor.

“People will go from living in a shack with an outhouse for a bathroom to having a beautiful home of their own,” Julianne said.

One of BAM’s greatest differentiators is its commitment to enacting indelible change by promoting community involvement and education, all while giving people the opportunity to become homeowners.

According to Julianne, the families are often transformed in the two to three years it takes to earn their homes – which see families make investments in their communities, often by helping to build other BAM houses or by contributing to classes and programs at the organization’s community centers.

Build a Miracle by the numbers

Since its inception in 2001, BAM has evolved from a homebuilding organization to a life-changing initiative resulting in:

400+ homes

3 community centers

1 business center

500+ students who attend weekly classes

100 high school scholarships

70+ college scholarships

35 college graduates

300+ free daily meals for children


“Any time there’s a need, we just figure out how we can meet it.”

It’s that philosophy that guided BAM’s approach to the pandemic, when they temporarily shifted their focus from building homes to providing financial relief to families whose breadwinners had been laid off because of COVID-19.

“During the pandemic, a lot of donors reached out to me and said, ‘What can we do to help?’ So I put that out to our team,” Julianne said.

As a result, BAM collected $100,000 in donations to buy and deliver food for families and, later on, give them $50 a week.

“Many of them had only been making around $70 each week. But suddenly, they were making nothing,” Julianne said.

“We would give them $50 and they would start sobbing because they could buy food for their families.”

Julianne estimates BAM was handing out over $2,000 a week during the height of the pandemic. It was during that time when the organization also set up COVID-19-conscious outdoor learning cells with tables, chairs, tarps and mass sanitation, allowing teaching in small groups so children didn’t fall behind due to pandemic school closures.

This summer alone, BAM classes helped educate approximately 550 children each day. And if one of them misses a class, they can expect a check-in call from a team member.


Among BAM’s dedicated supporters are Mike and Cindy Breider, who learned about the organization three years ago when a fellow churchgoer asked them for a donation.

The couple, who reside in San Diego, immersed themselves in BAM’s mission by embarking on the one-hour drive down to Tijuana to help paint homes and attend the big reveal for the new homeowners. Since then, they’ve completed multiple volunteer trips, recruited supporters, led a fundraiser and made a number of donations to benefit the charity.

They had helped build one home and were ready to start another when COVID-19 shut down the world. Unable to offer in-person assistance, Mike and Cindy started sending cash donations through their donor advised fund (DAF) to help fund BAM’s pandemic-focused programs.


Whether championing BAM or other worthy causes, Cindy and Mike want to ensure their charitable dollars are doing the most they can. That’s why their financial advisor, Doug Gross of McLaren Wealth Strategies in Ann Arbor, Michigan, suggested a DAF through Raymond James Charitable.

Similar to a private foundation, a DAF provides an immediate full tax benefit and lets clients donate to their favorite charities on their own time, but with less expense and setup than a foundation. Plus, DAFs allow clients to donate up to 60% of their adjusted gross income (AGI) in cash, 30% in securities, whereas private foundations have a cap of 30% of AGI on cash donations and 20% on securities, resulting in diminished tax deductions.

Realizing these benefits, Doug began implementing DAFs into his practice in the early 2000s, when Pfizer left Ann Arbor and gave its workers a generous severance package. Once the workers started new jobs, some saw significant increases in their income, making it an opportune time to give to charity.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is a great opportunity to use a donor advised fund,’” Doug said. “We could make a $30,000 gift to the fund and reduce their taxes for the year. People were pretty enthusiastic about that.

“Many of them were getting Pfizer shares at the time. So we could also give those Pfizer shares, assuming they’d held them for a year or more.”

The experience helped spark Doug’s focus on charitable giving, inspiring him to use DAFs to benefit philanthropists like Mike and Cindy and, ultimately, charities like BAM.

“I really like the donor advised fund,” said Mike, adding that he appreciated the convenience of padding his DAF during higher-earning years in preretirement.

“You get the tax deduction because it’s a charitable donation. But you still have the ability to dole out that money over a period of time,” he said. “So you can really adjust your income and seed your charitable trust, and then distribute that lump of money as your income decreases over the following years.

“And obviously, the fund is invested for future growth, which you don’t pay taxes on, meaning the charity will likely end up receiving more. It just works perfectly.”

“People want to be generous, and DAFs are an easy way to be generous,” said Doug, who added that by allowing clients to consolidate their donations and strategize their giving, DAFs result in more accurate – and usually greater – tax deductions. They also help rebalance portfolios that are too heavily concentrated in individual stocks or indexes. 


For Doug, helping clients like Cindy and Mike fulfill their charitable aspirations isn’t just part of his profession. It’s a privilege he holds in high regard, and one he found particularly rewarding in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when clients showcased their generosity through an outburst of United Way donations and year-end contributions.

“It was a little overwhelming sometimes to see,” he said. “Pretty much daily, I would receive three to five email notifications of gifts because people often go in and make multiple gifts at once. And it was really rewarding to see what a difference clients were making.”

The behind-the-scenes efforts of donors like Mike and Cindy, and advisors like Doug, are what allow life-changing initiatives like BAM to reach their full potential.

As key pieces of a puzzle greater than themselves, their work offers a glimpse into the process of building a real-life miracle.

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