by JENNIFER FRAKES | photos by Zeena Gregg Photography

Building Hope

volunteer_claussen2Paula Claussen founded Project Mercy 26 years ago to help devastatingly poor families living along the border in Mexico. Project Mercy is now a 501c(3) nonprofit organization that builds basic but sturdy houses for the poorest families in the outlying neighborhoods or “colonias” of Tijuana, Mexico. “We have built more than 1,300 solid little houses for families living in dire poverty in flimsy shacks with dirt floors and leaking roofs. We build on a year-round basis with various local groups – rotary clubs, churches, family groups, and companies. Ninety cents of every dollar donated goes directly into construction. Our fundraising is also a year-round effort to continue to provide sanitary housing,” explained Paula, who was chosen as one of the 25 CNN Heroes in 2016.

Name: Paula Claussen
Community: Rancho Arbolitos
Volunteer Affiliation: Community Development Projects Inc. DBA Project Mercy
Profession: President & Chief Executive Officer, Project Mercy
Family: Married, two grown children, and a new grandbaby
Hobbies: Travel

Recipients of the Project Mercy housing program are chosen based on three criteria: need, length of time in the program, and the amount of “sweat equity” given. “We ask the residents to work on at least four houses for their neighbors prior to receiving their own. This draws people together and promotes a sense of community,” stated Paula, who added that exceptions are made for single mothers and disabled persons. She is proud that the organization has grown through word of mouth over the years and has helped so many people and changed their lives for the better.


Growing up in England, Paula studied languages and business in school. She is currently the capital building program manager at Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista. She and her family have lived in the Rancho Arbolitos community since 1998. “My husband is a retired Naval officer, and I have two children, two dogs, and a cat. I became a grandma for the first time in February. It is a good and busy life,” related Paula. She enjoys walking her dogs, spending time at Old Poway Park, Lake Poway, and shopping at the thrift stores on Poway Rd. “I also love to travel and experience different nationalities and their way of living – it is a part of who I am,” revealed this local community hero.

For information on how to become a volunteer and/or donor for Project Mercy visit

Name: Community Development Projects Inc. DBA Project Mercy
Mission: The mission of Project Mercy is the improvement of living conditions and quality of life for the impoverished families living in east Tijuana neighborhoods, Mexico.