SAN CARLOS, February 16 - At a meeting of master planners and community groups in Weslaco last November, ideas were floated on how UT’s new university could really engage with colonia residents and truly transform the Rio Grande Valley.
Community leaders suggested the new university have a physical presence in the larger colonias and provide high speed Internet service to colonia residents. After listening to a lot of ideas, UT-Pan American President Robert Nelsen proposed that the job description of the new university’s president include a requirement to fully engage with the region’s colonias.
A groundbreaking ceremony held Friday morning for a new state-of-the-art community resource center in San Carlos appeared to point the way for UTRGV, providing an example of how UT can help improve the quality of life of colonia residents.
San Carlos is a colonia of about 6,000 residents just east of Edinburg on Highway 107. The new community resource center will be 8,500 square-feet in size, with computers and high speed Internet available to colonia residents. UTPA President Robert Nelsen spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony. He promised that his university, the forerunner to UTRGV, will have a presence in the center and in the community. Nelsen started his speech by asking how many people plan to go to university. The hands of a dozen or more children sitting in the audience shot up.
“Esto es nuestro futuro de estos niños,” Nelsen said. “Somos una familia. Una familia grande.”
Speaking in English, Nelsen said: “This building and what will happen in this building is part of our future. We talk a lot but sometimes we do not do a lot. Because of the commissioner, because of the county, because of the city, we are doing something. Because of the university we are doing something. We are committed to be engaged with San Carlos, with helping the students to be able to go to college, to have the opportunities to be able to be successful, really to transform the Valley and move forward.”
Nelsen added that while the last legislative session was brilliant and the Valley now has a new university and medical school to look forward to, Valley leaders, educators and administrators must not lose sight of the No. 1 goal. “It is all about the children. We have to be a family, and we have to make certain that we take care of our children,” Nelsen said to applause.
Fittingly, a dozen or so San Carlos children were part of the groundbreaking ceremony and helped turn over the dirt.
Cris Rocha, a community organizer with La Unión del Pueblo Entero, said her group has started meeting with UTPA officials to ensure the new university truly connects with the residents of San Carlos and other colonias in Hidalgo County. “This is what our people want. They want to know about the new university and they want to know how they can get there. The people of San Carlos want to feel connected and this new community center is going to help,” Rocha told the Guardian.
Nelsen’s commitment that UTPA will have a presence at the community resource center and be engaged with the people of San Carlos pleased state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. “The presence and the engagement of the university in our colonias are extremely important. If the new university is to truly be transformational, as the UT System has said, it has to play an active role in our colonias so that we can help improve the quality of life of our people,” Canales said.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio agreed. “Our colonia communities were overlooked for the longest time. We have made a lot of progress in terms of infrastructure, water and wastewater services, for example,” Lucio told the Guardian, at the conclusion of the groundbreaking ceremony.
“I think the future of the Valley depends on a solid education for our children. Our students need to be able to learn in their own backyard. This community resource center will afford them this opportunity. I am sure it will have state of the art facilities, including computers, to advance the education of our children. It will be an educational and recreational facility, one that is family oriented. We need community resource centers in every colonia in the Valley. That obviously means a lot of centers but we can get there. I am hoping the new university will have good quality outreach programs to all areas of the region.”
Lucio pointed out that between 52 and 54 percent of students in public education are Hispanic. “If we get it right here in the Valley, we can get it right everywhere, because this is where the greatest need is. We need an educated community coming through. We need to educate tomorrow’s leaders. If you want to reduce the welfare lines, you create an educated population.”
The $1.2 million San Carlos community resource center project is being spearheaded by Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios. He said the center sits on 70 acres of land. He said some of this will be taken up with a hike and bike trail and a playground. In his speech, Palacios provided a list of the activities that will take place in the center and the partners his office will be working with to make it a success.
The center will have:
Agency's Work Area
Food Bank Room
Computer Lab Room
Large Area Room Sitting of 200 persons
Kitchen Area (Nutrition Classes)
The CRC will bring room for programs such as zumba classes, nutrition classes, cooking classes, and the UT Health Science Enlace Physical Program which is conducted by 30 ladies from the community. These programs will encourage people to gain healthy eating and improve physical activity. Also, the CRC will be holding evening English and GED Classes to provide education to the citizens. Throughout the year the CRC will administer health fairs every three months, a summer program, a toy drive, and a Thanksgiving dinner. The building will also be used to conduct arts and crafts classes and will also be used as a special events venue. Different agencies will be organizing presentations all year round to provide information to the community regarding their services.
• Iglesia Vino Nuevo
• Texas A&M Colonias Program
• TEAM Partners Resource Network (Special Ed Needs)
• Texas A&M High School Equivalency Program
• TEY Women’s Health Center
• UT Health Science San Antonio/Harlingen
• Texas Department of Agriculture - Todd Staples Commissioner
• School of Rural Public Health - Texas A&M Health Science Center - College Station
• Area Agency of Aging
• Medical Innovations
• LeFleur Transportation
• The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
• Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc.
• RGV Food Bank
• Migrant Health Promotion
• Texas A&M Agrilife Extension - Garden Program
• Asociación Liberal Humanitaria
• Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council (211)
• Molina Healthcare
• Baylor University - Texas Hungry Initiative School of Social Work
• La Unión del Pueblo Entero
• United States Department of Agriculture-Hispanic Serving Institution National Program
• Rio Grande Valley Council, Inc.
• Texas Migrant Council
• Edinburg ISD - Department of Federal Programs
• VIDA - Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement
• Valley Metro
• Health Care Unlimited, Inc.
• United States Department of Agriculture
• Unites States Department of Rural Development
• Nuestra Clinica del Valle, Inc.
• Health & Human Services Commission
• Magic Valley Electric Company
• Women's Clinic of South Texas
• MET - Motivation Education & Training, Inc.
• Church of Charities
• Rio Grande Valley Literacy Center
• Boys & Girls Club of Edinburg
Projected Timeline & Overall Budget: The project cost is $1.2 million. Construction will commence in February and should be completed by the end of 2014. The center will cover approximately 8,500 square feet overall.
In his remarks, Palacios recalled how the idea for the community resource center came about. He said that when he first campaigned in San Carlos he walked the community and realized how great the need was. He paid tribute to his predecessor, the late Oscar Garza, who had built a 3,500 square foot community center in San Carlos but, because of its size, it had only covered about 30 to 40 percent of the needs of the community.
Palacios said Garza would call San Carlos the “gemstone” of Precinct 4. He remembered how, in the aftermath of Hurricane Dolly, San Carlos residents made makeshift homes on the levees because their homes were flooded. Since then, Palacios said, the county has built a 240 acre retention pond to protect against future flooding. He said this will protect about 240,000 acres. “We knew we had to do something,” Palacios said.
Palacios then recalled a prediction Sen. Lucio made. He said the senator told him that when he took office, he would soon learn that county government is the closest form of government to the people. Lucio, of course, was a county commissioner himself, many years ago. Palacios said he witnesses how close county government is to the people every day. “We are to help, to make our community a better place to live,” Palacios said. “We help people. Our heart is here,” Palacios said to applause.