EDINBURG, RGV – ARISE, a community group that assists low-income families in the Rio Grande Valley, is asking Hidalgo County commissioners to pump $500,000 into a colonia streets lighting program.

Around three dozen members and supporters of the organization attended a commissioners court meeting on Tuesday to unveil a new video about street lighting in colonias. 

“Today has been a big celebration. We shared with commissioners court and the public our educational tutorial video on how to get street lights in our communities,” said Laura Guerra, a community organizer with ARISE. “We produced the video so more people know about the project.”

Guerra said La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), another community group that assists colonia residents, and the media company NETA deserved thanks for helping produce the video.

Asked where the greatest need is, Guerra told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM: “We have colonias all over Hidalgo County but we know the need is really great in Precinct 1 and Precinct 4.”

Precinct 1 is in the eastern part of the county. Precinct 4 is in the northern part.

Working with Hidalgo County, ARISE and LUPE formed the Hidalgo County Unincorporated Subdivision Street Lights Program three years ago. The program has helped 26 unincorporated subdivisions secure street lights.

Once the video had been shown, Hidalgo County Commissioner Eddie Cantu said: 

“This is a tremendous accomplishment by ARISE and LUPE in helping to bring these subdivisions together and make this a successful project. I will always support this because I believe it is very important for the colonias that have never had street lights.”

Cantu said there is a lot of “false rhetoric” about colonias and colonia residents. “But we know how much effort they make to make sure their bills are paid.”

Cantu said ARISE did well to get 80 percent of the residents living in the subdivisions to sign up to pay their share of the street lighting bill. “That is really difficult to do. Some of these colonias are 100, 150 lots. So, keep up the hard work. Hopefully, in four or five years we will have a big percentage of these colonias with lights.”

Following Cantu’s remarks, ARISE leader Sandra Carrillo addressed the court. Speaking in Spanish, she said: “All of us here firmly believe that we deserve to live in safe and lighted communities throughout Hidalgo County no matter where we live. We feel proud to present a video tutorial, which explains step by step how to participate in the public lighting program.”

Carrillo said there are currently 26 subdivisions that have been illuminated.

“We hope that by promoting this video the number of applications will increase. For that reason, we need to invest more in the safety and well-being of families. We ask that at least $500,000 be activated for public lighting infrastructure, equivalent to 0.23 percent, less than one percent of the Hidalgo County annual budget,” Carrillo said.

She also asked the county to help some colonias that lack other forms of infrastructure. 

Carrillo thanked county commissioners and the county’s budget department for their collaboration with the street light program. “We know that this program would not be possible without you,” she said.

In her interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM, ARISE’s Guerra acknowledged that the campaign to secure street lighting for Valley colonias has been a long one.

Laura Guerra, community organizer with ARISE

“It has been a long journey, about 15 years. And we still have a long way to go. We are grateful for the collaboration we have had with the budget department and the commissioners. We hope to continue the program.”

As for the funding request, Guerra said:

“We are asking the commissioners court to allocate half a million dollars for street lights in their budget. We think this money could help at least three or four colonias in each of the four precincts.

“We are also asking them to support at least two subdivisions per precinct that either have infrastructure in the back part of the properties or have no infrastructure at all. We are hoping to get a positive response in the coming weeks.”