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The 21st Annual VAMOS Golf Cup Tournament takes place March 4, 2017.

EDINBURG, RGV – With a possible tax on Mexican imports and the ‘Adios RGV’ boycott campaign by a Reynosa radio station upset that a border wall is proposed, these are uncertain times for the local economy.

All the more reason, say education enthusiasts, to invest in the Valley’s youth.

“The VAMOS mission that began in 1996 to assist deserving high school students of the Rio Grande Valley in completing a post-secondary education through scholarships and mentoring has never, ever, been more important to the economic future of our region and continues to break the chain of poverty through education for our students and their families,” said Johnny Oliva, president of VAMOS, at a news conference held earlier this week.

The Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and Scholarships is a non-profit organization whose goal is to pave the way for student’s success by offering four year renewable scholarships.

In 2016, VAMOS awarded 70 students with four year scholarships to the university of their choice for a total amount of $1 million.

This week’s news conference was held at Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance to promote the 21st annual VAMOS Golf Cup Tournament, which takes place on March 4, 2017, at the Palm View Golf Course in McAllen. For the past five years, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR) has been the presenting sponsor.

Dr. Robert D. Martinez, MD, is chief medical officer at DHR. In remarks at the news conference, Martinez said Valley students are on a par with those from other parts of the country. He said they simply need an opportunity to shine.

“We want to give folks in our community the same chance as everybody else. It is vital,” Martinez said.

“What I see here, as chief medical officer, is that we have a lot of talented people in this area. I grew up in this area. I can tell you the talent here rivals that of any other place in the country.”

Martinez said he has attended some of the best schools in the United States and he therefore knows the talent the Valley has to offer is as good as any place else.

“I would put the kids up against anywhere else, Highland Park, you name it. The size of the heart of our students is unrivaled. That presents a particular opportunity for the Rio Grande Valley – to make sure we help those students get through the times when they don’t have answers to questions. We can help provide those answers. We can help guide them through those tough times,” Martinez said.

“If we help our students through that they are going to come back productive parts of our community. They are going to be leaders in our community. Those folks have a heart unlike any other folks that come in here. That makes a significant difference in the care that is delivered to their community, and the civic work they do in that community. We have a gigantic opportunity to nurture the people that are here so they want to come back and help grow their community.”

Perhaps the best testimony of VAMOS’ effectiveness could come from an UTRGV student who has benefitted. was the best example anyone could wish for to explain what the VAMOS organization is all about. One such student Alejandro Chapa, a 2013 scholarship recipient, spoke at the news conference about his experience.

Chapa, a current student at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley who will graduate this coming May, explained how VAMOS made a difference in his life. He said there was a time in high school when he didn’t know how he was going to be able to pay for college, because he was raised in a low-income family.

“One day I was thinking about my family and how I was going to be able to pay the cost for college. Coincidently, that same day my school counselor called me to her office and asked me if I had completed the VAMOS application, but told her I haven’t hear about it. That night I went home and started to fill out the application, and not long after I submitted it,” Chapa said.

“It’s been four years now, and I can say it has been the best decision I have ever made. The board, the staff, the mentors, and the fellow scholars created a nurturing supportive environment that made the college experience incredible.”

For Chapa, VAMOS not only helped pay for college, its mentors taught him to appreciate his community, and encouraged him to keep moving forward.

Chapa is one of the 100 selected students to graduate this year, and he will do his internship at a University of Texas Health Science Center medical school, beginning in July.

“Upon completion of my stay I am planning to return to the Valley to help the community I know and love,” he said. “Thank you for not only helping me achieve my dreams, but for believing in me. Thank you for believing in the Valley, and invest in our future.”

Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez, MD, DHR’s chief medical compliance officer and mayor of Pharr, said he can understand the struggle that medical students go through.

“To be a partner with VAMOS is just make sense, it’s only obvious,” Hernandez said. He then explained how an extended quality of life basically comes down to whether a child has a good stable home, or by mainly having at least one stable parent with a fulltime job.

“This will have a triple effect in everything else for that kid,” Hernandez said. “What VAMOS does is extent the health into our community, it helps us. We are passionate about VAMOS.”

He concluded his remarks by telling students present at the event that “we will be here for you to help you because we know the struggles.”

Dr. Gerardo Lopez-Mena, DHR’s physician executive of Clinical Services and Community Outreach, also spoke at the news conference.

At the end of the news conference, DHR presented a check for $50,000 to support the 21st Annual Golf Cup Tournament. The goal of the tournament is to raise $1 million for the scholarship program. The tournament is the most important annual fundraiser for the organization.

Editor’s Note: Video-journalist Apolonio Sandoval, Jr., contributed to this story from Edinburg, Texas. Sandoval also provided all the photos posted in the slideshow.