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HARLINGEN, RGV – Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network hosted a regional summit 2016, or cumbre regional de 2016, Sept. 24 featuring the collaboration of seven different working groups made up of several local community organizations.

Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network is an organization committed to social change in Cameron and Hidalgo counties. Michael Seifert, RGV Equal Voice Network weaver, said the seven groups meet every month and is motivated by the billion dollars Texas wants to invest in border security.

“Our question is why?,” Seifert said. “It’s not the threat from the outside that makes us feel insecure–it’s bad paying jobs, it’s schools not adequately funded, it’s no access to healthcare. That’s the threat–that’s where we feel insecure. So we look at the state willing to spend a billion dollars on that, but not a penny more on education, not a penny more for infrastructure. And at the end of the day, the people that get the short end of the stick in the state of Texas are the communities that live in unincorporated areas.”

The seven groups are civic engagement, education, immigration, housing, jobs, access to healthcare and LGBTQ. There is a facilitator for every group and for several hours, people sat at one of the seven tables to learn more about what can be done throughout the community.

Paula Barrera, the citizenship and immigration coordinator from Proyecto Juan Diego, focuses on registering people to vote.

“It’s very important people make their voice be heard,” Barrera said. “My goal really is to wake up the community so they can stand up for what they believe in.”

Barrera also has a passion for immigration. She said she is in an immigrant born in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico.

“I was here undocumented for many years,” Barrera said. “I do the citizenship because I guess I already walked through that path. I do [this] by heart because I guess I can go back in time and say I was [once] in their shoes. I’m in an area where I love what I do.”

RGV Equal Voice Network will meet again in December to strategize for the 85th Texas Legislature. Their primary focus will include Medicaid expansion, educational funding as well as an end to voter suppression. Until then, the organization will focus on encouraging other to vote for a health care district in Hidalgo County.

“One of the immediate things we’re working on is Proposition 1 in Hidalgo County and why we are interested in that is saving our legacy clinics,” Seifert said. “So if the [proposition] doesn’t pass, those legacy clinics are put in extraordinary danger because of funding.”

Recently, RGV Equal Voice Network issued a letter of support for the creation of a healthcare district in Hidalgo County. Here is the letter, which was signed by Seifert, and Ann Cass, chair of RGV Equal Voice’s health working group:

The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network’s Health Working Group is composed of representatives from more than forty organizations from Hidalgo and Cameron counties.

For the past eight years, the group has advocated for policies that would improve access to health  care for the poorest of the families and communities in the Rio Grande Valley. To that end, we have organized get out the vote efforts, candidates’ forums, and legislative visits to Austin and Washington, D.C. We have successfully recruited and educated community members on those issues that affect the public health of our region.

In this same spirit, we will advocate for the creation of a Hidalgo County Health Care District that will support our safety net clinics and assure a place at District deliberations for community representatives.

To that end, we intend to continue to educate our community on the benefits of a health care district to our legacy clinics and continue to encourage all of our members to get out the vote should this measure be placed on the ballot.