SAN BENITO, RGV – The top fundraising event of the year for the non-profit START Center in San Benito is titled the Freddy Fender Humanitarian Awards Ceremony.

The event is named after rock and roll legend Freddy Fender, who was born and raised in San Benito and who helped the START Center for many years.

Ron Rogers
Ron Rogers

The START Center was started in 1992 to provide English classes for San Benito residents. In the beginning it was called the San Benito Literacy Center. In 2001 it morphed into the South Texas Adult Resource and Training Center. Today it delivers a variety of community-based educational programs and social services.

This year’s Freddy Fender Humanitarian Awards Ceremony takes place on Friday, May 20, at TSTC Cultural Arts Center in Harlingen, beginning at 7 p.m. This year’s three award winners are the late Evelon Dale, an educator and community leader who passed away in March, 2015, state Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, and Frederico ‘Fred’ V. Garza, a consultant who helps small and medium-size businesses.

Asked about Freddy Fender’s involvement with the START Center, board member Ron Rogers said:

“Freddy Fender passed away Oct. 14, 2006, but left behind an enduring legacy that continues to inspire countless artists in the music industry, his legion of fans worldwide, and a community moved by his generosity. Freddy, very quietly, supported many non-profits. He was one of the first donors to the Challenger Center that was in San Benito. It is now at TSTC-Harlingen. Since 1993 he gave money and his time to the START Center. It became his favorite charity.”

Fender, whose real name was Baldemar Garza Huerta, would have been 79 on June 4. He was known in the world of pop as El Bebop Kid. Rogers said that while Fender gave a lot to the START Center, the non-profit did a lot for him. “It was very reciprocal. He helped us. He helped us to grow as an organization. We were able to do a lot for Freddy over the years. The legacy he has left is exactly that, his generosity, his unconditional love for the Valley and San Benito and his giving. For that we are very humbled by the fact that we are able to continue our organization’s good work. But, his name is on it.”

Asked why the START Center was set up, Rogers said: “It grew out of a critical need in San Benito and its surrounding communities for adult classes in English. While the agency has developed its capacity over the years, community-based education remains at its core. We continue to assist with low and moderate income families, children and the elderly in Cameron County.”

The diversity of programs initiated by the START Center has included income tax assistance, citizenship classes, financial literacy, computer literacy, soft skills workshops, summer youth work programs and workforce job readiness training.

Local collaborative partners have included Workforce Solutions Cameron, San Benito CISD’s 21st Century Afterschool Program, the Even Start Family Literacy Program the City of San Benito Community Development Block Grant team, and San Benito Housing Authority.

In addition to these collaborative partners, Rogers said the START Center has affiliations with various national, state and local organizations, including National Council of La Raza, the RGV Equal Voice Network, Second Chance for Success Coalition, Texas Homeless Network, and the Institute for Youth Development.

The START Center’s 2015-16 board of directors are: Shirley Baker, who chairs the board, Mera Champion, Ursulo Robles, Angie Rodriguez, Clarissa Roewe, Celeste Sanchez and Rogers. Its staff members comprise Rhoda Reyes, center director, Yvonne Mendez, administration/case manager, Martha Cuellar, ESL and GED instruction, Esemeralda Martinez, administrative assistant, and Jose Reyes, IT/Maintenance.

“The staff and board of directors are very proud of the START Center’s 24-year record of serving San Benito and Cameron County,” Rogers added.

For more information about the Freddy Fender Humanitarian Awards Ceremony call 956-399-7818 or visit the group’s website, www.startcenter.org.