WESLACO, Texas – The executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council has thanked Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation for its help with Census 2020 in the region.

Ron Garza, who chairs the LRGVDC’s Complete Count Committee, said VBLF gave $450,000 to various entities in order to ensure a full and accurate census count.

“We are one of the beneficiaries of Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation’s generosity, receiving a $60,000 grant,” Garza told the Rio Grande Guardian. “With the funding we have received we are going to create an ambassador program that centers around our public transit service.”

Ron Garza

Asked to explain, Garza said: “We have chosen four of our most popular hubs, Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen and Edinburg, taking the eight highest volume routes. Our ambassadors will essentially hop on and off routes and be equipped with wifi-enabled tablets. They will help educate the riders about the census.”

If a passenger wants to respond to the census on the bus the ambassadors will give them the tablet and walk them through the census form.

“It takes about ten to 15 minutes to respond but if you are sitting in a bus, you have time. We effectively have a captive audience,” Garza said, adding that promotional material will be given out also.

“We have got to be creative, having received this support from Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation. We thank them for their generosity.”

Garza added that the Complete Count Committee is going to focus its efforts during the month of April. “We want to focus on the self-response period.” Census Day is April 1.

Garza was interviewed at the end of a Complete Count Committee meeting at the offices of LRGVDC. A member of Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation was in the audience.

“In late January the board of Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation approved funding for Census 2020 operations,” Alberto Espinoza, evaluations specialist for the foundation, told the committee.

“We awarded approximately $450,000 to various organizations around the Valley, such as ARISE, the City of McAllen, the City of Pharr, the City of Rio Grande City, LUPE, LRGVDC, Proyecto Juan Diego, and UTRGV. We are excited to contribute a bit to the effort. The board understands the importance of an accurate and complete count.”

Interviewed after the meeting, Espinoza said: “The census impacts our region financially, a lot of federal funding for education, transportation, housing based on our population. The way we view health in the social determinants of health perspective, all of those components impact an individual’s health.”

Census artwork

Various members of the LRGVDC Complete County Committee were encouraged to explain the census outreach work going on in their community.

Rebekah De La Fuente, a senior planner with the City of Weslaco, spoke about a project that connected Weslaco ISD, South Texas Educational Technologies and IDEA Academy to the city’s Census 2020 outreach.

De La Fuente said students at the schools were encouraged to submit artwork with a local census theme. She said 17 entires came in. On Facebook, local residents were asked their opinion on the artwork, with one point given for a like and two for a share.

“We ended up with 160,000 views and 42, 000 likes, shares and comments. In total, 39,000 votes were received,” De La Fuente said. “We then asked local businesses, municipalities and churches to sponsor the boards.”

De La Fuente said Weslaco Economic Development Corporation gave a generous donation of $500 to turn the murals into postcards. “The kids were tremendous,” De La Fuente added.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Alberto Espinoza, evaluations specialist for Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation.