PHARR, RGV – Bishop of Brownsville Daniel E. Flores, UT-Pan American President Robert Nelsen, and state Rep. René Oliveira are among the star names appearing at Valley Interfaith’s 30th Anniversary assembly on Sunday.

The event takes place at the Pharr Events Center, starting at 3 p.m. In addition to the big names, students who have graduated from Valley Interfaith’s GED en Español program will speak about how their future career paths have been improved. Over 1,000 Valley Interfaith delegates are expected to attend the assembly.

“This 30th Anniversary assembly is a wonderful milestone for our organization. It will serve as a step to the next ten or 20 years as we seek to make our community even stronger,” said Valley Interfaith leader Eddie Anaya. “We are celebrating our past but also investing in our future.”

Valley Interfaith members traveled to Austin many times in the 1980s to fight for landmark colonia improvement legislation.
Valley Interfaith members traveled to Austin many times in the 1980s to fight for landmark colonia improvement legislation.

In the early days, Valley Interfaith members fought hard to improve infrastructure in the Valley’s colonias, such as water, wastewater, paved roads, and street lighting. Anaya said many of those battles have been won. However, he said the group’s work is far from finished. “I believe the organization is more important than ever,” he said.

Valley Interfaith was founded in 1893 by Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick. Anaya said Fitzpatrick was seeking to “give voice to those usually excluded from the major decisions that affect their lives, and to offer people the opportunity to develop the leadership skills necessary to be full participants in the democratic process in our society.”

Asked to define Valley Interfaith, Anaya said the group is a “broad-based, non-partisan organization of 25 institutions representing over 500,000 families dedicated to building a sustainable power to bring about positive social and economic change in the Rio Grande Valley.” He said the objective of the group has not changed. He said it is to organize, to teach, and to have people speak for themselves and do for themselves. “It must be our vision, not that of someone else.”

Anaya, an attorney from Las Milpas, has been with Valley Interfaith throughout its 30 years. He said there is no question the group has succeeded in changing the face of the Valley for the better, through an improvement in the standard of living of Valley residents and the strengthening of the local economy. He listed what he believes are some of the group’s major achievements:

• Passage of the landmark Colonia Infrastructure legislation of 1989

• Passage of House Bill 72 to provide equal funding for public education

• Passage of the indigent healthcare bill

• Setting up Project VIDA to provide a quality workforce training program

• Expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program

• Making sure Valley cities applied for funding to help with colonia infrastructure

• Passage of Living Wage legislation in various Valley cities

• Passage of a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for Project VIDA and El Milagro Clinic in McAllen

“The crux of our organization when we started was colonia infrastructure. No one thought we could take care of that problem but we did. It took us many years but we succeeded. To some extent we are still dealing with it but it is not as big a problem as it used to be,” Anaya said.

“Today, we have broadened our work to include the rights of immigrants, accessible and affordable healthcare, and education, training and workforce readiness.”

Valley Interfaith places much emphasis on its civic academies, where families come together to learn about issues of importance in their lives, to research the issues further and then develop plans of action.

“It used to be said that Valley Interfaith is a university and I still believe it is. It is a university that teaches people social issues and current issues and how to teach others about participating in local democracy. Our civic academies do just that. We go and learn about current issues, we research those issues and then we teach them to others. These lay people then go back and teach others. It gives people confidence that they can make a difference,” Anaya said.

Anaya reiterated that Sunday’s assembly of delegates would not only celebrate the accomplishments of the past but also welcome the future.

On immigration, he said Valley Interfaith wants to educate the community on the likely changes coming about through reforms in Washington, D.C. “We want our members to learn from our civic academies, not to listen to rumors,” he said.

One accessible and affordable healthcare, Anaya pointed out that Valley Interfaith has a major event planned for Nov. 7 at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance. Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia is due to speak at this event. “We want to tell people who can get affordable care through the Affordable Care Act and who cannot. Unfortunately, we have a lot of people in my community in Las Milpas who do not qualify for help because Texas decided not to expand Medicaid. Our families are going to be left out, tens of thousands of them. We need them to understand that this is what our political leaders in Texas did.”

On education, training and workforce readiness, Anaya said Valley Interfaith wants to expand its GED en Español classes across Hidalgo County. Over the past ten months it has been running the program in Las Milpas, McAllen, Edinburg and San Juan. “Our GED en Español program has been a great success. In Las Milpas we have had 30 to 35 people coming to classes three times a week, for four hours each day. There has been little drop off because the students are very dedicated. They are enthused. The difference it is making in their lives and their family is plain to see.”

Asked if he wished to make any other comments for a preview of the 30th Anniversary assembly, Anaya said: “We have fought hard over the past three decades to bring water and sewer to thousands of families in the colonias, to fund schools so our kids succeed, to win an increased standard of living in cities across the Valley. However, the most important thing we have done is engage people in the decisions impacting their own lives. In the process of this work, people and communities are transformed.”

For more information about Valley Interfaith’s 30th Anniversary celebrations, contact Lilia Martinez at 956-408-0255 or Juan Vasquez at 956-867-4809.