EDINBURG, RGV – Dozens of Valley Interfaith members in Edinburg are hitting the streets this weekend to educate hundreds of voters about their platform.
The ministry’s top issues for Edinburg are drainage, public safety and skills training. They hope these issues are top of mind when voters go to the polls in November to elect their mayor and city council.
“We start our block-walking this Sunday. We will have 36 members dedicated to walking the streets,” said Moises Robledo, church parishioner at Holy Family Church in Edinburg, and a member of Valley Interfaith’s executive board.
“Our hopes are really high. If every parishioner takes out 30 people you are looking at 1,080 people going to the polls. That is what our goal is. Some of our supporters were saying they want to take 200 people to the polls. I said, let us be realistic.”
Valley Interfaith is a grassroots group whose top issues are forged by working families. The families have house meetings to discuss the improvements they would like to see in their community. The most popular issues are melded into a group platform and put to candidates. At accountability sessions, Valley Interfaith members quiz the candidates to see who is with them and who is not.
The accountability session for the upcoming Edinburg elections was held at Holy Family Church on October 15. The candidates for mayor, city council Place 1 and city council Place 2 were invited.
“It was a much better turnout than we could have hoped for. We lost count at 155. The room was packed,” said Robledo. “The stories that came from our communities were very strong, heartfelt. We made sure the candidates heard these stories.”
Robledo said the main goal was to get people from the community to commit to walk the streets and get out the vote. “We do not just want any voter, we want to educate the voters on what happened this past Sunday. What were the responses of the candidates to our issues.”
Robledo said everyone in the audience filled out a commitment card to help Valley Interfaith in the run-up to the election. “Father Tom Luczak blessed our commitment and reminded everyone that it is their obligation as Catholics to vote in this upcoming election. So, we have pledged to go house to house to educate voters on how the candidates responded to our issues. We want to make sure everybody knows how the candidates responded so we have an educated electorate going to the polls.”
The Get Out the Vote effort is not limited to block-walking, Robledo explained.
“We have contacted some other parishes in Edinburg. Sacred Heart has given us permission to make an announcement at church and then get sign-ups after church. We are also going to be block-walking their area as well. We are also talking to St. Joseph.”
Robledo Explains the Issues
“We need a safety zone around our church. We have parents drop their kids off every day of the week. We are very close to the highway and so there is a lot of traffic coming and going at a high rate of speed. We stressed the importance of creating a safety zone,” Robledo said.
“We asked the candidates to support creating a safety zone around our community, with street caution signs, warning lights, speed bumps and sidewalks to help pedestrians young and old navigate to the Church, park and nearby schools on a daily basis without the fear of high speed vehicle traffic.”
“Father Tom Luczak, who is the pastor for Holy Family Church, shared his story regarding the flooding issue that has plagued this community from the beginning. He said, ‘For three years I have heard commitments that they will fix the flooding – and for three years nothing has happened. This is a matter of safety, I’ve already lost one car’,” Robledo said.
“We asked the candidates to support a solution now, by proposing the installation of two more drainage outlets. This would help to move the water out of the community, quicker.”
“Valley Interfaith strongly supports Project VIDA. We heard a personal story from Kristina Gaytan, who credits the program VIDA for getting her to her graduation day, which is just a few months away. She said that after she graduates, she wants to be a small business owner in the city of Edinburg. She said she will not need any government assistance because she will be making over $30,000 dollars a year. The crowd erupted in applause. They also heard a success story from Elisa Hernandez, a veteran who said VIDA lifted her and her family from a life of poverty and trained her for a nursing career, where she earns $70,000.00 a year. You could feel the tone in her voice, how appreciative she was of VIDA. She said it has taken her family out of poverty. Now, she is a contributing member of society now. She is really happy about that.”
Robledo’s Take on the Candidates
Valley Interfaith does not endorse political parties or candidates. However, it does provide information to voters on what happened at its accountability sessions. Robledo said:
“One of the city council candidates, Fern McClaugherty, could not be at our accountability session. All the candidates that were present were in favor of drainage and helping to create a safety zone. The contentious issue was VIDA. Richard Garcia said he supported VIDA. Mayoral candidates Gina Alemia and Richard Molina and City Council candidate Gilbert Enriquez said they are opposed to funding VIDA. That shocked many in the audience. There were even some boos. In the case of Gilbert Enriquez, he said he felt the funding VIDA was illegal. But Senator Chuy Hinojosa went to the Legislature to make sure it was legal to fund the program through the city’s economic development corporation and it is.”
Project VIDA’s website states:
History & Services
Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA) is a community based, non-profit 501 (c)3 agency. Created in 1995, VIDA was the result of a local effort led by community leaders of Valley Interfaith and private industry business leaders. The impetus was the need to empower the underserved residents of our region with the tools, education and training to become self-sufficient while fueling the growth of the existing employers and increasing the recruitment of new investment to the area by developing a highly skilled workforce. Since its inception, VIDA’s mission remains constant, to formulate new institutional relationships in the Rio Grande Valley that simultaneously address employers’ needs for skilled workers and link the area’s unemployed and underemployed with high skilled, high wage jobs identified in the region. VIDA works closely with the business sector, training providers, and community-based organizations to develop a skilled workforce that will meet the demands of employers in the Rio Grande Valley.
A Unique Service Strategy
VIDA’s unique program model is at the core of the resounding success demonstrated by an average 94 percent retention rate while in training. Our Career Counselors / Case Managers work closely with each individual student to address barriers that historically plague this demographic pocket and ultimately quash their efforts of continuing education. Financial matters, family issues, and time management are but a few of the elements that are addressed through weekly counseling sessions. In addition, VIDA Counselors infuse group sessions with soft skills training such as general employability, resume preparation and interviewing, financial management, and study skills. Guest speakers are invited for open dialogue about home buying, savings, investments, and retirement planning. Wrap around services, training and counseling, equip VIDA participants to enter the workforce with the skills and commitment necessary for success.
To formulate new institutional relationships in the Rio Grande Valley that simultaneously address employers’ needs for skilled workers and link the area’s unemployed and underemployed with high skills, high wage jobs identified in the region. The program provides job-training services to economically disadvantaged, unemployed, and underemployed adults with family responsibilities.
Our philosophy is very simple: A well trained, well-educated population will not only be ready for tomorrow’s jobs, but will be able to live a more prosperous, healthy, and happy lifestyle. The ultimate goal is job retention, not just job placement, which will develop strong citizens who are self-sufficient taxpayers, providing a clear return on investment of federal, state, local and private funding. Our graduates have not only helped the families they support and the businesses that now employ them: their ability to successfully move from the ranks of the low-income has helped us all. Their increased earnings have also enhanced their contributions to our tax system and reduced their dependence on public welfare. VIDA has demonstrated a model for success by graduating participants into demand occupations that normally were jobs unfilled or filled at a very high cost by people outside of our community.
Valley Interfaith and VIDA
Valley Interfaith started Project VIDA. A number of the larger cities in the Valley support the program but in Edinburg, Robledo said, it has become a political football.
“We are into this year’s cycle and we want to fund those students that are in the program. We asked the City for an initial $150,000 to finish this year and we asked them to help reinstate the original amount the City was providing, which was $292,000, to be able to take care of the students currently in the program. We know how many students are in the program and how much it costs to keep them in the program. The last time they invested in the program it as $292,000 and now it is at zero. I have felt the pain of the parishioners that are in need of this assistance. Now, I am reliving that pain again. I have heard their stories, ‘I am not going to be able to finish college.’ They were on that path, making the sacrifices necessary and now all that hard work is for naught.”