Valley Interfaith leaders are changing hearts and minds about the creation of a health district by knocking on doors and telling their healthcare stories. Catholics and Methodists are uniting, with reverends and veterans, all to make reality a community healthcare system for the Rio Grande Valley.
Says leader Eddie Anaya, "Valley Interfaith has long had a vision of a community ...healthcare system that will take care of the most vulnerable â€” health care that will serve the uninsured, the elderly, our children and our working families. We believe that an educated vote will result in the passing of Proposition 1."
Prop 1 Supporters Work to Get Out The Vote, The Monitor
Valley Interfaith celebrated the construction of a new library they had fought for, marking the first time in 20 years that "we feel, as citizens, as a community that we belong to the City of Pharr...it is an historic day." The library is the result of a protracted fight between Valley Interfaith leaders and the City of Pharr; the fight included success in signing up and turning out more than 1,000 new voters from Las Milpas.
In photo, Catholic Bishop Daniel Flores and other Valley Interfaith clergy break ground with children from nearby Carmen Anaya Elementary.
Anaya: Finally, Las Milpas Residents Feel Part of Pharr, Rio Grande Guardian
When St. John Paul II wrote that "a just wage is the key to economic justice," Valley Interfaith leaders listened. Challenged to address the plight of parents working two to three jobs and seeing families break down under the pressure, leaders began their living wage campaign in 1997 to pressure employers across the Rio Grande Valley to increase their minimum wages from $5 /hour to $7.50 /hour or more. Valley Interfaith succeeded where others before them had failed.
In 2000, after MIT Professor Paul Osterman spent three months studying the economic impact of the wage raises, leaders learned that in just three years, their efforts had increased the salaries of 7,200 workers by an average of $1,128 annually. Employers reported costs savings due to lower turnover and absenteeism. Employment did not drop. Since then the campaign accelerated to include dozens of school districts, college districts, county governments and entire municipalities. Economic incentives are often restricted to companies paying appropriate base wages.
Click below for the rest of the story, spanning two decades of work.
Valley Interfaith's Living Wage Campaign, Part One, Rio Grande Guardian
Valley Interfaith's Living Wage Campaign, Part Two, Rio Grande Guardian
As the 40+ anniversary of the Texas IAF approaches, Bishop Daniel Flores from the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville lauded the work of local affiliate Valley Interfaith as well as that of the Network of Texas IAF Organizations. He says that "it is fitting to recognize those in the community who are making a difference by helping our neighbors in need."
In addition to the Bishop's letter of support, the Rio Grande Guardian published a two-part series documenting the work of Valley Interfaith over the last few decades.
Bishop Flores Praises Work of Texas IAF as it Celebrates 40th Anniversary, Rio Grande Guardian,
Valley Interfaith stories here.
With 21 accidents occurring at one intersection in the previous 36 months, Valley Interfaith leaders made an issue of that intersection's lack of light signal, demanding that the City of Brownsville install one to prevent further collisions. One complicating factor was the state's reluctance to pay for the improvement on the road, which is a state highway. On March 1st, the City Commissioners voted to appropriate local funds for the signal. Commissioner Jessica Tetreau credited Valley Interfaith for bringing it up.
In photo, a truck breezes behind a worker still crossing the road.
Church Group Pushes for Traffic Signal, Brownsville Herald
Valley Interfaith Confronts Candidates on Light, Ambulances, Drainage, Workforce Development and Tax Abatements
The night before early voting began, undecided voters from Valley Interfaith congregations held a nonpartisan accountability assembly with candidates for Cameron County judge and Commissioner positions in Precinct 1 and Precinct 4. Said Valley Interfaith leader Tina Ramirez-Tetecatl: "We selected questions through house meetings and talking about issues around the parishes."
Leaders asked candidates to respond yes or no to questions about investments in light posts, workforce development program VIDA, ambulance services into the colonias and the creation of a unified county drainage district. In order to pay for these requested expansions, Valley Interfaith asked candidates whether they would deny tax abatements to companies seeking to expand in Cameron.
Alfonso Sanchez says he lived in the same neighborhood for 23 years, adding "I don't want politicians to just sit in office without addressing our concerns and fixing our streets. We pay our taxes and we deserve the candidates' attention."
Valley Interfaith Holds Accountability Session, Brownsville Herald
As this town continues to struggle with the fallout of a faltering economy, the City Council -- at Valley Interfaith's urging -- voted to make a strategic investment in its own workforce, putting in $28,000 towards job training program VIDA. Said student Monique Cavasos, "I want to know that they have something to look forward to."
Specifically, the City Council of Raymondville approved $28,0000 in Economic Development Corporation funds to expand VIDA's workforce training into their city. Said Mayor Gilbert Gonzales, "Education is a big thing...it improves our community with better-paying jobs."
Training Part of Effort to Improve Workforce, Valley Morning Star
At the unveiling of a "Promesas del Valle" initiative, in which County leaders explained they are seeking official designation as a 'federal promise zone', Ambrosio Hernandez, the Mayor of Pharr, cited collaboration with Valley Interfaith as one example of a partnership that will continue with or without federal designation.
"This is just a tool to enhance what we are already doing. Pharr already works in collaboration with STC, with PSJA, with the cities of Alamo and San Juan, with Valley Interfaith and VIDA, we are already doing it. Regardless of what the federal government does we are going to continue to deepen our relationships because it is the right thing to do for our community."
Adult Education Can Be Big Winner Under Promesas del Valle, Rio Grande Guardian
When Valley Interfaith leaders learned that the Edinburg Economic Development Corp. (EDC) was planning to slash funding for workforce development program VIDA, they immediately set up meetings with municipal elected officials to identify and ensure City funds to make up the gap. While they discovered that the Mayor and one councilmember was completely on board with the proposal, leaders soon learned that the other three commissioners (a new majority) were planning to slash funding.
One commissioner, despite professing to having his "heart touched by the testimony of the students" told leaders that he might consider an investment of $50K (as opposed to the $290K previously funded by the EDC). In response to Valley Interfaith's vocal rejection of his crumbs, he told leaders they were "going to have problems" if they did not change their attitude.
Instead, leaders changed tactics, flooding the following budget hearing with 300 VIDA students, graduates and Valley Interfaith leaders to demand a full restoration of funding for VIDA. Promising the three opposing commissioners that "we will remember you in the next election," leaders filled the room beyond capacity, spilling out into the hallway and outside. When one of those commissioners proposed the city fund the project by $250K (representing a $40K cut), the proposal was met with silence.
In contrast, when the Mayor proposed directing the full $290K to the project, leaders responded with thunderous applause. When the supporting councilmember seconded the proposal, leaders started whistling in approval. Seeing the opposing commissioners shift uncomfortably in their seats, the Mayor pounced on the one soonest up for reelection, inviting him to third the proposal. He reluctantly accepted and the vote passed unanimously - thus securing Edinburg funding for long-term workforce development.
Edinburg EDC Approves Budget With Emphasis on Infrastructure, Industrial Park, The Monitor
Local Job Training Nonprofit Faces Cuts from Edinburg EDC Budget, The Monitor
A crowd of leaders gathered near a newly installed streetlight in the Olmito colonia as Father Hector Cruz of Our Heavenly Father Catholic Church sprinkled it with holy water. Valley Interfaith leaders gathered from across Cameron County to celebrate the installation, which resulted from their intervention. They were joined by three county commissioners. Said Fr. Hector Cruz, "The streetlights show that democracy is alive in Cameron County."
Valley Interfaith Celebrates Streetlights, Safety Upgrades for Colonias, Brownsville-Herald