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Valley Interfaith Leverages New Funding for VIDA

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."

Raymondville Invests Thousands in Job Training ProgramKRGV

Training Part of Effort to Improve WorkforceValley Morning Star

Pharr Mayor Credentials Work of Valley Interfaith

 

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 ValleRio Grande Guardian



Valley Interfaith Saves $290K in Funding for VIDA Job Training

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 City Council Promises to Restore Funding to Project VIDAThe Monitor

Edinburg EDC Approves Budget With Emphasis on Infrastructure, Industrial Park, The Monitor

Local Job Training Nonprofit Faces Cuts from Edinburg EDC Budget, The Monitor

Valley Interfaith Secures Streetlights in Olmito Colonia

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 ColoniasBrownsville-Herald

Valley Interfaith Upsets Pharr Election, Community Wins Big

Las Milpas, TX - A culture of disrespect towards Las Milpas residents had become so pervasive that when Valley Interfaith leaders sought funding for a local library last year, the Mayor declared: " is not a Whataburger where you pull up and give your orders....use the school library." The disrespect extended to leaving streets unpaved in thecolonia over two decades and turning a blind eye to the 4-hour bus commutes of UT-RGV college students as they trudged on foot over a mile to the nearest stop.Rather than let the City's response deter them, leaders used the disdain to fuel a 7-month electoral brawl including a Get Out The Vote strategy that ultimately replaced the Mayor and deposed dismissive officials.

Valley Interfaith leaders Eddie Anaya, Claudia Garcia, Monse Martinez, and Mauro Hernandez launched a campaign to change the power structure in Pharr, starting with meetings held in homes and at churches. Says Anaya, "We knew, with Valley Interfaith, there was only one way to do this."

Leaders moved on from house meetings to Saturday block walking around St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church to find out whether anything (or anyone) else needed to be added to the campaign. On these walks, leaders found other leaders and more issues. The agenda grew to include the bridge over the canal, increased funding for workforce training program VIDA, better public transport to UT-RGV, accelerated street paving and lending options beyond payday loans.

A youth contingent from St. Francis Cabrini brought 40 parents and community members to confront the Mayor and City Commission. High school student Aaron Anaya outlined the (repeated) demand for a library and recreational center and asked, "Why can't Pharr invest in our young citizens? Is it lack of planning or just lack of will?"

The youth contingent fortified the voter signup effort, signing up more than 500 registered voters after mass in favor of the updated Valley Interfaith agenda and to attend an accountability session. Other youth pushed through a rainy Saturday afternoon using Facebook and cell phone calls to sign up parents and friends of parents. Inspired parents knocked on doors alongside youth and neighborhood businesses lined up to sponsor pizza and other refreshments.

At an accountability session organized by Valley Interfaith, it was standing room only; the organization had invited all city commission and mayoral candidates to respond to their new 6-point agenda. When two of the incumbent candidates failed to show, leaders dug in. With more walks, phone calls and pulpit announcements, leaders turned out an additional 1,000 voters from Las Milpas (south Pharr) for a game changing upset that resulted in a new Mayor and slate of commissioners.

At the first meeting following the election, Valley Interfaith's 6-point agenda showed up on the City Commissioners' meeting agenda, each point passing with overwhelming support. The bridge over the canal is slated for construction in September 2015. The City hired an architect for the library, which the Mayor wants built "how the community wants it." Pharr doubled funding for VIDA from $50 thousand per year to $100 thousand. The Transportation department is now strategizing on whether rapid shuttles or buses would better meet the needs of college students. Street paving has accelerated from a 10-year plan to a 4-year plan and leaders are currently in negotiation with a credit union and bank to develop family-friendly lending programs to help people avoid the scourge of payday loan sharks.

Eddie Anaya knew things had turned around when the new Mayor said: "Valley Interfaith has a machine in place and I want to be re-elected. Let's build this library exactly how the community wants it."

City of Pharr Set to Adopt Valley Interfaith's Initiatives for Las MilpasRio Grande Guardian (05/17/15)

All City Candidates Commit to Valley Interfaith Agenda, Lincoln ParkThe Brownsville Herald (04/26/15)

Pharr Candidates Back Valley Interfaith's AgendaRio Grande Guardian(04/27/15)

Valley Interfaith Hosts Forums Across AreaThe Brownsville Herald (04/24/15)

'Accountability Session' to Feature Commission and Mayor CandidatesThe Brownsville Herald (04/18/15)

Pharr Candidates Commit to Valley Interfaith Agenda One Day Before Voting Starts, The Monitor (04/27/15)

Forum in Pharr to Focus on Las Milpas, But Only Challengers Commit to AttendingThe Monitor (04/27/15)

Valley Interfaith to Host Forum for Pharr Candidates on SundayRio Grande Guardian (04/24/15)

City to Explore Land Options for University, But Commission Does Not Withdraw Lincoln Park from Consideration, The Collegian (04/22/15)

Las Milpas Residents Turn Out for Pharr Project Forum, The Monitor

Valley Interfaith Shakes Up Pharr City Race, Advances Agenda with New Officials

As a result of Valley Interfaith's impact on the recent Pharr city comissioners race, the newly constituted city commission has placed six of the organization's top agenda items on the agenda -- all of which are expected to be approved. At an accountability assembly three weeks prior, leader raised the issue of needed investments in parks, libraries, additional job training, a bridge across a canal to link two neighborhoods, curtailment of predatory lending, street paving and additional bus routes.

The Rio Grande Guardian reports:

"In the recent Pharr City Commission election, Valley Interfaith leaders knew the races were likely to be close. They calculated that if they turned out their supporters and members, particularly in south Pharr, they could impact the election and thus have leverage on which policies get implemented."

The strategy appears to be paying off.

City Commits More Funds to Education-Based Nonprofit, The Monitor

Library, Bridge Over Dangerous Path to Benefit Las Milpas Community, Valley Central

City of Pharr Set to Adopt Valley Interfaith's Initiatives for Las MilpasRio Grande Guardian (05/17/15)

All City Candidates Commit to Valley Interfaith Agenda, Lincoln ParkThe Brownsville Herald (04/26/15)

Pharr Candidates Back Valley Interfaith's AgendaRio Grande Guardian(04/27/15)

Valley Interfaith Hosts Forums Across AreaThe Brownsville Herald (04/24/15)

'Accountability Session' to Feature Commission and Mayor CandidatesThe Brownsville Herald (04/18/15)

Pharr Candidates Commit to Valley Interfaith Agenda One Day Before Voting StartsThe Monitor (04/27/15)

Forum in Pharr to Focus on Las Milpas, But Only Challengers Commit to Attending, The Monitor (04/27/15)

Valley Interfaith to Host Forum for Pharr Candidates on SundayRio Grande Guardian (04/24/15)

City to Explore Land Options for University, But Commission Does Not Withdraw Lincoln Park from Consideration, The Collegian (04/22/15)

Valley Interfaith Celebrates in their (Recently Paved) Streets

When Valley Interfaith leader Monse Martinez (in photo, upper left)

first moved into Las Milpas he noticed the roads were in very bad conditions. Says Martinez: "The potholes were destroying our vehicles. But we started to get organized...talking about it in church, holding house meetings and demanding these roads get fixed."

When the residents got their street paved, they organized a celebration where the potholes used to be.

Said Martinez's pastor Reverend Edouard Atangana: "It is part of the Christian responsibility to participate in the life of the community." Leaders of the Los Ebanos colonia are also pushing for a recreation center and a library. To that end, Father Atangana urged parishioners to stay involved in the process. "We want our people in this part of Pharr, especially, to vote."

Colonia Residents Celebrate After Streets Get RepairedRio Grande Guardian

Celebra Valley Interfaith Pavimentación de las CallesEl Mañana

Valley Interfaith Decries Judge's Injunction, Reminds Immigrants that DACA Remains in Effect

The press conference started with the story of teacher in 2001, invited from Mexico to teach in MacAllen in 2001 -- then disinvited when 9/11 attacks led to dramatic changes in the treatment of immigrants.

Clergy and leaders of Valley Interfaith convened at St. Mary Catholic Church to call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, remind undocumented immigrants that the 2012 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) executive order is still in effect and to urge potential beneficiaries of DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents) to prepare now for the event that the hold on the executive order is lifted.

Coming Out of the ShadowsBrownsville Herald

Faith Leaders Work with Immigrants Amid Hold on Immigration Action, Valley Central

Valley Interfaith Comes Together for Immigration ReformNBC News 23

Coming Out of the Shadows, The Monitor

Valley Interfaith Fights for Chemical Cleanup, Puts Weight Behind New Hospital District

 

At an assembly with officials of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Valley Interfaith leaders argued that the failure to clean up a 33-acre benzene spill is behind the cancer and other illnesses impacting families living in the area. Leader Frank Pena alerted the assembly that while a legal settlement on the spill resulted in payouts, it did not result in needed environmental cleanup.

That same week, Valley Interfaith threw its political weight behind ballot Proposition 1 for the creation of a new hospital district to drawn down additional federal dollars expand and improve care for local residents.

Organizacion Pide Respuestas Ante Contaminacion De Quimico Debajo de ViviendrasUnivision 48

Valley Interfaith Throws Its Weight Behind Hidalgo County Hospital District, Rio Grande Guardian

Local Organizations Announce Support for Hospital District, The Rio Grande Valley Monitor

Valley Interfaith Urges Pharr Officials to Address Concerns of Colonias

Valley Interfaith leader Eddie Anaya, organized a forum in Las Milpas to identify the concerns of colonia residents of Pharr. He brought 20 leaders with him to a city-sponsored forum later that week to relay their priorities: a satellite library on the Southside of Pharr, public transportation, improved police response, and identifying an alternative water supply.

"The most important thing about this is teaching our people to voice their opinion and understand the process," said Anaya.

Las Milpas Residents Turn Out for Pharr Project Forum, The Monitor