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Estella Lane Treviño, featured center, seated, the longtime executive director for the Edinburg Housing Authority, was honored for her many professional and personal accomplishments by city and state leaders in Edinburg on Friday, September 23, which was designated a day in her honor by the Edinburg City Council. Treviño, whose many landmark achievements include being the first woman justice of the peace in Hidalgo County, recently retired as EHA leader after 39 years of service. Following the ceremony, she posed with her immediate family, from left: Dr. Valeria Guerra and her husband, Brian Joseph Guerra (Mrs. Treviño’s grandson) of Austin; George X. Guerra and his wife, Chiqui T. Guerra (Mrs. Treviño’s daughter) of McAllen; Xavier Blair Horler (Mrs. Treviño’s great-grandson) and his parents, Blair Horler and Leanne Marie Guerra Horler (Mrs. Treviño’s granddaughter) of Dallas; and Stephen Michael Guerra (Mrs. Treviño’s grandson) of San Antonio. See stories later in this posting.

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McAllen attorney R.D. “Bobby” Guerra on Thursday, September 8, celebrated with his immediate family following his successful campaign kick-off in McAllen for state representative, House District 41, which includes southwest Edinburg and northeast McAllen. More than 300 supporters joined the Guerra family at the Art Village for the political event. Guerra, a Democrat, is facing a challenge from Edinburg businessman T.C. Betancourt for the March 2011 Democratic Party primary nomination. The winner will face Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, in the November general election. Guerra and his wife, the former Leslie Yoder, posed with their son, Cameron, and daughter, Tessa, following his campaign kick-off speech. The Guerra’s other son, Justin, was in San Antonio that evening because he was needed at his work. Guerra – son of the late Hidalgo County Judge Ramiro Guerra and Enedina Guerra, who served on the Pan American University Board of Regents – criticized Peña and the Republican Party for a state budget that cut about $4 billion from the state’s public education system. See story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg Consolidated ISD Board of Trustees were recently presented with a $20,000 grant check from State Farm Insurance and Texas Valley Communities Foundation (TVCOF) to implement college readiness programming  for students and parents across the district’s six middle schools. Featured, front row, from left: Raúl Resendez with State Farm Insurance; ECISD board secretary Ciro Treviño; ECISD board vice-president Carmen González; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; and Dr. René Gutiérrez, ECISD superintendent. Standing, from left: ECISD board trustees Juan “Sonny” Palacios, Jaime R. Chavana, and Dr. Martín Castillo; Dr. Rebecca Morrison, ECISD assistant superintendent; and ECISD board president David Torres. See story later in this posting.

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Colorful images of La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Llorona, indigenous groups and even Selena graced the walls of South Texas College’s Pecan Campus Library in McAllen, all paying homage to the thoughts and ideas that make up the vision of what it means to be a Chicana woman. The images weren’t chosen randomly; they were part of artist Santa Barraza’s exhibit and lecture, Four Decades of Chicana Art and Culture in Texas and Beyond, which kicked off South Texas College’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. In this photograph, Barraza stands next to her sand sculpture titled Day of the Dead Altar for Los Tios. She prepared the artwork specifically for STC’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. Barraza gave two talks on Thursday, September 15, at the college’s Pecan Campus Library Rainbow Room in to kick off the festivities. She was one of several noted speakers who participated in the Hispanic Heritage Month Pláticas Sol de Aztlán Lecture Series. See story later in this posting.

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Pedro Contreras, an employee with the Edinburg Parks and Recreation Department, was recently honored by Edinburg school district leaders for his determination to finish his high school education. Contreras, featured here with Nelda R. Garza, director of the Edinburg CISD Vision Academy of Excellence, dropped out of Edinburg North High School in 1991 to help provide for his family. But with help from the Vision Academy of Excellence, Contreras was able to earn his General Equivalency Degree (GED), and in this photograph, he and Garza are reviewing his application for admission to the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) program at South Texas College. See story later in this posting.

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Are you a small business owner? Do you need help with issues such as employee attitude, how to increase your bottom line, where to go to get funding to expand or start your business, etc.?  These are just some of the free workshops that the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, based in McAllen, offers its members and future members.  The RGVHCC recruited new members in mid-September, but encourages prospective members to learn more about organization and how to join by calling 928-0060 or logging on to http://www.rgvhcc.com. “The RGVHCC is a non-profit business organization for all business owners and professional people who are interested in growing their business as well as meeting other professionals” said Armando Garza, RGVHCC chairman. Cynthia M. Sakulenski, president and CEO of the organization, noted that the group works on issues relating to health, education, women, and governmental affairs. Some of the RGVHCC leaders are featured here, seated, from left: Marti Miller, vice chair of membership; Rick Álvarez, vice chair of government affairs; and Nidia Villarreal, vice chair of women’s issues. Standing, from left: Ronnie Bernal, vice chair of small business and economic development; Armando Garza, chairman; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, RGVHCC president and CEO; Sam Saxena, vice chair of finance; and Mario Garza, vice chair of health.

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Team spirit was in the air as faculty, staff and administrators from South Texas College and The University of Texas-Pan American gathered in Edinburg on Wednesday, September 7, to sign agreements to help students through the process of transferring from one institution to the other. The signing of the six new agreements allows STC graduates who earn Associate of Science and Associate of Art degrees in the fields of business administration, chemistry, communication arts, computer science, criminal justice and music to seamlessly transfer to UTPA to continue their studies towards a bachelor’s degree. “Now we have 17 agreements in place to ensure all the credits from our various STC degrees plans transfer to UTPA, but that’s not enough – we can do better,” commented Dr. Shirley A. Reed, STC president. “I think we should publicly commit today to having agreements in place within two years ensuring our institutions are 100 percent aligned.” At the end of the signing ceremony, college administrators swapped tee-shirts, hats and caps in a show of team work and spirit. Featured, front row, from left: UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen; STC President Shirley A. Reed; UTPA Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Ana María Rodríguez; STC Vice President for Academic Affairs Juan E. Mejía; and UTPA Provost Havidán Rodríguez. Featured, back row, from left, are STC deans Ali Esmaeili, Mario Reyna and Margaretha Bischoff. See story later in this posting.

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As hundreds of thousands of Texas youths returned to school this fall for a new academic year, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, has been delivering his message that it is never too late to finish a high school education. “Throughout the world, the United States remains known as the ‘Land of Opportunity’, in large part because during our history, this nation has been where countless number of people have come for a chance to achieve their dreams,” said Muñoz. “With many of our young students here in the Valley, I have had the honor to congratulate them for earning their second chance to finish their education.” Muñoz recently was the keynote speaker addressing graduates of the Pharr-San Juan Alamo (PSJA) school district’s Dropout Recovery Program, and the high school education graduates of the Evins Regional Juvenile Center. Featured at the PSJA graduation ceremony are, from left: José V. Romo III; Jena Hernández; Brisclarin García; Dr. Daniel King, PSJA superintendent; Rep. Sergio Muñoz; and Carla L. Vera. See lead story in this posting.

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In America, everyone deserves a second chance, Rep. Muñoz tells high school graduates who overcame struggles

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

As hundreds of thousands of Texas youths returned to school this fall for a new academic year, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, has been delivering his message that it is never too late to finish a high school education.

“Throughout the world, the United States remains known as the ‘Land of Opportunity’, in large part because during our history, this nation has been where countless number of people have come for a chance to achieve their dreams,” said Muñoz. “With many of our young students here in the Valley, I have had the honor to congratulate them for earning their second chance to finish their education.”

Muñoz recently was the keynote speaker addressing graduates of the Pharr-San Juan Alamo school district’s Dropout Recovery Program, and the high school education graduates of the Evins Regional Juvenile Center.

“Looking at you here this evening, I am filled with pride and have a renewed sense of confidence that America is on the right path because our youths have the determination to get back in school and improve their situation, and we have educators who care enough to enable a whole generation to earn a diploma,” Muñoz told PSJA graduates and their families on Thursday, August 18 at San Juan Middle School. “This graduation ceremony symbolizes an incredible achievement, considering all the obstacles and roadblocks you have overcome.”

Earlier in the summer, on Friday, July 22, Muñoz became the first state legislator in recent history – possibly ever – to deliver a commencement speech for almost two dozen young men who had earned their high school diploma or GED (General Educational Development) certificate or credential at Evins Regional Juvenile Center, located in Edinburg.

According to its website, the Evins Regional Juvenile Center (ERJC) is a facility of the Texas Youth Commission, a state agency that is charged with administering the state’s correctional facilities for delinquent youth. The main focus at Evins Regional Juvenile Center is on public protection – through rehabilitation. Youths are encouraged to earn a GED and some are in the program long enough to obtain a high school diploma. The facility’s educational department also offers career and technology training in building trades, computer applications and technology programs.

“All of us here – we share a lot in common. We have all made mistakes, but we’ve paid for them. We all have regrets, but we’ve learned from them,” Muñoz told the Evins graduates.  “You’ve paid your debt to society. You are starting the rest of your life with a clean slate.”

Fresh off a successful first legislative session earlier this year that included the passage of major bills and amendments bearing his name, Muñoz was honored with the inaugural House Democratic Leader’s Award from Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Muñoz praised his legislative colleagues from South Texas for helping him earn that award, but he also emphasized to PSJA and Evins high school graduates that they, too, played key roles in shaping major legislative policies at the Texas Capitol.

He told PSJA graduates – students who had previously dropped out of school but came back to finish their high school education – that they were the inspiration for a new state program that will help reduce high school dropout rates throughout Texas.

Muñoz was the House sponsor of Senate Bill 975, authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry over the summer, which will allow Texas to recover high school dropouts and to help thousands of young Texas adults finally earn their high school diploma and transition into college or into better opportunities in the workforce.

SB 975 is based on the successful dropout recovery program, of whose graduates Muñoz was addressing, which was created by the PSJA school district under the leadership of its superintendent, Dr. Daniel King, and his staff.

“You, your fellow graduates, and those who preceded you, are who we talked about,” Muñoz recalled how he and Hinojosa, along with fellow Valley legislators, helped champion the merits of SB 975.

“We told the governor, we told the Speaker of the House, we told committee chairmen and the Lt. Governor that we have faith in the students who come back to school, after having dropped out for a variety of reasons, that they will perform, they will study, they will make the grade, and here you are: graduates,” Muñoz said.

Although SB 975 initially aims to reduce the dropout rate in Hidalgo County – fewer than 60 percent of its adults over the age of 25 have completed high school – it will also help Texas, which is ranked 43rd in the nation in the number of students who receive a high school degree, increase educational attainment.

SB 975 has many goals, including providing access, and equally important, the exposure to a college-level environment that will encourage deserving students to earn their high school diploma, and then continue their education in career and technology courses at the college that lead to industry or career certification.

One of the best features of this effort is the focus it places on making students feel valued and empowered – not only to finish high school but also to envision themselves as college students. SB 975 allows for partnerships, innovation and efficiency, and more importantly, it will allow public and higher education to work together, as a community, to pave a better future for students.

As for the Evins graduates, Muñoz reminded them that they did not realize the role they played in sparing the Evins Regional Juvenile Center – which produces 400 direct and indirect jobs and an estimated $18 million annual economic impact in Hidalgo County – from being closed down by state budget cuts.

In early April, at the University of Texas-Pan American, the top leaders of the Texas Youth Commission came to Edinburg to hold a public hearing on why Evins should – or should not – close down, he reported, adding that the stakes could not have been any higher. People’s jobs and the future for Evins students were on the line.

“The (Evins) staff along with the incredible volunteers who generously give their time and experiences to help keep you students on the right paths, and the inspirational men and women of faith who help nourish your spiritual needs – they combined to literally save the day for the Evins Center and for all of us who are so proud of what you do here at Evins,” Muñoz told the Evins gathering.

“What happened that weekend should go down in the history of Texas as an example of why people – just like you students here at Evins – always deserve a second chance in life,” the state lawmaker said. “There was another very important aspect to the fight to keep Evins open, and it featured the students – and especially you graduates here tonight. In every presentation delivered at the public hearing last April, the best proof of success at Evins was you, the students at Evins and its graduates.”

Muñoz said innovative programs and policies that increase high school graduation rates have immediate and long-range benefits for the entire state and nation.

Recent findings published by the Bush School of Government and Public Service concluded that “students who drop out of high school will cost Texas up to $9.6 billion in lost revenue and outright expenses over their lifetimes, and that figure escalates as each new crop of dropouts is created,” he highlighted.

“I’m so proud of you,” Muñoz individually and collectively told the students, their families, and staffs involved with the high school education programs and PSJA and Evins. “I feel tall as a mountain.”

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R.D. “Bobby” Guerra campaign kicks off race for state representative, House District 41

By MIKE SINDER

It was an impressive group of more than 300 supporters at the Art Village for R.D. “Bobby” Guerra’s campaign kick-off in McAllen on Thursday evening, September 8. Mayors, judges, school board members, city and county commissioners and other elected officials were outspoken in their support of Guerra’s campaign for state representative, House District 41.

After a stirring rendition of the National Anthem by Alyssa Nicole Cantú (daughter of construction magnate Alonzo and Yoli Cantú of McAllen) – and an invocation by Father Amador Garza, rector from the San Juan Shrine –  Sonia Falcón of McAllen, the senior vice-president at International Bank of Commerce, served as mistress of ceremonies.

She introduced McAllen City Commissioner Marcus Barrera as a guest speaker, who acknowledged the many elected officials and community leaders in attendance. Barrera endorsed Guerra, predicting victory in both the Democratic Party primary election in early March and the general election in May 2012.

Falcón retook the stage for an opportunity to take a dig at the alleged illegal gerrymandering earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, which resulted in a significant redrawing of the political boundaries of House District 41, which is being sought by Guerra and fellow Democrat T.C. Betancourt of Edinburg.

Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, is seeking the Republican nomination in March for the right to face the Democratic Party nominee in November 2012 for a two-year term.

Under the new boundaries of House District 41 – which is being disputed in federal court by Democrats and Hispanic leaders and by the U.S. Department of Justice, but is being defended by the Texas Attorney General’s Office – southwest Edinburg, along with portions or all of McAllen, Mission, Sharyland, Palmhurst and Pharr, are population centers.

Guerra began his remarks with a brief outline of his family and personal history which led him to public service and to enter this race. Reminding the audience of his great grandfather’s service as Hidalgo County sheriff, his father’s service as Hidalgo County judge, his mother’s service as a teacher, principal, and member of the Pan American University Board of Regents, and the myriad of his other relatives who had served the people of Hidalgo County, Guerra explained he was raised to believe public service was an obligation of good citizens.

Moving forward, Guerra reminded his supporters what the recent legislative session, which was held from January through May plus a 30-day special session in early summer, did to the public educational system.

Budget cuts which caused teacher lay-offs, increased class size, reductions in counseling staff, and devastating reductions in funds for virtually every area of the state’s public educational system are having a terrifying effect on the children of this district and the future of our area’s development, he contended.

Guerra pledged that as state representative, he would work in unison with the rest of the Valley officials to insure sufficient funds to deliver a quality education to area children will be available.  Guerra closed his remarks with his affirmation of his eagerness to be a true representative of his district, accessible to his constituents and dedicated to being their voice in Austin.

After his remarks, Guerra joined the audience where he was able to speak with a cross-section of the district. Apart from the elected officials present, Guerra was joined by bankers, businessmen, doctors, union members, educators, college students, parents, and representatives of various interests of the district.

Guerra was born in Edinburg in 1953. His family, both paternal and maternal, has been South Texas ranchers since the 1700s.

Guerra graduated from Pan American University in 1977 with a B.S. degree and a double major in biology and chemistry. For several years, he was a television reporter and news anchor at the ABC

af?liate KRGV-TV Channel 5 prior to attending law school. In 1985 he graduated with cum laude honors from Texas Southern University Law School in Houston. He was admitted to the bar in 1985 and is licensed to practice in Texas and the United States District Courts for the Northern

and Southern Districts of Texas.

Upon graduation from law school, Bobby practiced with the law ?rm of Peña, McDonald, Prestia & Ibañez in Edinburg. In 1986, he joined the McAllen law ?rm of Ewers & Toothaker and became partner after three years. In August 1991, Bobby left Ewers & Toothaker to begin a practice of his own. Guerra has practiced in all of the state courts in the Rio Grande Valley and parts of South Texas. He served for several years as Director of the Hidalgo County Bar Association and was elected HCBA President for the 1993-94 term. He is currently a member of the American Bar Association and State Bar of Texas. He is also a Fellow in the American Academy of Trial Counsel.

Guerra was elected by his peers and served as State Bar Director for District 12 from 1996 to 1999. His district encompassed 17 counties in and around the South Texas area. He was selected as a Texas Super Lawyer in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.

In March of 2000, he was elected Chairman of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party where he served two terms.

He has also served on the board of directors of the University of Texas-Pan American Alumni Association and was elected president of the board in 2003.

(David A. Díaz contributed to this story.)

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Estella Lane Treviño honored by city, UT-Pan American for her service as housing authority leader and for promoting education for youths

By GAIL FAGAN

As head of the Edinburg Housing Authority (EHA) for 39 years, Estella Lane Treviño became known as “Mrs. T” and a widely recognized and beloved advocate for the poor and senior citizens locally and statewide.

To brothers Robert, Jorge and Juan Villarreal, who spent a number of their teenage years in Edinburg’s public housing in the 1990’s, Treviño would say “I’m your grandma” as she watched over their progress in school and kept them busy in housing authority programs she established for young people living there.

“Back then, I thought, ‘She  is no grandma, she doesn’t spoil us,'” said Robert, who recalled how he  benefitted from Treviño’s committed watch over her residents and her mentorship.

Robert went on to graduate in 2002 with a degree in finance from The University of Texas-Pan American and is now a loan officer with First National Bank.

Robert and his brothers also got financial assistance to attend college from housing authority programs that Treviño helped establish for qualified students living in public housing in Edinburg.

Jorge is a 2001 graduate of UT-Pan American in mechanical engineering and now works for Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth.

Juan earned an accounting degree in 2010 from the University and works for International Bank of Commerce.

“It is incredible what one woman can do for a community, to affect so many families. It’s a  lifetime effect that has rippled out to me, my family and my kids,” Robert said.

That legacy of bettering the lives of those less fortunate will live on with the Estella Lane Treviño Endowed Scholarship at UT-Pan American, which was recently established by her colleagues and friends to honor her years of public service and impact on the community.

The scholarship was announced on Friday, September 23, at an event held at the Edinburg Auditorium to honor Treviño, now 89.

The scholarship is planned to assist students who live in Edinburg public housing to attend UT Pan American in any field of study.

UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, who spoke via video at the event, called it marvelous what Treviño has done for the University, Edinburg and to help  students have opportunities to obtain an education.

“Now we have an endowed scholarship in your name, a scholarship that is going to  allow young students to come to the university, Edinburg students, students who are in public housing. This scholarship is dedicated to them. It will be a wonderful opportunity, something they will always remember and something that will change their lives,” Nelsen said.

Nearly 100 well wishers, including Edinburg Mayor Richard García, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Edinburg Councilmember Noe Garza, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, 275th District Court Judge Juan Partida, Hidalgo County Commissioner Precinct 4 Joseph Palacios, Edinburg school board vice-president Carmen Gonzalez, and Edinburg school board trustee Ciro Treviño.

Other local government and HUD officials, as well as recent and past residents in Edinburg’s public housing, family members and friends attended the event, where they praised her lifetime of impact on the community

Born in Red Gate, just north of Edinburg, Treviño graduated from Edinburg High School at age 16. At age 17 she became owner of her first beauty salon which she operated for 21 years. She and her husband, the late José Luis Treviño, who owned a barber shop, came to know everyone, which, along with her many community volunteer activities, helped her to later be elected as Edinburg’s justice of the peace, the first woman ever elected to that office in Hidalgo County. She held that position for six years.

As EHA director, a position she assumed in 1972, Treviño assisted generations of low income  families to secure, safe and affordable housing. The EHA, one of the largest low income housing programs in South Texas, includes six campuses with 467 units, including the Edinburg Tower for the elderly. During her tenure, she supervised more than 900 Section 8 housing units and successfully steered more than 70 qualified low income families toward home ownership in the Family Self Sufficiency Program.

“She had a passion and belief that everyone deserves to have a place to call home,” said Mayor García, who, by proclamation, declared Sepember 23 as Estella Lane Treviño Day in Edinburg.

EHA board member Sissy Slaton said Treviño has always touted education among EHA residents and had raised funds over the years for a housing residence program that provided scholarships to more than 50 students to attend UTPA on scholarships.

“She had after-school programs for  students. She was real interested in education and kept after them. Like the Villarreal boys, she would check in with them weekly and say,” how are you doing, are you going to school, and how are your grades,'” she said.

The EHA board thought the endowed scholarship was an  appropriate way to honor Treviño and hoped that others in the community will support this way of continuing her legacy of helping the less fortunate, Slaton said.

“The endowed scholarship is for life, in perpetuity. She has such spirit and that needs to live on and it will with this endowed scholarship,” Slaton said.

To make a gift or receive more information about the Estella Lane Treviño Endowed Scholarship, contact the UT Pan American Office of Development at (956) 665-5301.

According to the city proclamation in her honor, from 1975 through 2009, Trevino has received numerous awards and recognitions for her many contributions in housing assistance and assisting senior citizens, such as:

• Contribution in Field of Aging Award, presented by the Area Agency on Aging;

• Certificate of Appreciation, presented by the Governor’s Committee on Aging; and

• Outstanding Leadership Award, presented by the Texas Housing Association.

Also according to the city proclamation:

“Mrs. Trevino has served her community in many capacities by serving in many positions for several civic organizations such as, Justice of the Peace and Constable Valley Association, Sacred Heart Mother Club, Edinburg Hospital Auxiliary, League of Women Voters, Hidalgo County Democratic Women, Business and Professional Women, Texas Housing Association, Texas Department of Aging, Hidalgo County Housing Authority Board, South Texas lSD, Hidalgo County Home Health Committee, Hidalgo County Head Start, Area Agency on Aging Advisory Committee, League of Women Voters, Edinburg Hospital Association, Texas NAHRO Chapter, Amigos Del Valle, A.C.C.E.D.C., and Lower Rio Grande  Development Council.

(David A. Díaz contributed to this article.)

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Agreements signed to help South Texas College graduates more easily transfer credit courses to earn university degree at UT-Pan American

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

Team spirit was in the air as faculty, staff and administrators from South Texas College and The University of Texas-Pan American gathered in Edinburg on Wednesday, September 7, to sign agreements to help students through the process of transferring from one institution to the other.

The signing of the six new agreements allows STC graduates who earn Associate of Science and Associate of Art degrees in the fields of business administration, chemistry, communication arts, computer science, criminal justice and music to seamlessly transfer to UTPA to continue their studies towards a bachelor’s degree.

“Now we have 17 agreements in place to ensure all the credits from our various STC degrees plans transfer to UTPA, but that’s not enough – we can do better,” commented Dr. Shirley A. Reed, STC president. “I think we should publicly commit today to having agreements in place within two years ensuring our institutions are 100 percent aligned.

“We have degree programs at STC that transfer to colleges across the state and nation, but we want to ensure our alumni can stay close to home and continue to earn a great education at an affordable price,” she continued. “A total degree alignment between STC and UTPA can make that dream a reality for our STC students. We know that once our students finish their time at STC, UTPA will and does take great care of them. Students are the Valley’s greatest resource and we owe it to them, to the region, to the state and nation to make these opportunities available.”

UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen echoed Reed’s commitment to creating seamless pathways to college completion for Valley students.

“This is the right thing to do. It’s what we should be doing; it shouldn’t be a big deal, because every student who goes to South Texas College is important and it’s important for us at Pan-Am to work with STC and make sure the agreements are there,” said UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen. “We should celebrate today, but we should leave this meeting knowing we did the right thing. We’ve got a bunch more of these right things to do and we have to keep doing them.”

Close to 100 faculty members and administrators from both institutions worked together to create the agreements.

“We commend all those who participated in these courageous conversations about partnerships and curriculum alignment,” said Juan E. Mejia, STC vice president for academic affairs. “We celebrate these agreements because it reiterates our commitment to improving our region by creating access and opportunity. There is a lot of passion and heart at STC and UTPA, and our team work is changing lives and communities for the better.”

And in a show of team work and spirit, college administrators swapped tee-shirts, hats and caps. They ended the signing proudly donning the logos of each other’s institutions.

“There is a lot of work ahead,” said Nelsen. “What we are really celebrating is the willingness to work together for the students of the Valley.”

For more information about STC call 956-872-8311 or visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu. For more information about UTPA call 866-441-8872 or visit http://www.utpa.edu.

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UT System Chancellor Cigarroa to highlight VISTA Summit at UT-Brownsville

By JENNIFER BERGHOM

The University of Texas-Pan American, along with The University of Texas System and The University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB), are bringing leaders of some of the nation’s most prominent philanthropic organizations to the Rio Grande Valley to learn how they can work together to transform the community.

On Wednesday, October 5 and Thursday, October 6, UT-Pan American, UTB and the UT System will host the UT Vista Summit at the Brownsville campus that will include local, state and national leaders in education, health care, industry, public policy, government and philanthropy to discuss opportunities to foster advances in education, health care and economic development in the Valley.

The two-day gathering will be held in La Cassia Room of the Education and Business Complex at UT-Brownsville.

On Wednesday, October 5, UT Chancellor Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa will share his vision of how these organizations can work with UT System, its institutions in the Valley and other partners in addressing South Texas’ needs to advance in education, health care and economic development. Those who attend the afternoon opening of the summit will also hear from Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank, 11th District in Dallas, who will talk about the importance of Hispanics in the Valley and their role in the country’s future, said UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen.

“It is an unprecedented event,” Nelsen said. “The significance of the foundations coming to the Valley itself is making a large statement about the chancellor’s vision for the Valley. The UT System understands how important we (UTPA and UTB) and the Valley are for the future of Texas.”

The UT System and its Rio Grande Valley institutions invited chief executive officers and other top officials of nonprofit foundations including the Ford Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Gates Foundation, Robert J. Woods Foundation, Greater Texas Foundation and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics to participate in the event.

“The summit is an opportunity for us to show ways that we can be involved and for them to begin thinking of ways to get involved,” Nelsen said.

On Thursday, October 6, representatives from these foundations will hear from parents of students, alumni and faculty members of area institutions about the importance of higher education in the Valley and what these institutions are doing to help progress the community. Evan Smith, editor-in-chief and CEO of the Texas Tribune, will moderate those panel discussions.

Participants will also hear from Bruce Katz, vice president of the Brookings Institution and Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Syracuse University in New York, about what roles institutions of higher learning play in developing communities.

“UT-Pan Am has worked with a lot of foundations in the past; we’ve worked with a lot of corporations as well,” Nelsen said.” With this summit, we have a chance to go beyond band-aids and really make major transformations in the Valley.”

Nelsen said he hopes initiatives that develop from this summit will allow UT-Pan American to work with fellow institutions of higher learning in the Valley to expand projects the university is working on such as those to train educators specializing in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and to study health care issues the community faces including diabetes and obesity.

Anyone interested in attending the Vista Summit can register on the event’s website at http://www.vistasummit.com/

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Edinburg CISD receives $20,000 grant to help parents prepare children to attend college

By GILBERT TAGLE

While school districts are concerned about budget cuts in this economic recession time, representatives from the Texas Valley Communities Foundation (TVCOF) were recently joined by State Farm agent Raúl Resendez and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, in presenting the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District with $20,000 to support a parental outreach program.

This grant will go toward implementing Engaging Communities for College Readiness (ENCORE) College Readiness Family Sessions for the third consecutive year. These are workshops designed to increase parental involvement in students’ higher education preparation across all middle schools in the district.

“The ENCORE Family Sessions, as we have seen, have been very successful, and now there’s dialogue between the child and the parent and the school to ensure success,” Resendez said. “We  want to ensure that we live in vibrant communities and that everyone gets an opportunity to get that possible dream of a higher education.”

ENCORE College Readiness Family Sessions empower parents to become actively involved in preparing their children for a successful transition to college. Created by Engaging Communities  for College Readiness (ENCORE), a branch of TVCOF, the sessions take a hands-on approach to opening a dialogue about higher education between parents and their children.

“It all starts at home,” Gonzáles said. “If we start to train the parents on how important it is and what steps they can take while their children are young, I think we’re going to improve  our community and we’re going to improve all of those families tremendously.”

Gilbert Maldonado, TVCOF CEO, praised superintendent Dr. René Gutiérrez and María Luisa Guerra, assistant superintendent for Instruction and Support Services, for their efforts to increase  parental involvement in students’ college preparation.

“This district is going above and beyond when it comes to college readiness,” he said. “I can still remember the first day I met with Dr. Gutiérrez and Mrs. Guerra. I said, ‘What is your  urgent care issue?’ Immediately, Dr. Gutiérrez said, ‘It’s how do we engage parents?’ We are here because it is a true partnership, and we feel that you are doing an excellent job.”

During a study on college readiness in the Rio Grande Valley conducted by TVCOF, students named their parents as the people with the most influence over their post-high school decisions. While many parents may not have college degrees, they recognize the value of an education and want to put their children on the track to earn a post-secondary degree.

“We are very happy to have Texas Valley Communities Foundation and its ENCORE program as a strong partner for the third consecutive year,” Guerra said. “Preparing all of our students and  their parents for college success is definitely one of the ultimate goals for every administrator, teacher and staff member at Edinburg CISD.”

For more information about the ENCORE Program, visit http://www.encoreprogram.org or contact Ernesto Villarreal at 956/903-4231.

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Pedro Contreras, Edinburg city employee, earns GED 20 years after leaving high school

By GILBERT TAGLE

Pedro Contreras, an employee with the Edinburg Parks and Recreation Department, was recently recognized by Superintendent of Schools Dr. René Gutiérrez for Contreras’ success in returning to school after 20 years to work toward getting his high school diploma.

Contreras, the 38-year-old father of five children and two stepchildren, dropped out of Edinburg North High School in 1991 to take on the responsibility  of a wife and a newborn baby. Over the years he worked at several jobs without the benefit of being able to advance because he lacked a high school diploma and had did not have a Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED).

This year Contreras signed up for a GED class at South Texas College (STC) and realized that the only thing he lacked to get his diploma was a math test. He visited with Nelda Garza, director, and Felipe Lozano, counselor, at the Edinburg CISD Vision Academy of Excellence to ask about what he could to  take the test.

Contreras had dropped out and never taken the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test, which was the required standard test for high school students between 1991-2002. The challenge for Contreras was that he would now have to take the  Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test, which replaced the TASS.

Contreras studied on his own for the math TAKS test, passed it on the first try, and succeeded in completing the requirements for his high school diploma.

Vision Academy officials  are currently helping Contreras to get his application ready to enter the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning  Program at STC.

Contreras was given a standing ovation for his accomplishment by the superintendent, principals, and administrators. Contreras told the educators that he was very grateful for the chance the Vision Academy gave him to at long last get his high  school diploma.

Gutiérrez told the educators present during the recognition: “This is what we are here for – to help everyone get a high school diploma.”

For more information on the Vision Academy opportunities call 289-2584 or visit them at 222 W. Kuhn St. in Edinburg.

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Edinburg’s retail economy maintains healthy double-digit growth over January-July 2010

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s retail economy continues to show positive growth from January through July 2011, registering a 12.49 percent improvement over the same period last year, according to the latest findings by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

The strength of the city’s retail economy is measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses.

During the first seven months of 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy has generated $12,068,772.51 in local sales taxes, which are used to help pay for important city services, such as public safety, infrastructure, and public parks. By comparison, the city’s retail economy generated $10,728,442.47 in local sales taxes from January through July 2010.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, receives a portion of that revenue through its one-half cent economic development sales tax.

For the month of July, the city’s retail economy generated $1,151,365.57 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,112,745.44 during the same month last year, an improvement of 3.47 percent.

McAllen, the retail sales leader for the Valley, has shown a 1.08 percent improvement year-to-date compared with 2010, while Brownsville, the most populous city in the Valley, is up four percent so far this year over its 2010 showing.

Harlingen, the fourth most populous Valley city behind Brownsville, McAllen, and Edinburg, respectively, is up 2.33 percent year-to-date compared with the same seven-month period last year.

Pharr, with its 15.29 percent improvement year-to-date over 2010, has the best showing among the Valley’s major cities. Weslaco and Mission are reporting 6.29 percent and 3.84 percent year-t0-date improvements over the same seven months last year.

Edinburg’s July 2011 retail economy showings – both year-to-date and for the month of July – are part of a continuing positive trend documented by the state comptroller of public accounts.

In June 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,566,171.55 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,242,389.38 in local sales taxes produced in June 2010.

In May 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,194,491.73 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,088,198.03 in local sales taxes produced in May 2010.

In April 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,181,367.28 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,124,172.20 in local sales taxes reported in April 2010.

In March 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,672,045.16 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,425,614.92 in local sales taxes reported in March 2010 – an improvement of 17.28 percent.

In February 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,127,941.23 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,069,450.28 in local sales taxes reported in February 2010, reflecting a 5.46 percent improvement.

In January 2011, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,313,889.30 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,079,226.86 in local sales taxes reported in January 2010 – a 21.74 percent improvement.

In December 2010 – the crucial holiday shopping period – Edinburg set a record for the amount of local monthly sales taxes collected – $1,724,220.34 – which was an 11.2 percent improvement over the same month in 2009, when $1,550,742.56 in local sales taxes were collected, according to the state comptroller’s office.

In November 2010, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $1,137,280.35 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,035,902.80 in local sales taxes reported in November 2009 – for about a 10 percent improvement.

For details of September sales tax payments to individual cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts, locate the Monthly Sales Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports on the comptroller’s web site at:

http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/allocsum/compsum.html.

The Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as president, Dr. Glenn Martínez as vice president, Fred Palacios as secretary/treasurer, and Felipe García and Mark S. Peña. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Congressman Hinojosa announces $49 million grant for GEAR Up Program at Region One

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, September 29,announced the U.S. Department of Education has awarded Region One Education Service Center $49 million over a seven-year period for the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR Up).

GEAR Up is designed to increase the number of low-income students, from 7th grade to 12th grade, in completing postsecondary education.

“This is great news for Region One and for the thousands of students this program will continue to help in deep South Texas,” said Hinojosa. “I have seen first-hand how the GEAR Up program has helped our students succeed through high school and become better prepared for higher education.”

GEAR Up funds are also used to provide college scholarships to low-income students, he added.

“I have met so many of our students who say it was through the GEAR Up program that they realized earning a college degree is within their reach,” Hinojosa said. “GEAR Up gives these students the tools, the encouragement and the belief that they too can become college graduates. I congratulate Region One for receiving this outstanding grant award.”

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e-Juror software, designed to improve juror selection process, launched in Hidalgo County

By RICARDO CONTRERAS

The Hidalgo County District Clerk Office on Friday, September 23, launched the much-anticipated eJuror, a module of the ACS Juror Solutions Software implemented in March 2010. This component will enable jurors to communicate with the district clerk office while significantly reducing the time it takes to process a juror questionnaire, reducing the use and dissemination of paper, and improving data reliability.

“This is a great step towards our goals in capitalizing on technology and making services more efficient and accessible to the public,” said Hidalgo County Clerk Laura Hinojosa. “We’re delighted to implement this component as we work towards a more integrated jury system to ensure a positive jury experience for everyone.”

The ACS eJuror component will allow a juror participant to complete the juror questionnaire online and claim one of the following (if and when applicable):

• Exemption;

• Disqualification; and

• Postponement

Juror participants can conveniently complete their online questionnaire at http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us/ejuror. Upon completion of the online process, the juror participant will receive an email notification confirming their status.

“We just sent out a batch of 2,000 jury summons.” said Hinojosa. “We highly encourage the recipients to be the first to use eJuror, a faster and more convenient way of participating in the jury process. “

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McAllen, Pharr to share in more than $7.8 million in federal grants from HUD

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, September 29, announced that grants totaling $7,804,582 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were awarded to the cities of McAllen and Pharr.

The federal funds will be used for housing and for the expansion of economic opportunities for low-income families as well as a swimming pool for schools and the public.

“With the ever-increasing population of the Rio Grande Valley, especially in Hidalgo County, our area is always in need of housing for all of its residents,” said Hinojosa. “The federal resources we are awarded are always put to very good use and they continue to help our communities and our residents thrive.”

Pharr will receive $5,600,000 for Section 108 loan funds towards two separate public improvement projects. Two million and fifty dollars will finance the widening and reconstruction of sidewalks and school crossings in the Las Milpas neighborhood, while more than $3.5 million will finance the development of a city park that will include a competitive swimming pool.

According to the grant, the Pharr will partner with the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district, which will lease its property to the city for the construction of the park and swimming pool. The pool will be used by the schools for competitive events and by the public during non-school hours.

McAllen will receive $1,618,789 through the Community Development Block Grants program (CDBG) to develop viable urban communities by providing suitable housing and by expanding economic opportunities for low-income persons.

McAllen was also the recipient of a grant for $585,793 through HUD’s HOME program. The grant funds will be used for housing programs for low and very low-income families.

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Edinburg Chamber of Commerce banquet on October 15 to honor group’s leadership, recognize outstanding citizens, and feature performance by “Happy the Comedian”

By EVANA VLECK

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and staff are finalizing plans for their Annual Banquet, scheduled for Saturday, October 15, at the Echo Hotel & Conference Center, 1903 S. Closner.

The banquet will honor Edna Peña as incoming chairman and Johnny Rodríguez as outgoing chairman for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. The banquet also will feature dinner, along with entertainment by Happy the Comedian, plus announcements of Man and Woman of the Year.

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce continue to accept nominations for the 2011 Man and Woman of the Year. Chamber officials encourage any local resident interested in submitting nominations to log on to http://www.Edinburg.com for suggestions on how to recommend nominees, or by contacting chamber officials at 383-4974.

The most recent recipients of Man and Woman of the Year are Mimi Cárdenas and Doug Martin in 2010 and Estella Lane Treviño and former Rep. Cullen Looney, D-Edinburg, in 2009.

The chamber also will recognize other outstanding Edinburg residents with the following honors: City of Edinburg Employee of the Year, Fireman of the Year, Ambassador of the Year, and the Leadership Award.

Tickets to attend the Annual Banquet are $35 per person, or $350 for a table of eight. Attire will be business casual.

Happy the Comedian, an international award-winning entertainer, is one of the top 25 Latino comedians in the nation. His performances have delighted thousands of diverse audiences who attend his comedy concerts, conventions presentations, and private events throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Happy the Comedian has written and produced six comedy CD’s, two comedy DVD’s, and was featured in two historical movies shot in South Texas  – Atanacia and Harvest of Redemption. Happy the Comedian was also the original host and co-producer of the comedy show Que Loco! televised on the Galavision network.  

(David A. Díaz contributed to this article.)

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Kika and Lucille de la Garza, renowned Texas political couple, to be honored on November 10 by the International Women’s Board

By ARNOLDO MATA

When the International Women’s Board honors former Congressman Eligio “Kika” De la Garza, D-Mission, and his wife, Lucille Alamia De la Garza, with the  Excellence in Leadership Award at the annual IWB Candlelight Reception on Thursday, November 10, the group will be recognizing a couple who perfectly exemplifies the spirit of the studies abroad program which the group promotes.

The De la Garzas also epitomize a belief in service to the community as they both have generously contributed in private and public capacities in a number of roles in South Texas.

“The De la Garzas have been long-time supporters of the study abroad program because they have seen firsthand the importance of experiencing different cultures and environments,” said IWB President Sara Saldaña. “They have also been tireless leaders in South Texas. Their efforts have helped the area for more than 40 years. Thanks to them, there are countless people whose lives have been changed forever.”

The International Women’s Board is a part of the University of Texas-Pan American Foundation. The group is dedicated to funding university sanctioned summer study abroad programs, which involve travel outside the United States. The ceremony honoring the De la Garzas will help raise funds for the organization’s program. The event will take begin at 6:30 p.m. at the home of Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García.

“We are very pleased to honor Kika and Lucille. I can’t think of anyone who deserves this honor more than they do,” Saldaña said. “I know that there are many people in South Texas who want to take this opportunity to honor them.”

For more information about the event, tickets or sponsorships, contact Saldaña at 607-7381 or Christie Cantú at  665-3665 or via e-mail to:

Accantu@utpa.edu

Sponsorships, which include credit in signage and in the event program, include the following levels:

$5,000 for eight event tickets; $3,000 for 6 event tickets; $1,000 for four events tickets; $500 for two event tickets; and $250 for one event ticket.

Individual tickets, which do not include sponsor signage or being listed in the event program, are priced at $50 apiece.

Given that both come from long-time political families, it seemed that Kika and Lucille were destined to be together. But, it was at a church play in which Kika served as entertainer in between acts where Lucille Alamia first noticed the young man wearing the Cantinflas outfit. Eventually politics did play a role in their relationship.

Lucille is the daughter of the late José V. Alamia and Estella Schunior Alamia.  José V. Alamia, an attorney, was influential in politics in the Edinburg area. Having grown up around politics, Lucille was often involved in the campaigns.

After graduating from Edinburg High School, Lucille completed a two-year business school program in nine months at then-Edinburg Junior College. She then started working for Hidalgo County.

Born in Mercedes, Eligio “Kika” De la Garza grew in the Mission area, where his family was also politically prominent. After dropping out of high school to join the Navy during World War II, Kika returned to complete his high school work and later enrolled at then-Edinburg Junior College. He transferred to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and earned his bachelor’s degree. He then enrolled in St. Mary’s Law School. While there, he joined the ROTC program and was called into the Army during the Korean War.

It was during his time in the Army, on a 10-day leave to the Valley, that Kika decided to run for an open state representative position. In trying to garner support for his election, Kika visited with José V. Alamia. Lucille quickly jumped on the campaign bandwagon, serving as Kika’s first campaign manager and followed him from rally to rally across the county. Seven months after winning the election, they were married.

Kika served 12 years in the Texas House of Representatives, during which he played a key role in many critical issues of the time.

In the 1950s, many Mexican American children suffered severe failure rates when they entered first grade because of language problems. Kika sponsored a landmark Texas legislation that created a state-sponsored program, called Preschool Instructional Classes for Non-English Speaking Children. Through this program, Mexican-American children were taught basic English words and skills before they entered school.

Eventually, the program served as a model for other early childhood education programs, such as the federal Head Start program and the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs the state currently has in place. More importantly, the program proved successful as the students who went through the program had significantly higher passing rates once they entered first grade, compared to those who had not gone through the program.

During his first session in the Texas House of Representatives, Kika also played a big role in helping then-Edinburg Junior College transition into a full, four-year higher education institution and change its name to Pan American College. He also advocated for the merger with the University of Texas System and helped the university as it embarked on a major growth campaign to increase the number of degrees offered and add new buildings to accommodate the growth.

After serving 12 years in the state legislature, Kika and Lucille embarked on a campaign for the Congress. Eventually, Kika served 32 years in Congress, 14 years as chairman of the Agriculture Committee of the U. S. House of Representatives.

Kika arrived in Washington, D. C. in 1965 at a critical time in the nation’s history. Among the first issues Kika took on was the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. He also supported the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (The Fair Housing Act) and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which further strengthened enforcement measures.

With his experience in both the Navy and Army, De la Garza was a strong supporter of military programs, especially for bases in Texas. He also worked to provide funding for water and sewer services for colonia residents all along the U. S.-Mexico border. He was also influential in guiding legislation to improve nutrition, promote food safety, expand agricultural exports, encourage new uses for crops, assure the availability of safe and effective pesticides and provide affordable credit for farmers, including three omnibus farm bills.

As one of the most senior members of Congress in 1993, Kika presided over the House of Representatives during the final debate and adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which impacted the border region’s economy. He worked to improve relations and trade and promoted dialogue between members of Congress and their counterparts in Mexico.

“When you think of all the legislation he sponsored or influenced, you can start to see just how much of an impact he had during his time in Austin and Washington, D. C.,” Saldaña said. “He is among those whose have had changed the course of the region’s development and history. Just in the field of education, he has changed how we educate the children of South Texas. The economy has also been changed for the better by his actions.”

He was the first Hispanic since 1917 to chair a standing  committee in the United States House of Representatives; and no other chairman has ever done so much to advance the concerns of the small and family farmer as De la Garza. He traveled to many countries to promote American agriculture products and research.

“Because Kika was on the Agriculture Committee, we would travel out into the rural areas when we visited other countries. We generally weren’t in the big cities with the dignitaries and State Department representatives,” Lucille explained. “We got to see how the ordinary people lived. We met the average people. They were very friendly and welcoming. We would go into people’s homes, very humble people. They would welcome us like we were old friends.”

According to Lucille, she enjoyed the visits outside the cities.

“Of course, many places reminded me of South Texas and Northern Mexico, so I felt right at home,” she recalled.

According to Kika, he got used to eating exotic foods during his travels abroad.

“In China, we had a meal that included duck. We had soup of web foot. I like to say that the only thing we didn’t eat was the ‘quack’. It was quite an experience,” he said.

For Lucille, the highlight of her travels was meeting Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II in Rome. Lucille also values another honor that only one other person has shared. She and former First Lady Barbara Bush are the only two people in the U. S. to have christened two Navy ships. Lucille christened the USNS Victorious and the USS Black Hawk. The Victorious has served in the South Pacific, and the Black Hawk served in the Atlantic.

After 35 years in Washington, D. C., Kika and Lucille left the capital behind and returned to their McAllen home for good in 2000 to enjoy retirement, their children and seven grandchildren.

Sons  George is a cardiovascular surgeon in McAllen, Michael is a retired Lieutenant Commander in the Navy and currently works with the Department of Defense in Washington, and daughter Ángela is a special education teacher in the central Texas community of Kyle.

Their grandchildren – including three granddaughters who are lawyers, include    Christina, George, Laura, Ariel, Michael Jr., Jennifer and Phillip, who works for Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, in Cuellar’s Mission and Rio Grande City district offices.

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Edinburg man convicted for health care fraud and aggravated identify theft scheme

By ANGELA DODGE

A federal jury in McAllen has convicted the owner of a durable medical equipment business in connection with a health care fraud and aggravated identity theft scheme, United States Attorney J José Ángel Moreno, along with Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General (DHHS-OIG) Special Agent-in-Charge Mike Fields, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Cory Nelson and Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott, announced on Thursday, September 29.

After a four-day trial and approximately one hour of deliberation, the jury found Juan De León Jr., 41, of Edinburg, guilty of all charged counts including conspiracy, three counts of health care fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Following the jurys verdicts, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane, who presided over the trial, remanded De León to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending sentencing scheduled for December 8, 2011.

De León faces up to 10 years in federal prison without parole for the conspiracy and health care fraud convictions, as well as a mandatory two-year sentence for the aggravated identity theft conviction which must be served consecutively to any sentence imposed for the conspiracy and health care fraud convictions.

At trial, the United States presented evidence that De León, who owned and operated United DME Inc. – a durable medical equipment company located in Weslaco –  directed the submission of hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent claims to the Medicare and Medicaid programs for a variety of items and alleged health care services. Specifically, the United States proved that De León billed or directed his staff to bill Medicare and Medicaid for power wheelchairs that were not delivered to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

In some cases, De León would instead provide the beneficiaries with less expensive and more difficult to operate scooters that they could not use for a variety of medical reasons. In other cases, De León or his staff submitted claims to Medicare and Medicaid that contained dates of delivery after the beneficiary had passed away.

The United States also presented evidence regarding the submission of fraudulent claims for diabetic supplies and other m  edical items that were not delivered to beneficiaries. According to the evidence at trial, De León attempted to conceal the scheme by altering records contained within patient files including backdating delivery dates and forging patient signatures on delivery tickets.

The investigation leading to the charges against De León was conducted by DHHS-OIG, the FBI and the Texas Attorney Generals Medicaid Fraud Control Unit with the assistance of Health Integrity LLC.

Assistant United States Attorney Greg Saikin and Special Assistant United States Attorney Rex Beasley are prosecuting the case.

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McAllen man convicted for straw purchase, possession of unregistered firearms, silencer

By ANGELA DODGE

A federal jury has found Manuel Tijerina-Herrera, 48, a lawful permanent alien residing in McAllen,  guilty of all counts alleged in a five-count indictment arising from a straw purchase of firearms scheme as well as for possessing a unregistered silencer, United States Attorney José Ángel  Moreno announced on Tuesday, September 27.

A straw purchase is any purchase wherein the purchaser knowingly acquires an item or service for someone who is, for whatever reason, unable to purchase the item or service himself. This term can be applied to any such purchase, but it is most widely used in relation to the sale of firearms, especially in United States federal gun laws.

The jury returned its verdicts on Monday evening, September 26, after approximately two hours of deliberation as it considered the testimony presented during three and one-half days of trial. The jury heard testimony that beginning in 2008, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) initiated an investigation which lead to the discovery that co-defendants Aaron Alemán, 21, Priscilla Treviño, 21, Gustavo Alemán, 22, and Schubby Ramírez, 21, all of Hidalgo, had lied on ATF Forms 4473 when they purchased firearms – claiming the firearms were being purchased for themselves.

Through further investigation, agents learned the firearms were in fact purchased for Tijerina. The co-defendants were provided money to purchase the firearms which they then delivered to Tijerina at his restaurant, El Tiburón in McAllen. Tijerina paid them $150 for the purchase. Agents continued their investigation into Tijerina’s alleged unlawful purchase of firearms.

In 2010, ATF Special Agents were alerted to an suspicious purchase of a Bushmaster AR-15 firearm by Jesse González, 19, of San Juan. Agents followed González from a local federally licensed firearms dealer to the Palmas Sports Club and Klub Infinity, another business owned by Tijerina. Agents saw González transfer the firearm into Tijerina’s truck.

Tijerina then left Palmas and Klub Infinity in his truck, accompanied by Jonathan Tijerina, Manuel Tijerina’s son, and Víctor Castro. Agents followed Tijerina’s truck to Tijerina’s home. Once at his home, Tijerina entered his home while Jonathan Tijerina or Castro carried the rifle into Tijerina’s home.

An ATF agent also followed González and ultimately interviewed him. González admitted to lying on three ATF Forms 4473 and purchasing as many firearms. Agents then secured a federal search warrant for the Tijerina’s residence. That search resulted in ATF agents recovering the rifle that González had purchased that day and a 9mm Beretta pistol with a threaded barrel and compatible firearms silencer.

Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa, who presided over the trial, accepted the guilty verdicts and has set sentencing for December 29. For the three convictions of aiding and abetting the making false statements on ATF Form 4473 and the conspiracy to make a false statements on ATF Form 4473 conviction, Tijerina faces a maximum of five years in federal prison without parole. For the possession of a non-registered silencer, Tijerina faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. All five counts of conviction also carry fines of $250,000 each. Initially released on bond, Tijerina was taken into custody on Friday, September 23, for a pretrial release violation. He will remain in custody pending sentencing.

Aaron Alemán, Treviño, Gustavo Alemán and González have all pleaded guilty to a single count of making a false statement on a ATF Form 4473 and are awaiting sentencing.

Ramírez is pending trial and presumed innocent unless and until convicted by due process of law.

The investigation leading to the July 2010 indictment was conducted by the ATF. Assistant United States Attorney Steven T. Schammel is prosecuting the case.

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Obama Administration to keep National Guard along southwest border through end of year

By JOSÉ BORJON

Congressmen Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and Congressman Michael McCaul, R-Austin, recently announced that the Obama Administration has extended the temporary deployment of National Guard personnel along the Southwest border through December 31, 2011.

Since their arrival at the end of last summer, thousands of National Guard soldiers and airmen have served alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and Border Patrol agents to secure the border. Their efforts and assistance to CBP have not only yielded the seizure of thousands of pounds of drugs, but they have also strengthened the multi-layered approach to combat the smuggling of persons, illegal narcotics, and dangerous weapons along our border. The Department of Defense will cover the cost of the deployment.

“This extension of deployment for the National Guard comes at an important time as we work together to secure the Southwest border through an increase in resources by the federal government, which provides support to law enforcement agencies on the border,” said Cuellar. “We must continue our diligent efforts in ensuring the communities and cities on the U.S.-Mexico border are safe. I welcome the extension of the National Guard troops as a necessary step in continued efforts to strengthen the security of our border with Mexico.”

Cuellar is a member of the U.S. House Homeland Security and Agriculture Committees.

“This is a necessary step but we still need a long term commitment to a comprehensive strategy to secure the border,” added McCaul. “The National Guard troops are a temporary fix until we deploy more Border Patrol agents and integrate the manpower with technology.”

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Wills for Heroes program to help up to 100 Hidalgo County veterans set for November 11

By FROY GARZA

The Hidalgo County Bar Foundation, the Hidalgo County Bar Association (HCBA), and the HCBA Estate Planning & Probate Law Section have partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System (VATVCBHCS) to host the second annual Wills for Heroes program on Veterans Day – Friday, November 11 –  from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the South Texas College Cooper Center, 3200 W. Pecan Blvd. in McAllen.

The preparation of a free will, along with other estate planning documentation, at no cost, including Power of Attorney and Physician Directive, will be provided to veterans who live in Hidalgo County, and whose estates do not exceed $300,000.

The Hidalgo County Bar Foundation will limit the program’s eligibility to the first 100 veterans who submit their package.

Eligible veterans may obtain the Veteran Estate Planning Packets at the McAllen VA Outpatient Clinic, 2101 South Col. Rowe Blvd. in McAllen, or from the Hidalgo County Bar Association, 314 South Closner, in Edinburg. Those materials will be available for pick-up at those addresses.

In addition, veterans may obtain those packets at the Hidalgo County Veteran Service Office, 2816 S. Business Hwy. 281 in Edinburg, or by downloading the materials at http://www.hidalgobar.org.

Hidalgo County veterans who meet the criteria will need to complete the seven-page packet and return it either in person or by mail to one of the following locations: Hidalgo County Bar Association, 314 South Closner, Edinburg; or The McAllen VA Clinic Administrative Office, 2101 S. Col. Rowe Blvd., McAllen.

The Hidalgo County Bar Association will have volunteer attorneys available to answer questions about the planning packets at the McAllen VA Clinic on Friday, October 7, October 14, October 21, and October 28, from noon to 2 p.m. Veterans need only sign up with the clerks at the front of the McAllen VA Clinic for a time slot.

The deadline for submitting the estate planning packets to the Hidalgo County Bar Association/McAllen VA Outpatient Clinic is Tuesday, November 1, 2011.

Veterans who have submitted their planning packets are required to attend the November 11, 2011 Wills for Heroes Clinic at South Texas College to review, sign, and receive their will. For more information, veterans may contact Jeri Worthington, executive director, Hidalgo County Bar Association at 380-1691 or via e-mail at jeri@hidalgobar.org

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Santa Barraza’s tribute to Chicana art, culture helped highlight Hispanic Heritage Month

By EDGAR CHRNKO

Colorful images of La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Llorona, indigenous groups and even Selena graced the walls of STC’s Pecan Campus Library, all paying homage to the thoughts and ideas that make up the vision of what it means to be a Chicana woman. The images weren’t chosen randomly; they were part of artist Santa Barraza’s exhibit and lecture, Four Decades of Chicana Art and Culture in Texas and Beyond, which kicked off South Texas College’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration.

Barraza, a Kingsville native, made an early afternoon and evening appearance on Thursday, September 15, before close to 400 STC students, faculty, staff and community members. She explained several of her works, including murals, retablos and canvas paintings. In her art, she integrates Mayan and Aztec cultures and mixes religion and feminism, and transmits a message of empowerment for women.

However, one of the ironies Barraza has observed from her experience in the art world is the interest her work has generated outside of her own culture.

“We are not very interested in our own culture, but other people are,” she said. “They (other cultures) are buying our art and investing in us. It’s important for students to see that they can succeed in art.”

Barraza arrived four days before her scheduled talk to prepare a piece specifically to kick off the festivities. With the assistance of two of her students from Texas A&M-Kingsville and a group of STC students, the South Texas artist created an original sand sculpture titled, Day of the Dead Altar for Los Tios, in honor of her aunt and uncle who passed away earlier this year.

“The students worked really hard on it,” Barraza explained. “I couldn’t do it all by myself in such a short amount of time. We got it done in three days, thanks to the students.”

Barraza’s next exhibit will be at La Piña Gallery in Austin. Afterward, she expects to have a showing in Austria and Spain.

“We’re very happy that Santa Barraza accepted our invitation to participate in the lecture series and we’re honored by the sand sculpture she took the time to prepare for us,” said STC Library Specialist Esther García. “It was very exciting. We had a great turnout by our students and the community.”

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