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Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence, authored by Rep. Muñoz, Rep. Canales, among key priorities for South Texas College leadership

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Featured, from left: Wanda F. Garza, Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services, South Texas College; Rose Benavídez, Member, Board of Trustees, District 1, South Texas College; Dr. Shirley A. Reed, President, South Texas College; and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, at the House District 36 lawmaker’s Capitol office on Tuesday, February 3.

Photograph By PETER SALINAS

With the goal of increasing educational opportunities while improving public safety and border security, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, is carrying several measures designed to help fight crime, including landmark legislation that could eventually lead to the establishment of a full-fledged South Texas College campus in Pharr. House Bill 1887, filed by Muñoz on Tuesday, February 25, would allow South Texas College to create the Regional Center for Public Safety, which would be built on a yet-undisclosed 50- to 60-acre site to be donated by the City of Pharr. With Muñoz serving as the primary author – which means the legislation is the idea of the Mission Democrat – Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, on Monday, March 9, signed on as a joint author in support of HB 1887. “Having such an educational facility for our current and future law enforcement officials will be a tremendous benefit for the delivery of justice and the protection of all of us in deep South Texas,” said Canales, whose House District 40 includes 19 percent of the City of Pharr. “I appreciate Rep. Muñoz allowing me to sign on as joint author of HB 1887, and I look forward to working with him and the leadership of Pharr and South Texas College on this most important legislative effort.” Muñoz’ House District 36 includes 76 percent of the City of Pharr. Included in HB 1887 is language that would authorize South Texas College to also allow “aspiring law enforcement officers to earn a bachelor’s degree that will provide more career opportunities for our community,” Muñoz said. “STC is positioned to offer a bachelor’s degree in Homeland Security, Public Safety and Law Enforcement, or whatever degree specifically responds to the needs of our metropolitan region.” STC officials would be responsible for developing the appropriate bachelor’s degree program, which would have to receive final approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the lawmaker added. Currently, 1,751 law enforcement officers are employed in Hidalgo and Starr counties, with the intent to hire 134 additional certified officers during the current fiscal year. The Texas Workforce Commission predicts that there will be a 22 percent increase during the next 10 years for more certified police officers in these two counties, but access to training opportunities is limited. “HB 1887 would serve the greater need of the Valley’s law enforcement personnel, as facilities become available, by increasing the number of instructional programs offered in deep South Texas with new certificate and associate of applied science degree in programs such as police administration, forensics, emergency management, leadership, aircraft rescue, homeland security, special weapons and tactics,” said Muñoz. HB 1887 states that STC would administer the regional center in partnership with political subdivisions and participating school districts in the Valley, and would require the headquarters of the regional center to be located “at South Texas College in Pharr.” His bill would allow the regional center to use property and facilities at other locations in Hidalgo and Starr counties. Muñoz is working with Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, to secure support in the Senate.

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President Obama posthumously bestows Medal of Honor to World War II hero Pedro Cano of Edinburg

On Tuesday, March 18, President Barack Obama awarded 24 Army veterans – including a posthumous national recognition for Pedro Cano of Edinburg – the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. One of Cano’s daughters, Dominga Cano Pérez of Reedley, California, accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf from President Obama during the ceremony held in the East Room of the White House. “This is the single largest group of service members to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Second World War,” Obama said, adding that “their courage almost defies imagination.” Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, whose congressional district features Edinburg, reflected on the importance of the national honor, not only to Cano and his family, but for the country. “Many wrongs have finally been made right in the case of Pedro Cano and twenty three other American heroes who have received the highest honor that a military serviceman or woman can earn, the Medal of Honor,” Hinojosa said. “For decades these men were not recognized for their outstanding feats of courage. They were never honored for the American lives they saved. Sadly, they were never honored for their extraordinary patriotism because of their ethnicity, the color of their skin and their religion.” Cano is the second Edinburg man to receive the nation’s highest military honor. On October 31, 1969, Alfredo “Freddy” Cantú González, a U.S. Marine, was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor for his actions, which led to his death in combat, during the Battle of Hu? in 1968, one of the bloodiest and longest battles of the Vietnam War. Cano died in an automobile accident in Edinburg in 1952. Both men are buried at Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Edinburg. See lead story in this posting.

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Major issues affecting juvenile justice in Texas, including protecting the rights of juries to have more options in the punishment and rehabilitation of 17-year-olds accused of serious felonies, was taken up in Austin on Tuesday, March 25, by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, featured left, is the only Valley lawmaker on the nine-member legislative panel, which is chaired by Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi. The committee heard from expert witnesses, as well as allowed verbal and written testimony Texans, during the public hearing the State Capitol. The session focused on studying the classification of 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system of Texas. “Serious concerns nationwide and in Texas have been raised regarding whether placing 17-year-olds, who are still not adults, under the control of the adult criminal justice system, where they are more likely to become hardened criminals, and where they are more vulnerable to physical and sexual assaults than in juvenile justice facilities,” said Canales. Featured during grand opening ceremonies earlier this year at his legislative office in Edinburg are, from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Agustín “Gus” García, Jr., Executive Director, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Elías Longoria, Jr.; and Irma Garza, Director of Public Information, City of Edinburg.

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Edinburg’s unemployment rate for January 2014 was 6.6 percent, an improvement over the December 2013 figure of 6.8 percent and the best showing for the month of January since 2009, when the unemployment rate for that month was 6.2 percent, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. For the month of January 2014, only McAllen has a better figure at 6.3 percent, while the other major communities in the Valley ranged from 7.3 percent (Harlingen) to 10.5 percent (Brownsville) for that month. In addition, Edinburg’s labor force was the third largest in the Valley, with 33,363 persons employed in the city for January 2014. The area’s two most populous cities, Brownsville and McAllen posted larger numbers at 62,488 and 58,310 individuals, respectively, employed in January 2014. The latest figures were released on Friday, March 7, by the Texas Workforce Commission. Mayor Richard García, who also serves as president of the EEDC Board of Directors, said the number of jobs in Edinburg is expected to grow, not only because the city’s population continues increasing, but as a result of Edinburg being a major center of education, government, health care, and retail. “Soon, hundreds of jobs will be added when Walmart opens its third store, located near the intersection of U.S. Expressway 281 (recently renamed I69-Central) and Canton Road just south of The Shoppes at Rio Grande, and that will help lower our unemployment rate,” the mayor noted. “Right across the street from The Shoppes at Rio Grande, HEB has announced its own plans to build a major new store, which will provide even more jobs for our community and region.” The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. EEDC staff, featured from left, are: Laura Lee Vela, Administrative Assistant; Leticia Reyes, Director of Business Development and Public Affairs; Agustín “Gus” García, Jr., Executive Director; Nelda T. Ramírez, Assistant Executive Director; Dalila Razo, Business Manager; and Freddie Gómez, Research Analyst.

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The University of Texas-Pan American College of Education honored more than 40 educators at its ninth annual Teacher of the Year Awards on Wednesday, November 20 at the UTPA Community Engagement and Student Success Building. UTPA and College of Education administrators praised the elementary and secondary school teachers of the year for their dedication to educating students and presented plaques and other gifts to them. The College of Education also awarded its Teacher Legend Award to Gloria Judy Saca-Díaz, who taught for 19 years at two elementary schools in the Edcouch-Elsa Independent School District. Seated, from left: former Teacher Legend Award recipient Wayne Miller; current Teacher Legend Award recipient Gloria Judy Saca-Díaz; and former Teacher Legend Award recipients Sylvia Alvarado and Criselda J. Guerra. Standing, from left: Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, The University of Texas-Pan American; Dr. Velma Menchaca, Department Chair and Professor of Educational Leadership, The University of Texas-Pan American; Dr. Joy Esquierdo, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, The University of Texas-Pan American, who nominated Gloria Judy Saca-Díaz; Dr. Salvador Héctor Ochoa, Dean, College of Education, The University of Texas-Pan American; Dr. Verónica Estrada, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, The University of Texas-Pan American; and Rachel Arcaute, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Services, McAllen Independent School District.

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Area residents who enjoy poker are invited to purchase tickets for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce’s first annual “Chamber Royale” Texas Hold’Em and Fold’Em Poker Tournament, scheduled for Friday, April 25, at the historical Southern Pacific Depot. The entry fee per person is $100 with a $25 re-buy option. The proceeds will go to help the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, which is located in the Southern Pacific Depot, 602 West University Drive, provide many of its vital services to its membership and the community. The top 10 players will receive prizes, ranging from a trip to Las Vegas to a flat-screen television to a weekend at South Padre Island. No cash prizes are allowed by state law. Participants do not have to be members of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. Each ticket includes a seat at the table, open bar, appetizers, and the opportunity to win the table prizes. For individuals who only want to watch the high-skills competition, a spectator pass is available for $25, which also includes a meal and beverage. For tickets or more information, please contact the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974 or log on to http://www.edinburg.com. The tournament fundraiser will begin at 6 p.m. and last past midnight. Registration may take place the night of the event, but participants may pre-register at any day before the fundraiser. Featured are Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors members and other leaders, including, first row, from left: Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Elías Longoria, Jr. (Texas Regional Bank); Dina Araguz (IBC Bank); Letty González, President, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Elva Jackson Garza(Edwards Abstract and Title Co.); Maggie Kent; and Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Terry Palacios (García, Quintanilla and Palacios). Back row, from left: J.J. Flores (Chorizo De San Manuel); Robert McGurk, Chairman of the Board, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce (Elsa State Bank & Trust Co. of Edinburg); Greg Martin (Martin Farm & Ranch Supply); Jacob De León (Memorial Funeral Home); and Hiren Govind (Best Western-Edinburg Inn & Suites).

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The “Cinco de Mayo Fiesta”, sponsored by the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Univision Radio, will take place on Sunday, May 4, at the the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show Grounds in Mercedes. The event will be bustling with major music entertainment, games, wrestling, food and crafts vendors, a dog costume contest, Bingo, Chihuahua races, jalapeño-eating, a Kiddie Playground, and other entertainment. Gates will be open from noon till 10 p.m. Sponsorships and food and crafts/informative vendors are being sought. More information on the event, including sponsorships, is available by contacting the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at 928-0060 or Univision Radio at 631-5499. Featured helping finalize the fiesta details are, front row, from left: César Chapa, Event Director, Univision; Vicky Guerrero, General Manager, Univision; Edna García, RGVHCC; Brenda Lee Huerta, Public Affairs Director, RGVHCC/Univision; and Sarah Sánchez, Editorial Page Editor, The Monitor, and RGVHCC. Back row, from left: Mario Lizcano, RGVHCC; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, RGVHCC president and CEO; and Travis French, RGVHCC.

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Realizing the importance of taking care of our senior community, The City of Pharr will co-sponsor the annual South Texas Senior Summit on Thursday, April 3, at the Pharr Event Center located at 3000 U.S. Expressway 281 in Pharr. The Summit will feature free screenings and information booths that are important to the older South Texans. Glucose, blood pressure, bone density, foot and vein are among the medical screenings that will be available. Various organizations will provide information on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, adult aging, a county services. A “pamper corner” offering free massages and nail polish changes will also be offered to the seniors. In addition, attendees will also get to participate in a light Zumba, Bingo, door prizes and a dance. Lunch and snacks will also be served. “We encourage senior centers, nursing homes, individuals and senior organizations to attend and make a day of this fun, healthy and informative event,” said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, President and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Among the major sponsors for the Senior Summit are Lee’s Pharmacy, Superior HealthPlan and Cigna HealthSpring. Vendors will also be available with services and products to offer the senior community. More information on the Senior Summit, including registration, is available by calling the RGV Hispanic Chamber at 928-0060. Featured meeting to review plans for the event are, front row, from left: Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, President and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Pharr Mayor Polo Palacios; and Maribel Cárdenas, Senior Summit committee member representing sponsor Cigna Health Spring. Back row, from left: Pharr Commissioner Bobby Calvillo; Mario Lizcano, Vice Chair of Health, Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Pharr Commissioner Arturo Cortéz; Pharr Commissioner Erinuondo Maldonado; Phsrr Commissioner Jimmy Garza; and Pharr Mayor Pro Tem Adan Farías.

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Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. (featured center), a nationally renowned leader in higher education and pediatric transplant surgery, announced on Monday, February 10, that he will step down as head of The University of Texas System after a five-year tenure marked by groundbreaking accomplishments. Cigarroa will serve as chancellor until his successor is named, and afterward will become the head of pediatric transplant surgery at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. Cigarroa will also serve as a special liaison to the Board of Regents to advise on the development of the new University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and medical school. Cigarroa was also instrumental in the effort to establish a new university and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley. The Texas Legislature approved the initiative in 2013, and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley is scheduled to enroll its first class in the fall of 2015. His leadership was also pivotal in creating the Dell School of Medicine at UT Austin – fulfilling a long-held dream of integrating a medical school with UT’s flagship academic university in Austin. Featured during a February visit to UT-Pan American are, from left: Ramiro Garza, Jr., Edinburg City Manager; Leticia Reyes, Director of Business Development and Public Affairs, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., Chancellor of the University of Texas System; Ernest Aliseda of McAllen, Member, The University of Texas System Board of Regents; and Freddie Gómez, Research Analyst, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. See story later in this posting.

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The North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI) at South Texas College (STC) on Thursday, March 6, at the STC Technology Campus in McAllen celebrated the announcement of their $500,000 grant from the Wagner-Peyser program administered through the Office of Texas Governor Rick Perry. Local leaders, manufacturing partners and representatives from Houston Community College were present in support of this important grant that will provide training to 675 individuals in areas including robotics, mechatronics, programmable logic controllers and other advanced topics. “Our success rests on our partnerships with manufacturers,” STC President Dr. Shirley A. Reed said. “When you are successful, we are successful.” Mike Pérez, who retires as McAllen city manager on March 31, also addressed the crowd in support of this opportunity. “This grant is a cornerstone for developing a stronger labor structure in our region,” he said. Featured, from left: Ernesto Ávila, Training Specialist, South Texas College; Dr. Mataz Alcoutlabi, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, the University of Texas-Pan American; Agustín?“Gus” García, Executive Director, Edinburg Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Dr. Abdel Salan Hamdy Makhlouf, Professor, Department of Manufacturing Engineering, the University of Texas-Pan American; Mike Pérez, City Manager, City of McAllen;?Dr. Shirley A. Reed, President, South Texas College;?Ralph García, Vice President Business Recruitment, McAllen Economic Development Corporation; and?Carlos Margo, Interim Executive Director, STC NAAMREI.

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Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, featured fourth from left, in conjunction with LeFleur Transportation, on Wednesday, March 19, gathered outside the Veterans War Memorial of Texas in McAllen to hand over the keys of a donated van to local veterans and members of the Veterans War Memorial Foundation of Texas. Guerra was able to facilitate this donation through the assistance and continued partnership with Colonel Frank S. Plummer, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), President of the Veterans War Memorial Foundation of Texas, and Dr. Ricardo Chapa, a Marine Corps veteran and board member of the memorial foundation. “Giving back to our local veterans is the least I could do. The Veterans War Memorial Foundation helps remind us all of the ultimate sacrifice our service men and women have made in protecting our freedom,” said Guerra, who represents House District 41 in Hidalgo County. “I commend Col. Plummer and Dr. Chapa for all the good that they do for our veterans in the community. I would like to thank LeFleur Transportation for being instrumental in making this donation possible. It has been an honor working with members of the foundation, and I am very pleased to have fostered such great partnerships with our local veterans,” Guerra said. The state representative is flanked in this image by Chapa, who is featured third from left, and Plummer, who is featured fifth from left. The Veterans War Memorial Foundation depends on donations to help achieve its goal in completing the construction of their historical landmark, the state representative noted. See story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg City Council on Wednesday, March 5, approved a city resolution calling on South Texas College to establish a site in the Delta Area as part of an ongoing legislative effort to expand higher education opportunities throughout Hidalgo County. The Delta Area features San Carlos, Elsa, Edcouch, La Villa and Monte Alto, communities that are connected by East State Highway 107 between Edinburg and Weslaco. The political support came after a presentation before the mayor and city council members by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who has been working with Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, to convince STC to establish a physical presence in that region. “South Texas College, which receives significant funding from all property taxpayers in Hidalgo and Starr counties, has an obligation to bring higher education opportunities and invest more of its resources in communities, such as in the Delta Area, which would most benefit from seeing a STC site in its own backyard,” said Canales, the Edinburg lawmaker whose House District 40 includes San Carlos and Elsa. Leaders supporting the expansion of STC into the Delta Area are not requesting any STC tax increase to achieve that goal. Featured from left: Ramiro Garza, Jr., Edinburg City Manager; David Torres, Member, Edinburg School Board; Councilmember Homer Jasso; Mayor Pro Tem Elías Longoria, Jr.; Councilmember Richard Molina; Mayor Richard García; Juan “Sonny” Palacios, President, Edinburg School Board; Carmen González, Member, Edinburg School Board; Councilmember J.R. Betancourt; Dr. Martín Castillo, Vice President, Edinburg School Board; Jaime Solis, Secretary, Edinburg School Board; Dr. René Gutiérrez, Superintendent, Edinburg School District; and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. See story later in this posting.

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Bert Ogden Dealer Group’s local franchises helping drive economy, future of Edinburg

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was recently honored at a special celebration for his support for higher education during a gathering hosted by South Texas College at its Pecan Campus in McAllen. “What many people still don’t understand and I continually say is that here in the Valley you can really get a very solid higher education,” said Hinojosa. “This is a great country we live in. When I graduated college, I had several offers to attend law school and I went to Georgetown University. At first I felt out of place, but what I found is that Valley students can compete anywhere.” Featured, from left: STC Valley Scholars Program students Aurora Castillo and Maribel Bernal; Sen. Hinojosa; and Valley Scholars Ilsse Gracia, Mario Cerda, Karla Martínez and Gabrielle Marroquín. See story later in this posting.

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Newly-elected Edinburg City Councilmember J.R. Betancourt, featured right, takes his oath of office from Hidalgo County 92nd District Court Judge Ricardo Rodriguez, Jr., on Tuesday, May 15, while Betancourt’s wife, Renée Rodríguez-Betancourt, holds the Bible used for the ceremony. Betancourt, an Edinburg native, on Saturday, May 12, was elected to fill the unexpired term of former Mayor Pro Tem Noé Garza, who passed away in early January after battling cancer. Betancourt would be able to seek a full-four year term on the city council when the Place 2 seat is up for election in May 2013.

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With the May 15 swearing-in of its latest member, J.R. Betancourt, featured second from right, the Edinburg City Council is at full strength to continue promoting economic development strategies and legislative policies that have helped Edinburg, according to Forbes magazine, to be part of one of the best medium-size regions in the U.S. for the creation of jobs. In its findings released on May 1, Forbes determined that the McAllen-Edinburg-Pharr-Mission MSA registered a 3.8 percent growth in jobs, and this year’s third-best ranking comes after an equally impressive 2011 showing, when the South Texas MSA was rated 6th among medium-size populations nationwide. Featured, from left: Mayor Pro Tem Gus García, Jr.; Councilmember Elias Longoria, Jr.; Mayor Richard García; Councilmember J.R. Betancourt; and Councilmember Homer Jasso, Jr. See story later in this posting.

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Dr. René Gutiérrez, featured center, the superintendent for the Edinburg school district, on May 8 received the Excellence in Educational Leadership Award from the University Council for Educational Administration. The honor was bestowed upon the superintendent during the regular meeting of the Edinburg school district’s Board of Trustees. Gutiérrez, who has been superintendent since July 2009, has exhibited clear-cut leadership that has met challenging issues head-on and brought about results that have enabled the district to maintain an impeccable record in student achievement, fiscal management, personnel development, transparency, school construction, public relations, crisis management, and parental involvement. Featured participating in the ceremony are, from first row, from left: Dr. Velma Menchaca, a professor with the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of Texas-Pan American; Dr. Gutiérrez; and Dr. Anita Pankake a professor with the Department of Educational Leadership at UT-Pan American. Back row, from left, are: Dr. Alejos Salinas, Jr., a member of the Board of Trustees for South Texas College who also serves as a lecturer with the Department of Educational Leadership at UT-Pan American; and Dr. Francisco Guajardo, an associate professor with the Department of Educational Leadership at UT-Pan American.

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The McAllen Chamber of Commerce Top 25 Committee on Wednesday, May 22, hosted their 28th Annual Top 25 Banquet that honored the top 25 academically performing graduates of McAllen High School, McAllen Memorial High School, and Nikki Rowe High Schools, plus the Top 4 Achieve Early College High School Students. Each student was awarded a $1,000  scholarship. “We were very excited to sponsor the Top 25 Banquet for another year,” said Luis Cantú, Vice President of Community Development for the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. “Being able to raise the money to provide these McAllen school district students with a scholarship is always very pleasing.” Top 25 Committee members are featured, seated from left: Yajaira Villarreal; Cynthia Olivarez; Maryiel García; and Isela Herrera; and standing, from left: Luis Cantú; and Antonio Rosales, committee chairman. See story later in this posting.
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Southwest Airlines, located at the Rio Grande Valley International Airport in Harlingen, has become the latest partner for the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  “It gives us great pleasure to be able to call Southwest Airlines our corporate partner”, said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO of the McAllen-based chamber. “Southwest Airlines recognizes that their customers come from all over the Valley.”  There are several events that the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has scheduled which will require a combined partnership with Southwest Airlines to accommodate convention guests and state meetings scheduled in the Valley. Featured, from left: Christina Rivers, Southwest Airlines customer service agent; Becky Kirkpatrick, Southwest Airlines customer service agent; Mario Garza, Southwest Airlines station manager; Lily Colón, Southwest Airlines customer service supervisor; and Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
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Yolanda Villescas of Edinburg, featured first row, center, on Tuesday, May 15, was honored by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court with a resolution recognizing her retirement and 34 years of public service with the county government. Villescas’ impressive career with Hidalgo County began as a tax clerk in 1976, then saw her advance through the system until she attained the high-ranking level of tax collection manager for the Hidalgo County Tax Office. Featured, front row, from left: Son-in-law Agustín Hernández, Jr.; daughter Bianca Hernández; husband Xavier Villescas; Yolanda Villescas; Hidalgo County Tax Assessor-Collector Armando Barrera; and son Jaime Villescas. Back row, from left: Precinct 4 County Commissioner Joseph Palacios; Precint 3 County Commissioner Joe M. Flores; Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García; Precinct 2 County Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios; and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Joel Quintanilla.

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Mónica Pérez, featured front row, second from left, who is a fifth grade teacher at Esparza Elementary, and G. Marivel Vela-De la Rosa, front row, second from right, who is a middle school teacher at Brewster School, were named Secondary and Elementary Teachers of the Year for Edinburg at the recent District Teacher of the Year Banquet. The pair was selected from a list of seven finalists narrowed down by a committee composed of community members, business persons, and educators. Both Vela-De la Rosa and Pérez received a recognition plaque and a $1,200 check from the Edinburg Teachers Credit Union, plus they were surprised the next day with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. As Secondary and Elementary Teachers of the Year, Vela-De la Rosa and Pérez will be the keynote speakers at the 2012-2013 General Assembly for Edinburg school district. A total of 41 elementary and secondary teachers were also recognized at the District Teacher of the Year Banquet with a recognition plaque and a $200 check. Featured, front row, from left: Carmen González, president of the Edinburg school board; Mónica Pérez, Elementary Teacher of the Year; G. Marivel Vela-De la Rosa, Secondary Teacher of the Year; and Juan “Sonny” Palacios, vice president of the Edinburg school board. Standing, from left: David Torres, member of the Edinburg school board; Dr. René Gutiérrez, Superintendent of Schools; and Robert Peña Jr., member of the Edinburg school board.

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On Wednesday, May 9, Bob Vackar, owner of Bert Ogden Dealer Group, featured fifth from left, and Robert Lucio, general manager for Bert Ogden Dealer Group, featured fifth from right, provided leaders with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce with highlights of the economic impact generated by the homegrown company, and explained how that data is used to benefit the entire city. Their presentation was held at the company’s latest addition, Volvo of Edinburg, located at 4421 South Business 281. The two men were the distinguished speakers for the chamber’s Power Punch @ Lunch business mixer provided for its members. With more than $200 million in sales revenue generated in 2011 by Bert Ogden Dealer Group’s vehicle franchises in Edinburg, even much larger cities would be happy to be the hometown to such an economic success story. Featured, from left: Johnny Rodríguez, former chairman of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; Flo Prater, an ambassador for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Jaime A. Rodríguez, a member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors; Will McCullough; Bob Vackar, owner of Bert Ogden Dealer Group; Robert Lucio, general manager for Bert Ogden Dealer Group; Letty González, president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Edna Peña, chairman of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; and Maggie Kent and Marty Martin, members of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. See lead story in this posting.
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Delta Area leader Eddy González looking for legislative guidance on location of possible new Hidalgo County Courthouse

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Dolly Elizondo-García, featured center, the chair of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, on Monday, November 28, posed with some of the first candidates who showed up to file for various political offices, ranging from justice of the peace and sheriff to state representative and U.S. representative. The gathering, held at Koko’s Uptown Restaurant in McAllen, came shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge by Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, against the November 25 actions of a three-judge federal court in San Antonio. That court drew the boundaries for all of Texas’ state representative, state senate, and congressional maps after Democrats and Hispanics sued the state, alleging that the congressional and state legislative districts approved last spring by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature discriminates against Mexican Americans. Abbott contends the Legislature did not discriminate against minorities. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear both sides on January 9. Featured, from left, are: Jane Cross of Edinburg; T.C. Betancourt of Edinburg; Letty García of Edinburg; Dolly Elizondo-García; Geovani Hernández of Weslaco; Nereyda Morales-Martínez of Mission; Paul Villarreal; and Miriam Martínez of Edinburg.

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Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr., D-Mission, on Monday, November 28, is congratulated by Dolly Elizondo-García, chair of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, after he filed for a second term as state legislator for House District 36. Under a recent plan approved by a three-judge federal court in San Antonio, House District 36 includes all or part of the cities of Pharr, McAllen, Mission, Hidalgo, Palmview and Granjeno. However, Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, has challenged the action of that federal court – which drew up the boundaries of all House and Senate seats, and congressional districts – and the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Abbott’s challenge on January 9. Muñoz and Elizondo-García finalized his paperwork during a Democratic Party campaign kick-off held at Koko’s Uptown Restaurant in McAllen. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, posing outside Edinburg City Hall, has announced he will not seek reelection to a sixth term as state representative for House District 40. “I have had the honor of working with national and international business leaders and local and state officials to bring much needed jobs to our community,” said Peña. “I have been woken in the middle of the night by parents of drug addicted youths at their wits’ end. Great gestures come from grand designs, multi-billion dollar enterprises that traverse continents and create jobs and wealth but they also come from kind words and extending a helping hand to someone in need.” With the veteran lawmaker’s retirement, a number of  area Democrats are vying to succeed him in the Texas Legislature by competing for their party’s nomination in 2012. In a column he authored which explains his decision, Peña talks about the strains and successes of his legislative career. “My wife and children allowed me the luxury of working full-time, seven days a week at a job that pays $7,200 a year,” Peña reflected. “To (wife) Mónica, Adrienne, Aaron, Alyssa, Anthony and John, thank you. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I was given to serve the community I love so much.” See story later in this posting.

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Elva Jackson Garza, joined by her husband, Fred R. Garza, and their son, Fred A. Garza, on Saturday, October 15, was named 2011 Woman of the Year by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, for her service to the community and the organization since 1983. “I am very honored to have been nominated and selected as the 2011 Woman of the Year. As a volunteer, I serve because it has always been important for me to make a small difference in my beloved Rio Grande Valley,” said Garza. “I have met so many wonderful people along the way, and they have enriched my life immensely.” She currently represents Edwards Abstract and Title Co. as Vice President and Marketing Manager. She represents the company as an Affiliate Member of the Greater McAllen Association of Realtors, Rio Grande Valley Builders Association, Edinburg Realtors Committee, Weslaco Realtors Committee, Women’s Council of Realtors, Hidalgo County Bar Association, and is a member of the Texas Land Title Association. See story later in this posting.

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20111216a5

The former presidents and chairs of the Board of Directors of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce recently reunited at the historic Edinburg Depot for updates on major economic development projects underway in the city. Letty González, president of the local chamber, also provided progress reports on other local initiatives, such as fundraising efforts for the restoration and maintenance of the former train depot, which houses the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Edinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. One of the recent improvements to the Edinburg Depot involved the back patio, which was upgraded with tiled floors, patio furniture, and a Spanish colonial style fountain, staying true to the building’s historical features. The former presidents and their respective terms of office are featured, seated, from left: Cynthia Bocanegra (2009-2010); Elva Jackson Garza (1999-2000); Edna Peña, 2011-2012 Chairman of the Board; Cris M. Torres, (2007-2008) and Letty González, chamber president. Standing, from left: Johnny Rodríguez, the immediate past chair (2010-2011); Ted Miller, Jr. (1991-1992); Byron Jay Lewis (1993-1994); Harry Roberts (1956-1957); Mitch Roberts (1997-1998); Mike Govind (2002-2003 and 2003-2004 ) and Dr. Larry N. Balli (1998-1999).

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The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, on Thursday, December 15, hosted the Santana Textiles Job Fair – the second such hiring phase this year. The international denim-manufacturing firm, which will invest up to $170 million for its complex in the Edinburg North Industrial Park, plans to fill 40 positions in this latest hiring phase, which took place at the Edinburg Depot, 602 West University Drive. Santana Textiles is looking for energetic, self motivated, and safety oriented individuals for entry level industrial maintenance technicians to highly experienced maintenance technicians. Duties will vary based on job description from basic knowledge of hand and power tools to experienced technicians with knowledge of electronics, PLC, automation, and testing equipment. “We are focusing on hiring individuals in the positions of maintenance electricians, maintenance mechanics, maintenance helpers, accounting manager, human resource coordinator, and safety technician,” said Lori A. Garza, Human Resource Manager for Santana Textiles. More information on the job vacancies are available for interested applicants by e-mailing their inquiries to jobs@santanatextiles.com. Featured promoting the event are, from left: Cynthia Guerrero, Human Resource Coordinator with Santana Textiles; Letty Reyes, Project Manager with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; and Lori A. Garza. Santana Textiles plans to hire 800 employees once construction of its complex, currently underway, is completed by 2016.

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20111216a7

On Tuesday, November 15, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation – which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council – announced the selection of Evana Vleck, the now former and effective marketing director with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, as the city’s first-ever Downtown Development/Arts Coordinator. The arts – generally broken down into the more familiar categories as visual arts (paintings, sculptures, photography) and performing arts (dance, drama, music) – symbolize more than cultural and intellectual treasures for Edinburg. The arts can and do represent prosperity for any community willing and able to elevate them into a powerful engine to boost their local economy. “It is very important. It is the next level in our evolvement as a city,” says Mayor Richard García, who successfully lobbied the Edinburg City Council and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) Board of Directors to authorize the creation and funding of the Downtown Development/Arts Coordinator position. See story later in this posting.

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20111216a12

During the fall 2011 semester, South Texas College was one of only four community colleges from across the state to receive special recognition from the Texas Association of Business. The award was presented in Austin to applaud the college’s efforts to increase its graduation rate, as well as help students progress through the higher education system in a timely manner. “We hear a lot about the colleges that aren’t pushing students to succeed, pushing them to get a degree,” said Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business. “STC is one of four community colleges that are getting it right. Each of the honorees has shown significant improvement in the number of students completing degree plans and improvements in student achievement.” STC was honored in the very large community college category, along with Howard Community College in the small category, Paris Junior College in the medium category, and Blinn College in the large category. Featured showcasing the award are, from left: Mario Reyna, Dean of Business and Technology for South Texas College; Dr. Shirley A. Reed, STC president; and Juan E. Mejia, STC Vice President for Academic Affairs. See story later in this posting.

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20111216a8

Area residents are being asked to submit their nominations to recognize some of the best medical professionals in the region. The Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has set a Friday, January 6 deadline to receive nominations for the following categories: Best Physician; Specialty Physician; Nurse; Nurse Practioner; Hospital; Nursing Home; Physician’s Assistant; and Volunteer. Individuals and institutions nominated must meet strict standards, based on providing their patients with the highest quality of care, be involved in local community affairs that improve the quality of life, be Board Certified in their respective fields, been in practice or existence for at least five years, and be in good standing before their professional licensing authorities. The Volunteer of the Year is a new category, and seeks nominees who have gone above and beyond their positions/duties as volunteers. For more details and to obtain a nomination form, please contact the RGVHCC at 928-0060. Featured promoting the nomination process, which will culminate in the Medical Awards Banquet on Thursday, January 26, are RGVHCC board members Marti Miller, Yoli González, and Ronnie Bernal, along with Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, RGVHCC president and CEO.

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20111216a9

James Ulatowski, a faculty member at Johnny G. Economedes High School, was recently recognized by the Edinburg CISD Board of Trustees for his selection as the Hispanic, Engineering, Science, and Technology (HESTEC) Math Teacher of the Year. HESTEC takes place annually during the last week of September at the University of Texas-Pan American. HESTEC is an innovative program that promotes the importance of science literacy to thousands of students, their parents and teachers. Ulatowski’s innovative and effective teaching style has made him an inspirational leader of students and colleagues, said Gloria Rivera, JEHS principal. “He comes to Edinburg and Economedes High School from a distinguished career in upper management in the private sector where innovation is not just encouraged, it is expected from top to bottom,” Rivera said. “His dedication and service as a high school math teacher highlight his desire to pass along his knowledge and innovative spirit to future generations of our educational community.” Featured, front row from left: Ciro Treviño, Board Secretary; James Ulatowski; Carmen González, Board President; and Dr. René Gutiérrez, Superintendent of Schools. Back row, from left: Robert Peña, Jr., Dr. Martín Castillo, and David Torres, Board Members; and Juan “Sonny” Palacios, Board Vice-President.

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The Hidalgo County District Clerk Office on Thursday, December 8, presented a check totaling $3,500 to the Comfort House of McAllen as part of their Blues for Bucks Workplace Fundraising Campaign, a program benefiting local charitable organizations. The Comfort House is a 10-bed homelike residence for persons in terminal stages of illness, generally admitted when they no longer seek a medical cure and have a life expectancy of less than four months. They welcome persons regardless of race, faith, persuasion or economic status. Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa, featured seated, center, was joined by her staff members, and by Mary Botello, Comfort House Administrator (second from right), for the presentation of the donation. District clerk staff members joining Hinojosa and Botello for the presentation were:Mary Alonzo; María Barrera; Norma Cantú; Irene Caceres; Omar Escamilla; Alfonso Fuentes;Alessandra Galván; Ángela García; Yolanda Garza; Alexandra Gómez; Erica Gómez; Virginia Granados; Andrëa Guajardo; Alicia Guerrero; Yanira Hernández; Irma López; Yuvia Maldonado; Cory Palacios; Stephanie Palacios; Mary Ramírez; Michael Schuller; Melinda Sotuyo; Aída Villarreal; Mónica Valdez; and Nilda VanHook. See story later in this posting.

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20111216a11

398th District Court Judge Aída Flores, flanked on her left by Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García and his chief-of-staff Yolanda Chapa, on Monday, November 7, shares her insights on the needs of the county’s judicial branch, which is housed in the Hidalgo County Courthouse. Flores’ observations came during the second public meeting of the Hidalgo County Courthouse Master Plan Committee, a 30-member group which includes Nelda T. Ramírez, executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. The special citizens panel has been empowered by the county government’s leadership to help prioritize the pressing needs of the almost 60-year old complex, and how to pay for those solutions. The third meeting of the Hidalgo County Courthouse Master Plan Committee is scheduled for Wednesday, January 18, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The session will be held in the International Trade and Technology Building, 1201 West University Drive, on the campus of the University of Texas-Pan American. All meetings of this group have been open to the public. The date and location for the fourth and final work session will be announced following the January 18 meeting. To Flores’ right is Edcouch Mayor Pro Tem Eddy González. In the background are Joey Gómez, news correspondent with the Edinburg Review and Rio Grande Guardian, and Edwina P. Garza, news correspondent with the Mission Progress Times. See lead story in this posting.

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State’s $13.3 million investment into U.S. Highway 281 to improve economic growth, transportation in north Edinburg

More than 500 family, friends and fellow educators on Saturday, October 15, attended the dedication ceremonies for the new Macaria De La Garza Gorena Elementary  in the Edinburg school district.  The Edinburg school board named the campus in her honor in recognition of the retired educator’s lifetime achievements, community service, and distinguished education career As an educator for 47 years, Gorena was on the cutting edge of education, often pioneering techniques that ensured the success  of all students, especially those with physical and emotional limitations. Gorena was one of the pioneers of the Edinburg CISD’s Special Education Program and was associated with Edinburg CISD’s program for more than four decades. In this portrait, Gorena, seated in the center, is joined, to her right, by Belinda S. Figarelli, principal of Gorena Elementary, and to her left, her children, Mariela Gorena, Macaria (Caro) G. Palmatier, and Roberto E. Gorena. See story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, October 15, publicly recognized five leading citizens for their public service during its annual awards banquet, which was held at the ECHO Hotel and Conference Center. Elva Jackson Garza was named the chamber’s Woman of the Year, while Mitch Roberts was named as Man of the Year. Cris Torres with International Bank of Commerce was honored with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Leadership Award while Marty Martin from Rio Valley Realty received the Ambassador of the Year Award. Sally Marie Jaime was bestowed the City of Edinburg Firefighter of the Year Award. Featured, from left, are: Cris Torres; Elva Jackson Garza; Letty González, president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Sally Marie Jaime; and Marty Martin.

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Young and old alike were left in awe during and after renowned author Sandra Cisneros’ lectures, held at three of South Texas College’s campuses to close out the college’s Hispanic Heritage Month Lecture Series and celebration. The month-long series was sponsored by STC’s Center for Mexican American Studies and the Department of Library Services. Cisneros’ appearances – she is featured here, standing at right – were also sponsored by the Education Leadership Series, led by William Serrata, STC Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. “We’re going to remember this one for quite a while. We could not have asked for a better way to close our third annual Hispanic Heritage Month Lecture Series.,” said Center for Mexican American Studies Instructor and event coordinator Víctor Gómez. “In fact, this one may be hard to top. Ms. Cisneros is a prolific writer and the reaction from our students and community put this event over the top. See story later in this posting.

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Nominations are being solicited by the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for area individuals who have succeeded in business. Any business person who lives in the Valley is eligible to be nominated for the following honors: Business Woman, Business Man, and Small Corporation, Medium Corporation, and Large Corporation of the Year. The awards will be determined based on the business successes achieved by nominees during 2011. These honors will be bestowed during the RGVHCC’s Noche de Gala, scheduled for Saturday, January 21, in McAllen. Deadline to submit nominations is Friday, November 4. More information on the nominations process is available by contacting the RGVHCC at 928-0600. Featured reviewing the upcoming business awards process are RGVHCC leaders, from left, seated: Marti Miller, vice chair of membership and Pepe Cabeza de Vaca, vice chair of international affairs; and standing, from left: Brent Smith, treasurer; Ronnie Bernal, vice chair of small business and economic development; and Hari Namboodiri, member of the advisory board.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce on Friday, October 28, sponsored “Meet and Greet the Author”, featuring David Rice of Austin, formerly of Edcouch, whose literary works include Crazy Loco, Give a Pig a Chance, and his newest endeavor, Heart Shaped Cookies and Other Stories. The event, hosted at the historic Train Depot, featured Rice meeting with and reading to students from Stephen F. Austin Elementary School. Although Rice has lived in Austin for the past 20 years, he always manages to leave his heart in the Valley, still calling Edcouch his home. He  is always happy to return to the RGV to share his work as a writer, educator, and friend to many. As a compulsive story teller, Rice has several published.
Rice has also given his time to film media and recently filmed Gone Hollywood – a romantic comedy – and Scavengers – a family film – both shot in the Rio Grande Valley. On those two projects, Rice worked alongside television star Valente Rodríguez, also from the Delta area. Rice is featured in this photograph standing in front of an image that graces the cover of Heart Shaped Cookies and Other Stories. See story later in this posting.

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In a move that McAllen school district leaders contend will put their students out front and center as a leader of instructional technology, plans are underway to spend $20 million to provide an iPad2, featured in this photograph of a McAllen ISD student, or an iPod Touch for each of the district’s 25,300 students and 1,634 teachers. “This is a wonderful day — a game changer that will revolutionize the way we prepare our students for the 21st century,” said McAllen ISD superintendent Dr. James Ponce. He recently spoke at an elementary school library filled with community leaders and other dignitaries, company executives, parents, students, and employees. The event marked the official launching of TLC3—Transforming Learning in the Classroom, Campus, and Community — a unique move to place a mobile device in the hands of every student in the district. See story later in this posting.

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Fall is here, and as the region anticipates cool weather approaching soon, Edinburg will spice things up. On Saturday, November 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the 1st Annual Market Days Cook-Off will take place at the Edinburg Town Square. The event is being hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Edinburg Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, and the Edinburg Market Days Committee. The event is free and open to the public. More information for prospective competitors and for local business owners who wish to sponsor an exhibit to sell their goods and services is available by contacting the local chamber at 383-4974 or by going online at http://www.Edinburg.com. Feature promoting the event are Edinburg Chamber of Commerce leaders, from left: Martín Rivas; Cristal Sánchez; Evana Vleck; Imelda Rodríguez; and Ramiro Rodríguez. See story later in this posting.

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The stars were shinning bright as community leaders gathered at The Club at Cimarron on a breezy October evening for the sixth annual South Texas College Valley Scholars Program’s A Night with The Stars. Attendees enjoyed an evening of dining and entertainment as the college saluted Atlas & Hall, LLP and Charles Clark Chevrolet Co. In this image, STC leaders are featured with honorees at the event. From left are: Juan Mejía, STC Vice President of Academic Affairs; Corinne Kelley, coordinator of the Valley Scholars program; Alexandro Sarabia; Kirk Clark; Dr. Shirley A. Reed, STC president; and Anahid Petrosian, STC Assistant to the Vice President for Academic Affairs. See story later in this posting.

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