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Dozens of area leaders receive education on how to apply for $45 million in grants

State and local leaders met in Edinburg on Wednesday, August 27, as part of a two-hour session sponsored by the Texas Valley Communities Foundation to help area nonprofit groups apply for $45 million in AmeriCorps grants that will be awarded in Texas during the next three years. Featured, from left: Dr. Roland S. Arriola, Ph.D., president of Texas Valley Communities Foundation; Rosa Moreno-Mahoney, Associate Director of Service and Volunteerism for the One Star Foundation; Dr. Beverly Ashley-Fridie, Ph.D., a gubernatorial appointee from Edinburg who serves on the board of directors for the One Star Foundation; and Courtney Suhrs, Senior Strategic Communications Specialist for the One Star Foundation. “One Star Foundation is looking for partners to invest an anticipated $45 million in grant funding to support programs for the educational success of Texas’ youth over a three year period through AmeriCorps funding,” said Arriola. “One Star will partner with organizations that focus on quality early childhood education, school-readiness programs, improving literacy rates, increasing the obtainment of high school equivalencies, increasing grade level achievement, and increasing post-secondary attendance and completion.”  See story later in this posting.

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Congressman Rubén Hinojosa was the special speaker on Thursday, August 21 for the legislative luncheon hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce’s Public Affairs Committee, led by Ramiro Garza, executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. Hinojosa talked about recent legislative issues, including education priorities, that will emphasize financial literacy, encourage financial partners in student loan programs, increasing need-based grant aid through Pell grants, and other measures. Sponsors for the event were Rio Valley Realty, and Edwards Abstract and Title Co.  Featured, back row, from left: Johnny Rodríguez; Hayden Prater; Flo Prater; Jared Prater; Elva Jackson Garza; Marty Martin, and Imelda.  Front row, from left: Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Mayor Joe Ochoa;Hinojosa; Byron J. Lewis; and Maggie Kent.

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The Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department will collaborate with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, and the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library in celebrating Edinburg’s Centennial on Monday, October 6, at the Edinburg Municipal Park. As part of its participating, the fire department will host National Fire Department Week, and provide – for free – live entertainment, music, dancers, a karate show and demo, fire safety, cokes and hot dogs, as well  ice cream, courtesy of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce,  and Edinburg’s biggest birthday cake, courtesy of the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library.  The event will be from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with a Fire Prevention/Caravan/Parade to kick off the celebration at 5:30 p.m.  The fire department will also work in partnership with the Museum of South Texas History, on Sunday, October 5, and kick off the week with “Museum Day”.  Residents will be welcomed to visit the Museum of South Texas History on McIntyre and Closner, and then walk one block west to the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department Museum located on McIntyre and 10th street.  Both museums will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with free admission. Featured, from left, are: Fire Marshal Richard Drewery; Centennial Chair Evana Vleck; Library Director Letty Leija; Lucy Robinson; Fire Chief Shawn M. Snyder; Fire Inspector John R. Ovalle; and Assistant Fire Marshal Omar Garza.

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Dust off those boots and sharpen your casino skills as the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has scheduled their 2nd annual “Back to School Casino and Dance Scholarship Fundraiser” for Saturday, September 6, at The Tower Club, located in the Chase Tower, 200 South 10th Street in McAllen. The event is from 7 p.m. to midnight, with Country Western band Crossfire performing, food and refreshments, and a Casino with Black Jack tables, Craps, Roulette and Poker.  Local merchants are also providing gifts and certificates for the silent auction. MHCC’s Education Committee schedules several fundraisers during the year to help raise funds for scholarships.  Sponsorships for the Back to School Casino and Dance are: Title $5,000, High Roller $3,000, Dealer $2,000, Bookie $1,000 and Casino Table $300.  Reserved Tables are $750 for a table of 10 with individual tickets $50. For more information, to inquire on sponsorships and tickets call the McAllen Hispanic Chamber at 928-0060. Featured, sitting: Diana Gonzáles, Vice Chair of Education. Standing, from left: Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC President/CEO; Hari Namboodiri, Chair-elect, and Verónica Vela, Vice Chair of Women’s Issues.

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Public hearings on Hidalgo County Loop, including Edinburg session, rescheduled to August 5, 6, 7, 12, and 13

The State of Texas on Saturday, August 2, approved aerial spraying for the counties of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, has announced. At the request of the local counties and municipalities, the Texas Department of State Health Services has contracted with Chicago-based Clarke Mosquito Control to conduct the aerial sprays, which could start as early as Sunday night, August 3, but will begin no later than Monday night, August 4, weather-permitting. “Our residents will feel relief soon,” said Salinas. “The state of Texas and our state delegation, especially Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), have been extremely responsive. My hat is off to them. Now it’s time to pull out the big guns in our war on mosquitoes. My message to them is buzz off now or you’ll be sorry.” See story later in this posting.

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Hurricane Dolly is featured in this NASA image as i t hits the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday, July 23, as a Category 2 hurricane, with sustained winds reported at about 100 mph near the coast – and at about 70 miles per hour in Edinburg. Although many in Edinburg were spared misery and suffering, other portions of South Texas, including thousands of fellow Hidalgo County residents, were hit hard by power outages, wind damage, and especially flooding. On Friday, August 1, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, announced that disaster assistance is now available to individuals who qualify under guidelines established by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). For those with speech or hearing impairment: TTY 1-800-462-7585. Individuals may also apply by going online at: http://WWW.FEMA.GOV. Disaster assistance available from FEMA includes: housing needs; other than housing needs; and other additional services. Individuals will need to have the following information available when contacting FEMA: A phone number where you can be reached; social security number; current mailing address; address of the affected property; brief description of the damages; and insurance information, including policy number. “I encourage all Rio Grande Valley residents who have been impacted by Hurricane Dolly to contact FEMA and see if they qualify for disaster assistance,” Martínez said. “With FEMA, individuals may be able to find get the assistance necessary to help them back onto their feet.”

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Coastlines can either evolve slowly, as a beach builds or erodes wave by wave, or they can change all at once in one mighty storm. Barrier islands are particularly prone to sudden change because they take the brunt of severe storms. Even the relatively mild Hurricane Dolly, which came ashore on July 23 as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of about 160 kilometers per hour (100 miles per hour), brought noticeable changes to the Texas coastline. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured the top image on July 26, immediately after Dolly moved out of the region. The image shows changes to both South Padre Island and the Texas shoreline. The image was made with a combination of visible and infrared light to highlight the presence of water on the ground. The plant-covered land is green, while sparsely vegetated areas are tan. Water is dark blue to black, and clouds are turquoise blue and white. South Padre Island appears to be painted with a film of pale blue in the this image. The color is from water-soaked sand. A closer look reveals more significant changes. The shape of the inland side of the island has changed. The Laguna Madre appears to have swollen, covering much of the western shore of South Padre Island. Just below the center of the image, a square-shaped section of the island is gone. The Texas coastline also changed. A thin line of land that ran through the Laguna M adre in an image taken several days earlier is missing in the July 26 image. Water intrudes into shore where low-lying coastal regions have flooded. The waters of the Laguna itself are bright blue. Soil and sand that washed into the Laguna from the storm and floods reflect light back into space, and this colors the water lighter blue. Dolly’s heavy rains also caused inland flooding on both sides of the border between the United States and Mexico. Rivers and streams too small to be visible prior to Dolly’s arrival stood out as a network of blue on July 26. NASA images courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

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As part of its response, the Hidalgo County government has established a hurricane hotline to assist any resident, according to Cari Lambrecht, public information officer for the county judge and county commissioners court.  The telephone number, which will remain active through August 8, is (956) 318-2903.  Residents will be able to reach operators, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., who will help residents with questions about debris removal, health concerns, assistance and flooding issues.  “We are working to make sure our residents’ questions are answered,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III, featured here with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, following a Thursday, July 24 press conference in McAllen. “All of us need to be on the same page so we can help each other through this difficult time.”

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Potential litigation involving the ongoing construction of the new Edinburg City Hall, featured here with a portion of its west facade, is set for consideration on Tuesday, August 5, in executive session by the Edinburg City Council. No other details were released in the August 1 posting of the city council’s agenda. Also behind closed doors, city leaders will take up the issue of what to do about hiring a permanent city attorney. Seven area firms, including the current interim city attorney, have submitted their credentials for the post, and their proposed fees range from $150 per hour to $20,000 per month. The city has retained an interim city attorney since January, following the resignation of then-city attorney Daniel G. R=C 3os in December, who was required to vacate his post after being appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to serve as the presiding judge of Hidalgo County’s 449th District Court. Ríos, a Republican, is facing Jesse Contreras, a Democrat and longtime Mercedes Municipal Court Judge, in the November general elections.

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Garza reelected in match with Rodríguez, Espinoza survives challenge by Guerrero; $150 million school construction bond propositions widely approved

The first historical marker on The University of Texas-Pan American grounds was unveiled April 26 honoring Emilia Schunior Ramírez (1902 – 1960) a South Texas educator with deep roots in Edinburg. More than 40 community members, family and friends attended the celebration commemorating her life. The marker site was erected near Emilia Schunior Ramírez hall, located off of Sugar Road in Edinburg, which is named after Ramírez and once served as a women’s dormitory. Pictured at the unveiling of the Hidalgo County historical marker honoring Emilia Schunior Ramírez are her children, along with their families, who came to the event at the UTPA campus. “This is a joyous occasion for the University as we not only celebrate our first historical marker on campus, but also honor the extraordinary life of Emilia Schunior Ramírez, a world-class educator, who made an impact on many lives in South Texas,” UTPA President Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas said. Emilia’s eldest son, Alfonso Ramírez, who was Edinburg’s first Hispanic mayor in the 1950s said his mother was a learner and spent most of her time continuing her education, See story later in this posting.

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McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz, featured left, on April 30 welcomed Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, at a major fundraiser in Pharr for the Hidalgo County Republican Party. Cortéz, who presented Craddick with a token of appreciation from McAllen for Craddick’s work on behalf of South Texas College, continues to build his relationships with the top legislative leadership in Austin, which will be considering the legislative priorities from the McAllen City Commission beginning in January 2009. One of those efforts may include a plan to bring a University of Texas-Pan American facility into McAllen. Cortéz hopes that his city, local legislators, and the UT System can work out a deal with the Texas Legislature to build a state-of-the-art planetarium, known as a digital dome theatre, in the City of Palms. The idea has been in the development stage for about a year, said Cortéz, who wants the UTPA high-technology component to be one of the focal points of an even more ambitious goal – the creation of a high-end retail, entertainment, and housing district – known as “Central Park” – to be built near La Plaza Mall. The value of such a facility would extend beyond tourism dollars, Cortéz contends – it would inspire thousands of Valley students to seek education and careers in science, engineering, and technology. See related story.

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President George W. Bush signs H.R. 5715 into law on Wednesday, May 7, 2008, during a ceremony in the Oval Office. The bill, “Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008,” is designed to provide continued availability of access to the Federal student loan program for students and families. Looking on are, from left: Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts; Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Congressman George Miller, D-San Francisco; Congressman Buck McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, California; Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming; Secretary of Treasury Hank Paulson; Congressman Ric Keller, R-Orlando, Florida; and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. See story later in this posting.

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In battle over Border Wall, the medium is the message in order to influence national opposition

Key leaders of the Texas Border Coalition, welcomed here by Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, a member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (featured bottom row, second from left), on Tuesday, April 15, in Edinburg spoke against federal government plans to build 2,000-mile border wall designed to stop terrorists from illegally crossing into the United States. Opponents against the wall say border security can be better enhanced with additional Border Patrol agents and high-technology detection systems. The wall, TBC leaders have contended, will hurt the border economies while doing little to stem the threat of terrorism. “It affects us very directly,” contended Martínez. “Many of us have a family members, friends, business relations across the border, and building a fence sends a message that we are breaking ties with them.” The international gathering, which included mayors from Mexican cities, will help spread the right image about border concerns, as well as favorably portray the local university. “It really shines a light on us and allows us to fulfill one of our functions as a major university – to project local knowledge to the world,” Martínez reflected on the event. The TBC forum was hosted by The University of Texas-Pan American. See lead story later in this posting.

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez (center) was escorted by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg (left) and McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz upon his arrival at the University of Texas-Pan American on Thursday, April 11, for the opening of the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center. See story later in this posting.

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The development of a world-class advanced manufacturing industry in the Rio South Texas Region is one step closer following the official opening on Thursday, April 11 of the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center (RRMC) at The University of Texas-Pan American. UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas welcomed more than 200 representatives from education, business and government and presided over a ceremony that included remarks from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez, U.S. Representatives Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and South Texas College President Dr. Shirley Reed. Featured, front, from left, are: right Dr. John Lloyd, RRMC director; Reed; Blas Castañeda, chief development officer, Laredo Community College; Cuellar; Gutiérrez; Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas; and Hinojosa. See story later in this posting.

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Former Councilmember Eddie Cisneros-Johnson arrested on DWI, firearm, drug charges in McAllen

Edinburg school board president Carmen González on Tuesday, April 8, drew pieces of paper containing the names of fellow trustees Greg García, Jr. and Robert Peña, Jr. to determine the new length of their terms of office. The drawing of the names was authorized by a controversial new state law, according to school board attorney Jacques Treviño, that will eventually result in all seven school board trustees having their terms of office increase to four years from its current three-year length, and switch the month for school board elections to November from May. García, Peña and trustee Jaime Chavana have objected, contending the state law was voluntary, not mandatory, and that voters in the school districts should be the only one with the power to make those changes. González and the other three school board trustees say the new state law required the changes, whether they agree with the results or not, and that view has been supported by the Texas Attorney General and the Texas Secretary of State. The school board attorney, seen here, coordinated the drawing, which will be broadcast beginning of Friday, April 11, on the school district’s television channel on cable 17. García and Peña did not attend the special board meeting that was scheduled specifically for the drawing. See story later in this posting.

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Fern McClaugherty of Edinburg, a community activist who looks out for waste in government, on Tuesday, April 8, urged the Edinburg school board and area voters to reject two school construction bond issues that will be on the May 10 ballot. She express her sentiments with a card bearing the following theme against the two proposals, which involve almost $150 million in new debt: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Supporters of the bond issue contend that the bond election will provide facilities needed to improve educational attainment. Proposition 1 includes building four (4) elementary schools, two (2) middle schools; converting Harwell Middle School into a fourth high school; three (3) multi-purpose fine arts centers at each of the existing high schools; Brewster School addition/renovations, and land acquisition for a total of $111,920,000. Proposition II includes $37,675,000 of 1998 Lease Purchase Bonds to be converted into Series 2008 voter authorized IFA supported bonds.

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South Texas College is a winner of the 2008 MetLife Foundation Community College Excellence Award. The announcement was made Tuesday, April 8 at the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention held in Philadelphia. The other national winner is The Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland. As part of the award, each college receives a $30,000 grant to continue creating and implementing effective strategies for aiding underrepresented students, as well as using data to target and assess strategies to improve student outcomes. The two colleges were chosen based on their ability to demonstrate determined leadership, innovative programming and attention to outcomes. The result: clear improvements in meeting the varied learning needs of low-income, first-generation, immigrant and working students. Representatives from South Texas College accept the MetLife Foundation Community College Excellence Award. From left are Roy de Leon of the STC Board of Trustees, President Shirley A. Reed, and Irene García, chair of the STC board. See story later in this posting.

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