BENJAMIM TREVINO | STAFF WRITER
On this Giving Tuesday, I’d like to make a special appeal to our readers to consider donating to AIM Charities. Now in its third year, AIM Charities was created by AIM Media Texas (the company that owns this publication), as a way to help as many as possible across the Rio Grande Valley. One way we do this is by handling all of the administrative costs so you can be assured that 100 percent of your gift goes directly to the charitable agencies. Your gift also represents a gift to 20 different charities, each of which we choose annually based on our wish to make the biggest impact toward helping the needy in our community. These charitable organizations can only use your gift in a way that directly provides services to your neighbors. People like Rosa de la Mora, who we profile today. And they are people like those that we will be introducing to you to until the end of January — people who simply need a helping hand. Each story will offer a glimpse into the life of someone directly affected by hunger, homelessness, or in need of help. Each is an example of one donation helping many.
— Stephan Wingert
McALLEN — The year 2005 was pivotal for Rosa De La Mora.
The single mother of two girls was living in Fort Worth when she received word that her father had died. Rosa travelled by bus to Monterrey for the funeral, but on her return trip, she found herself stranded in McAllen.
The reason: Hurricane Emily was approaching the Texas-Mexico border and all bus service in the area had been suspended.
“They told me that the only ride available was an emergency shuttle to the Salvation Army shelter,” said Rosa. “I didn’t even know what the Salvation Army was at the time.”
Rosa had planned on moving to Brownsville to live with her uncle, but with no transportation and little money of her own, she instead decided to take the shuttle to the shelter and live there temporarily while she looked for work in the McAllen area.
“I started volunteering with the shelter, helping with the intake, cleaning, working in the thrift store, and doing a little bit of office work,” said Rosa. “But mostly I concentrated my efforts in the kitchen, because I had experience working in the food industry. Two days a week I would go out on job searches and to the Texas Workforce Commission to look for posted job openings.”
At the time, Rosa couldn’t even afford bus fare to get around town for her job searches. She had to walk everywhere. She eventually found part-time work, selling newspapers on street corners three days a week as she continued to volunteer at the shelter.
As fate would have it, a part-time, paid position became available in the shelter’s kitchen just a few months after her arrival. Rosa applied and was hired.
She stayed at the shelter for another three months, saving enough money to move into a small apartment with her two daughters, who were ages six and nine at time.
“The great blessing for me was that they offered classes for the children here,” said Rosa. “Bible classes, music classes, all kinds of classes. It was like a daycare for them. I couldn’t afford $75 per week, per child, to put them in daycare. I only had what I was earning part-time here.”
After working in her part-time position for a year, Rosa became a full-time employee, and later, with the help of a Salvation Army Advisory Board member, Rosa enrolled in a culinary arts program at SouthTexasCollege.
After completing the course and earning her certification, Rosa was appointed head cook and supervisor of the Salvation Army’s McAllen kitchen – a position she holds to this day.
“I have been here 11 years,” said Rosa. “I’ve seen good days and I’ve seen days that were very, very hard. I’ve also seen God’s word in action here many times. One time, I was the only one working in the kitchen and there was a ton of dishes to be washed and I had no idea how I would get everything done. Suddenly, a homeless volunteer walked in to help wash the dishes. It was like a small miracle.”
Rosa wanted to share her story as part of the 2016 AIM Charities Fund Drive, which began last week. The annual effort raises funds for 20 charities across the Rio GrandeValley.
AIM Charities was founded three years ago by AIM Media Texas, which owns The Monitor, The Valley Morning Star, The Brownsville Herald, Mid Valley Town Crier, El Nuevo Heraldo, El Extra and Coastal Current.
The Salvation Army provides shelter, food and other assistance in times of natural disaster. For families and children, it provides housing, basic needs, youth services, and Christian spiritual ministry.
In 2015 alone, The Salvation Army in McAllen served more than 75,000 meals to shelter clients and families in the community.
Salvation Army Captain Luis Melendez says Rosa’s case is unique, in that few people who come to the shelter will get a job at the shelter. She happened to arrive at the right time, and with the right skills. Still, Captain Melendez says The Salvation Army stands ready to help anyone in whatever ways it can.
“We care for the individual holistically speaking,” said Capt. Melendez. “Just by providing a roof over someone’s head, it removes a burden of somebody’s need when they’re homeless or jobless or they just don’t know what to do. We’re here to guide them and help them through and make the contacts and connections that they need and we love to hear the success story of someone later on.”
Rosa doesn’t see herself as a success story, but rather as a humble recipient of God’s grace. She says she feels much more confident about the future now and not just for herself, but also for her daughters, who are now young adults attending college.
“Running this kitchen is a great responsibility and we have to feed people whether or not there’s enough food and volunteers,” said Rosa. “The hungry and the needy will always show up. What can I say? I live one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself. My daughters are both in college now. One is at STC and the other is at UTRGV. And I thank only God for that. God provides for everybody.”
To support the Salvation Army and 19 other charitable organizations in the Valley through AIM Charities, you can donate by visiting www.aimcharities.com. Since AIM Charities picks up all administrative costs, 100 percent of your donation goes towards the charitable organizations.
BY BENJAMIN TREVINO STAFF WRITER
WESLACO — Ninety-year-old Earl Sprague of Harlingen visits with his niece and nephew in his room at Aurora House in Weslaco. As they quietly exchange small talk about home and family matters, the low hush of Earl’s oxygen concentrator can be heard beneath their conversation.
The mood in the room is positive and upbeat on the surface, but there is no escaping the sad underpinning of the moment – the unavoidable reality that Earl is in the final days of his life.
“ I have COPD and I’ve had open-heart surgery. I’ve got a lot things going against me,” says Earl. “Ninety years old is a long time on this earth. I’m just biding my time now.”
Earl’s matter-of-fact philosophy on death and dying should not be confused with morbidity or pessimism. Rather, it is a stalwart attitude cultivated in large part by his previous experiences with end-of-life care. Earl was at his wife’s bedside when she died in 1998 and he was bedside again two years ago when a friend passed away. Both of them were in hospice in their final days.
“ I held their hands when they died,” says Earl. “And I realized then that hospice is a great philosophy of care. People in my situation need all the help they can get.”
Earl didn’t even realize he was in a hospice until ten days after his arrival at Aurora House. He was so heavily sedated at the time that he wasn’t aware of his surroundings. Since then, however, Earl says his treatment has been “top notch,” with nurses and staff available to attend to his needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“ They come and check on me all the time and make sure I’m comfortable,” says Earl. “That is their main concern, you know. My comfort is their comfort. Their bedside manner is wonderful. Really, I can’t complain about anything.”
Aurora House began as a dream of Dr. Rafael Rodriguez. He founded the facility after seeing patients in the process of dying who were living in extreme poverty. They had not been bathed, they were lying in dirty sheets, and they hadn’t eaten in days, because they neither had the resources nor family to take care of them.
Terminal patients in the Mid-Valley area were being transported to McAllen, separating them from their families and friends. Through a grassroots effort, volunteers were able to purchase and remodel a home for four patients in south Weslaco. The first patient was admitted in June of 2007.
Today, the facility has ten beds and, since its inception, Aurora House has cared for more than 630 patients and their families.
“ It’s a wonderful place,” says Aurora House Care Director, Kathy Scheuerman. “It is licensed as a special care facility, but it’s more of a home-like atmosphere. Our care is so individualized for each patient and our goal is comfort, to let them pass away in dignity, comfort and peace.”
Aurora House is one of 20 agencies that benefit from donations to the annual AIM Charities Fund Drive. AIM Charities was founded three years ago by AIM Media Texas, which owns The Monitor, The Valley Morning Star, The Brownsville Herald, Mid Valley Town Crier, El Nuevo Heraldo, El Extra and Coastal Current.
The hospice has received more than $4,000 as a result of the last two AIM Charities campaigns, and those donations have been folded into the facility’s general fund to pay for things such as groceries and operating expenses.
The donations have also freed up money and resources for Aurora House’s hospice nurse training program, which it administers in partnership with South Texas College.
Since 2010, more than 1,000 student nurses have learned how to identify and manage pain as well as attend to terminal patients’ emotional, social, and spiritual needs.
“ Of course our patient care comes first,” says Scheuerman. “But the second thing is our education project and we’re still working on that. We’ve got it up and running. We’re still doing STC students, but we’d like to be able to expand that and offer it to all the other nursing facilities in the Valley.”
Earl is more philosophical. “It’s been a blessing for me,” he says of his stay at Aurora House. “It’s great to have a place like this and any donations I’m sure would be appreciated. I came here with the right attitude. I’ve had the right attitude for a long time. Starting years ago, I put my house in order anticipating a time like this, so I have no qualms whatsoever. I have looked forward to this stage of my life. I know it is coming and the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned. They’re making my last hours on earth as comfortable as possible and they’re doing a good job of that. What else could a person ask for?”
Donations may be made to AIM Charities at the Rio Grande Community Foundation/AIM Charities, c/o AIM Media Texas, 1400 E. Nolana, McAllen, TX 78502 or online at www.aimcharities.com.
As she clutched her wedding photo, Elizabeth “Betty” Nelson’s trembling hands belied a semblance of strength she exhibited when sharing her story. It was a tender moment that, while lasting a few seconds, captured a lifetime of love that grows each day she cares for her terminally ill husband, Richard.
“Everything really is in the hands of the Lord,” Betty said of his condition.
Though appearing somewhat weary, her faith remains unfazed in the wake of Richard’s devastating diagnosis —a cancerous brain tumor that’s untreatable. It’s news that came less than a year after he survived lung cancer, and only five months following the couple’s permanent move to the Rio Grande Valley.
PEÑITAS — Alicia Ramirez and her family have been living in a bright pink house provided by the Buckner Family Hope Center for less than two months. Before that, the family of eight lived in a single-bedroom mobile home, where they slept together on a king-sized bed each night.
“It was small for our family,” Ramirez said in Spanish. “It was just a room and the restroom — that’s all. It had a refrigerator, a stove and a table. It didn’t have any Demilec insulation spray foam insulation and it was just the wood.”
Now, her family lives comfortably in a three-bedroom home with a living room, kitchen, restroom and laundry room. She said she can still remember the day when they received their home.
“It was a huge blessing,” she said. “Who is going to give you a house? We couldn’t make it, and we have a big family, so it was hard.”
SAN BENITO — The most touching and memorable event for the clients of La Posada Providencia is their first Christmas in the United States.
During this time, they have the opportunity to actively participate in the Mexican tradition of “las posadas,” a re-enactment of the biblical journey of Mary and Joseph as they searched for shelter in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.
The tradition of giving “posada” to a family in need is not only a re-enactment that is celebrated each December at La Posada, but rather it is the cornerstone of La Posada’s mission.
PHARR – Esther Garza sat in the lobby of the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley filling out paperwork that would allow her to receive food donations while her 93-year-old mother waited in her vehicle outside.
“I came here to see if they would give me a little bit of food because I don’t have money,” Garza said.
People from all walks of life enter Sunshine Haven Inc., a non-profit organization that provides end-of-life care services for terminally ill patients, in search of peace.
Sunshine Haven Inc. provides their patients with 24-hour high-quality care, in their facility’s home-like setting. Continually nurses work to prepare meals, serving them to patients and cleaning up. They bathe patients and administer medications for symptoms such as pain management, stomach upset, fever, breathing and anxiety. Nurses also reposition patients every two hours to help prevent painful bed sores. They make sure patients are kept clean and comfortable, providing them with necessities such as laundry services.
Last July, Maria Gibson of McAllen received the nightmarish phone call no parent ever wants to get. She was at work when her phone rang; it was her daughter on the other end of the line and she was crying.
The 10-year-old girl had just been sexually assaulted by an adult relative.
“I felt angry,” said Maria. “But I also felt fear. I was afraid that he might still be in the house.”
HARLINGEN — Families know that when they don’t have what they need, at least they can receive food from the Harlingen Neighborhood Food Pantry.
Small families, medium-sized families and large ones, mostly needy or wanting a helpful hand, have been lining up monthly for years at the food pantry.
“It’s very helpful,” said Martin Hernandez, 40, a Harlingen resident. “I pick up the meals on Wednesday.”
When Pope Francis traveled to the United States in 2015, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen was one of three churches selected for a virtual meeting with the pope. The meeting aired on the ABC television network in September.
Sister Norma Pimentel executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley (CCRGV) said she was honored that the pontiff had selected Sacred Heart for the virtual meeting.
Pimentel believes it is the organization’s response of humanitarian relief to mostly Central American immigrants crossing the border last summer that caught the attention of not only the United States but Pope Francis himself.
Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is one of 21 local social service organizations that will benefi t from AIM Media Texas Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s second annual fundraising campaign. The 2015-16 effort will run through Jan. 31.
The organizations will receive 100 percent of all monies donated thanks to AIM Media Texas — parent company of The Brownsville Herald, Valley Morning Star, The Monitor and Mid-Valley Town Crier — covering all administrative costs associated with the endeavor.
Pimentel oversees the charitable work that the Catholic Church does in the Rio Grande Valley. Pimentel routinely travels between CCRGV’s two offices in Brownsville and McAllen, respectively.
Pimentel calmed the hundreds of children and families that overwhelmed U.S. Border Patrol agents with their numbers, offering them words of encouragement.
Authorities ended up dropping off the immigrant families at the bus station in McAllen. They were people in great numbers in a great need of help, Pimentel said.
“They were hungry, tired, dehydrated, dirty and families from McAllen were seeing this at the bus station. They were wanting to help but they couldn’t, so Catholic Charities stepped up to organize assistance to help these families,” Pimentel explained.
The City of McAllen provided a shuttle to transport immigrants from the bus station to nearby Sacred Heart Church where CCRGV offered them a place to get cleaned up, gave them toiletries and clean clothing. The Salvation Army would prepare some soup so they could eat before their journey.
“The humanitarian response is to restore human dignity because we see these families totally devastated and in need of care,” Pimentel said.
The organization also provides a variety of services to local residents, such as the Emergency Assistance Program, Homelessness Prevention, Catholic Charities Pregnancy Center, and Disaster Relief Program.
Pimentel said she was in the process of organizing disaster relief to those in Cameron County affected by the October flooding.
According to CCRGV, thanks to the $12,336 provided by AIM Media Texas Charities last year, CCRGV was able to assist and make a difference in the lives of 1,220 individuals in the Valley in the latter half of 2014 and the early part of 2015.
Through the funds received CCRGV increased its capacity to help individuals and families via emergency shelters, utilities, rent, medical prescriptions, consultations, transportation and food.
Pimentel explained that 72,000 meals were provided to school children all over the Valley just this summer alone through the food program.
“Catholic Charities is here to help locals; we want them to know that we care about them and that they matter to us. If they are struggling we would like to know if we can help. We don’t always have the funding but we try to secure funds,” she said.
Pimentel said the organization works in collaboration with other non-profit organizations like the Salvation Army, Red Cross, United Methodist, Lutheran and Baptist churches.
“We come together because we are one community. It is difficult to address issues alone but it’s together that we can make a real difference in our community,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel explained that those in need of assistance don’t need to be a member of the Catholic Church to seek out assistance.
“We express our faith in the mercy we have toward others. It’s key to being Catholic, we have to be here for one another,” Pimentel said.