PHARR — Residents of The Gardens at Brook Ridge Assisted Living and Memory Care slowly made their way to the dining room of the facility Saturday.

Some were in wheelchairs and others walked gingerly to a cluster of empty tables. An elderly man wheeled himself to the dining room, greeting everyone he came across with a smile and a “good morning.”

A staff member approached one of the residents sitting and waiting for her meal.

“It’s time for your vaccination,” she said. “You can come right back and eat right after.”

“Oh good,” the elderly woman responded.

Another woman was overheard speaking to Luis Serrano, CEO of the company that runs the assisted living facility.

“We have prayed for this day,” the woman said. “And it’s here.”

This was the scene Saturday morning at the facility as some 90 or so residents and 40 staff members received the first round of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Today we are going to vaccinate all the residents and all the employees of the community so they can be protected from COVID,” Serrano said.

Elda G. Perez, a resident at The Gardens at Brook Ridge Assisted Living and Memory Care in Pharr, received the COVID-19 vaccine Saturday morning. She said that she had been looking forward to receiving the vaccine. (Courtesy Photo)

Serrano made the over 300-mile trek from Austin to the facility to oversee the clinic and receive his own vaccination.

“We’re excited about it, especially here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Executive Director Santos Barrientos said. “We’ve got the majority of our folks who are going to be taking (the vaccine) to be able to fight this virus. We’re all excited.”

“We as a company took the initiative months ago to sign up for the government program, a federal program where we signed up all 34 communities that we manage,” Serrano said. “As the government deploys the vaccine to different states, our communities which have priority are getting in line to get vaccinated. We signed up in October or November. I would say it’s been pretty fast considering the logistical challenges.”

Saturday’s vaccine distribution was the first of three planned clinics for the facility. The next clinic is scheduled in three weeks, and the third clinic will follow in an additional three weeks.

“Most of our residents — actually all of our residents — are very excited,” Barrientos said. “About 99% have signed up. They’re ready and willing to take the vaccine and fight the virus.”

“Keep in mind that these are the most vulnerable segment of the population,” Serrano added. “These are residents who are over 80 years old that have underlying conditions, for the most part. It’s a priority that we vaccinate them. They are very excited — they’re very hopeful that this nightmare can be put behind them with this.

“This is the first step in the right direction.”

One of the staff members who received the vaccine was Dora Arteaga of Edinburg, who is the business office manager at the Pharr facility. She said that she was a little anxious about receiving the vaccine.

“I was a little nervous because I’d heard the media and how basically there’s two versions of how it feels,” Arteaga said. “Prior to it, I had been asking people who had already taken it, and they said that they would just feel numbness. So I was a little bit skeptical, but at the end of the day I knew it had to be done because there’s a lot of exposure out there. We’re trying to minimize exposure starting with our residents, so I felt it was a must.”

“I did it, and it didn’t hurt at all,” Arteaga continued. “It was fine. It was perfect.”

One of the residents who received the vaccine was 79-year-old Elda G. Perez of Roma, who worked as a homemaking teacher for nearly 50 years before retiring.

“It didn’t bother me,” Perez said, who’s lived at the facility for three years. “Of course, I’m not dead. I did feel the prick of the needle, but it was nothing to be scared about.”

Perez said that she had been looking forward to receiving the vaccine, adding she had already been vaccinated so many times that one more wouldn’t make much of a difference. She said that seeing all of her fellow residents and the entire staff get the vaccine made her feel secure.

“I was looking forward to getting it because I wanted to get it over with and I wanted to be secure,” Perez said. “I wasn’t afraid or anything like that. I’ve had so many vaccines in my life. I’m an old woman. I’m just grateful that I’m in a facility that takes care of us, and as soon as possible. They don’t dilly-dally. They get to the point, and they take good care of us here.”