Rotary Club teams up with Harlingen police, nonprofits to help children

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HARLINGEN — Beatriz DeLeon, the Harlingen Police Department’s Crime Victims Liaison, grabbed a handful of cotton-like white filling and carefully stuffed it into the soft, furry brown bear she was assembling.

Across the table, Lorraine Galarza, from CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and House of Hope, smiled as she filled her tiger stuffed animal and thought of the name she would give him.

These two were among around 40 Harlingen Police Department personnel, including Chief Michael Kester, and leaders from nonprofit organizations throughout the local community, who helped support the Harlingen Sunburst Rotary Club’s Build a Comfort Buddy event on Wednesday at the Tony Butler Golf Course Clubhouse.

The Comfort Buddies created during the event will be given to children who require support, love, and caring following tragic and difficult times. The effort is a partnership between the Rotary Club and Harlingen Police Department. A total of 100 Comfort Buddies will go to DeLeon, and the HPD for crime victims.

DeLeon knows far too well the needs of children facing assault, violence, and tragedy in their lives. While DeLeon was helping assemble the stuffed animals with her co-workers from the Police Department, she will also be the one handing them out to children to comfort them when they are in need.

“By giving them these stuffed animals, it will put a smile on their face,” DeLeon said. “This shows them that someone cares about them.”

Harlingen Police Department Sgt. Manny Tovar said he enjoyed the activity put on by the Sunburst Rotary Club, which was described as a team-building event that would lift the spirits of those participating. But, he was most focused on how it would help the children.

“It’s a beautiful outreach to do,” he said. “These stuffed animals will go to children who need it most. Nowadays, children are scared of us, and we want them to know we are here to help when they are at rock bottom.”

The Build a Comfort Buddy concept is part of the Harlingen Sunburst Rotary Club’s 2024 initiative, Project Hope, a mental health effort forged by Rotary International. Under the leadership of Sunburst Rotary Club President Myra Rodriguez, the concept was developed to provide support to local children dealing with traumatic experiences.

“We are building these Comfort Buddies, and we are hoping they will get a lot of hugs,” Rodriguez said to the filled clubhouse before the work began on the buddies.

Members of the Harlingen Police Department show off their Comfort Buddies following Wednesday’s Build a Buddy event held in partnership with the Harlingen Sunburst Rotary Club. Comfort Buddies will be provided to children in Harlingen who are facing trauma and need comfort and support to deal with tragedies and difficulties. The department’s Crime Victims Liaison will distribute the Buddies to needy children. (Courtesy: Harlingen Sunburst Rotary Club)

Participating organizations in this event included the Harlingen Police Department, Harlingen Fire Department, Family Crisis Center, Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley, CASA of Cameron & Willacy Counties, Girl Scouts of Greater South Texas, VAIL Center for Independent Living, Citizens Volunteer Council for Rio Grande State Center, House of Hope and Victory Church, Blessed Assurance Children’s Center, and Tropical Texas Behavioral Health.

During the event, DeLeon also received a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow recognition pin for her 21 years of service to the community. The Harlingen Sunburst Rotary Club donated $1,000 in her name to the Rotary Foundation for her efforts to support children.

When a crime against a person occurs in Harlingen, such as family violence, assaults, and worse, all victims go to see DeLeon in her office. This often includes the adults as well as the children. It is at that time the Comfort Buddies will be distributed.

“I was not expecting the pin,” she said. “It is a meaningful and great honor.”

Tovar said there isn’t a better, more deserving person to receive the honor than DeLeon. He said she doesn’t expect or ask for recognition, but honoring her work with families and children in need is important.