COMMENTARY: Public, private sectors must unite to beat poverty in Valley

By Monica Salinas

I try my best to always look forward to the future, and not dwell upon what has passed. However, sometimes reflecting on how far we have come is important to appreciate our progress.

According to a report by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, 42% of nonprofits in Texas are facing increased demand for services or support in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — a demand that is happening at the same time many smaller nonprofits have been forced to close.

Even prior to the pandemic, the Rio Grande Valley was experiencing higher poverty rates than the rest of Texas. In Hidalgo County in 2019, 27.3% of the population fell below the poverty line. This number is almost double the 13.6% of people living below the poverty line in Texas.

There is not a simple solution to the problem of systemic poverty and the additional issues that result, such as neglect and abuse. And there’s not a single nonprofit organization that can provide all the necessary solutions and services required. Therefore, nonprofit-and-public relationships are vital to the well-being of the community.

We need each other.

There are more than 300 nonprofits in the Valley community, and each one provides a service different from the next. I have been lucky enough to be a part of forming relationships with some of these organizations over the years and witnessed God’s love through them all.

In Ecclesiastes 4, we learn that life without community is easily destroyed, but where people come together there is strength. “A chord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

It is important to know there is a healthy network of organizations behind us to spread awareness of resources, policy changes and new opportunities, and to simply share information of services and events across the community.

I am so thankful to work with organizations in the Rio Grande Valley that have a desire to help however they can and treat others as a community rather than as competition. These collaborations, both longtime and more recent, are a big part of why the nonprofit I work at, Buckner International, is celebrating its 50th year serving children and families in the Valley.

Collaboration must extend beyond nonprofit helping nonprofit. The Valley needs its network of nonprofits to collaborate with local government and public organizations to maximize our efforts. That includes operational collaboration, such as how the Brownsville Police Department will now distribute cards directing at-risk youth and families to our program, Family and Youth Success, as S), as well as public funding for nonprofits.

Throughout the summer, cities and counties in the Rio Grande Valley held meetings to decide how to allocate their portions of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan. This money has the capacity to help many of the local nonprofits that provide an array of needed social services, from food banks and homeless shelters to job training and foster care — but we must prioritize nonprofits and make sure the money gets to them so their vital services can continue serving the community.

Our elected officials have a lot on their plates, so from time to time it’s up to private citizens to remind them what matters to us. You can write your local lawmakers or attend city meetings and let your voice be heard.

Strengthening our nonprofit network in the Valley means strengthening the future of our children and our families. It means more nonprofits will have the opportunity to celebrate 50 years of service in the community, like Buckner.

One of the highlights of my job is when past clients who were involved in one of our various local programs comes back to visit and share their successes and the impact our team had on their lives. We have met spouses, children and grandchildren, and we have seen photos of the lives these former clients built for themselves after breaking the generational cycle of neglect and poverty.

When the Rio Grande Valley supports each other and works together, I truly believe we can break the poverty cycle for all and create a more hopeful future.

Monica Salinas is executive director of Buckner Rio Grande Valley.