HOA & PAM LE
Mother and daughter share family's journey of popular vietnamese restaurant Le Pho House. p.26
EXPANSION IN THE MAKING
Much anticipated Pharr International Bridge expansion making progress. p.38
USING AI FOR YOUR MARKETING NEEDS
ChatGPT advantages, risks, and practices to ensure quality control in content creation. p.44
MAY/JUNE 2023 | VOLUME 15 ISSUE 3
Sam Garcia Architect, LLC creates visionary architecture in the Rio Grande Valley. p.22
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Getting through the season.
There is a resounding theme in the market amongst businesses and organizations I have coming across over the last few months during the economic downturn. And my response has been the same, "there is no way around it … only through it."
When speaking to individuals across the state of Texas, one resource we have an abundance of is human capital. This region is a pressure cooker for entrepreneurialism and hustle, more than any other region I have seen in my experience living and working across Texas in other major markets. The resilience of the hard-working individuals in the Rio Grande Valley has been the secret to what makes this area somewhat recessionproof. The drive during tough times is a common variable most successful individuals RGVision has encountered in the 14 years of sharing success stories within the region. We hope you stay informed, educated, and inspired by the stories we share in this issue. As you read, we are proud to share more of these stories in this issue.
Thank you for picking up this issue. If you value these stories, please share this with others. RGVision is an ad-driven publication for the Rio Grande Valley by individuals committed to the Rio Grande Valley. Please continue to promote the Valley by advertising your businesses in the magazine and support RGVision, as there are many more stories to share. Call us for rates and make RGVision part of your ad budget this year. Thank you for picking up this issue!
James 1:2-4 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Helping Nurses Succeed pg 16
#MeasureWhatMatters pg 18
HOA & PAM LE
Mother and daughter share family's journey of popular vietnamese restaurant Le Pho House.
EXPANSION IN THE MAKING
Much anticipated Pharr International Bridge expansion making progress.
USING AI FOR YOUR MARKETING NEEDS
ChatGPT advantages, risks, and practices to ensure quality control in content creation.
EDUCATION QUALITY OF
BUSINESS 22 26 38 44
Serving the Community pg 30
Bosky Strings pg 32
Rio Grande Valley Angel Network pg 40
RGVision Media pg 46
Mental Health in Older Adults pg 50 In an Emergency pg 52
Frontier Direct Care pg 56
Welcome Your Baby pg 60
Habitats at Home pg 62
Harlingen's Small Business Haven pg 68
Celebrating Juneteenth pg 78
Explore Local pg 82
Memorial Day pg 88
Fun in the Sun pg 92
FUTURE ON THE COVER 22 26
Sam Garcia Architect, LLC creates visionary architecture in the Rio Grande Valley. 44
THE 2023 VOLUME 15 ISSUE 3 RGVISION MAGAZINE
Towards Sustainability pg 10
Bilingual Education pg 14
RGVISION ADVISORY BOARD
Each and every member of our advisory board charges RGVision with growth and commitment within our business development, social engagement, and editorial efforts. Through their feedback and contributions, RGVision will continue to help tell and share the Rio Grande Valley’s stories and extend the invitation to join the conversation.
VERONICA VELA WHITACRE
SABRINA WALKER HERNANDEZ
EDDIE LUCIO III
MARITZA L. RAMIREZ
RENE A. FLORES
JAVIER DE LEON
JUAN A. GARCIA
DR. RENE I. LUNA
BYRON JAY LEWIS
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PSJA ISD JOURNEYS TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY
District Adopts United Nation’s 17 Goals to Revamp Curriculum and Drive Efforts
by Joanney Uthe | photos provided
Starting the 2023-2024 school year, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA ISD) will adopt the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to revamp the curriculum and unite campuses and departments districtwide towards common intentional, sustainable efforts.
The SDGs are a blueprint for all countries to take action to achieve a more sustainable future worldwide. PSJA began this effort before the COVID-19 pandemic and will now join forces alongside its tri-city partners Pharr, San Juan, and Alamo to emphasize sustainability at every level.
"We want to help our students make the connection to real-world needs while also getting a high-quality and engaging curriculum that meets the state expectations,” said Claudia Gonzalez, Executive Officer for Elementary Schools, who has been leading efforts to embed the 17 SDGs into the curriculum.
In addition to revamping the curriculum to help students gain important and relevant knowledge to succeed, these efforts will also help empower students to serve and contribute to their community and think globally.
IMPACT IN THE CLASSROOM & BEYOND
In Hidalgo County, 28.8% of the county’s residents live below the poverty line and PSJA services many socio-economically disadvantaged students. Equipping these students with the knowledge and tools to end poverty and hunger in their lives addresses SDG goals 1 and 2, respectively. Most elementary schools within the district have gardens where the children are planting vegetables and consume what they grow.
“We started this a few years back in numerous schools, but now we are making that connection with a Sustainable Platform so that the students know that they are not just out there planting, but also making important connections while gaining skills like literacy, science, and more,” said Gonzalez. “They are learning that this is something that can be sustainable in their life. They are more able to care for themselves in the future. That goes towards ending hunger.”
Ending poverty enables families to feed themselves and this priority works towards Goal 3, Good Health and Well-being. Addressing each of these begins with Goal 4, Quality Education.
“All of the 17 SDGs are relevant in everything we
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do as a school district and community,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Alejandro Elias. “For example, the Valley is largely impacted by obesity and diabetes. That is one of the areas of many that we’re looking at. How can we educate our students with a relevant and impactful curriculum, and how can we educate our community members? It’s a trickle-down effect from our students. It trickles down to their parents and that is our community.”
The school district is not alone in reaching the community to become more sustainable. Each of the three cities that feed into the district, Pharr, San Juan, and Alamo, are working on emphasizing sustainability. Forming partnerships with the cities will allow PSJA students to witness and implement what they learn in their community.
“The three cities are joining in and becoming sustainable cities. I think this is going to translate for us as a district to form a partnership, Goal 17 (Partnerships to Achieve the Goals), to become one united front to educate our students and our parents,” said Dr. Elias. “And of course, everyone wins out of this because we become a more successful tri-city area.”
Implementing these goals begins at the top, with each department in the district. The idea is that the efforts will trickle down as the students see sustainability efforts at every level.
At PSJA ISD, the efforts to implement a districtwide sustainability approach are led by a committee of district leaders comprised of numerous departments whose work directly
connects to one or more of the 17 SDGs including Curriculum, Human Resources, Operations, Health Services, Construction, Transportation, Child Nutrition, Police, and Communications.
“Great things happen when we come together and work towards a common goal,” said Dr. Elias. “We want our students to not only learn about the 17 Sustainability Goals in the classroom but also see them at every level in our district. From the food they eat in our cafeteria, the bus they ride to school each morning, and eventually in every facility they use in any of our tri-cities. It all makes a difference.”
According to Gonzalez, instruction on reaching the UN Goals begins as early as Pre-K 3. A preschool class may read “Little Red Hen,” and plant seeds in the school garden, or reread the story as they water the sprouting plant and again as they eat the vegetables they grew.
At Marcia Garza Elementary in Alamo, sustainability goals are connected to each lesson, and classroom walls in every level display anchor charts with the 17 SDGs for students to make connections.
“It doesn’t matter if a child is 4 or 5 or 10, they can be world changers,” said Marcia R. Garza Elementary Principal Marisa Santoy.
According to Santoy, teachers strategically have students read stories and make connections to the Sustainability Goals. For example, a story about a female judge emphasizes Goal 5: Gender Equality. Science classes discuss Goals 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water), and 15 (Life on Land).
At the 4th and 5th grade level, students research problems that fit into one of the Sustainability Goals and come up with a solution to help reach that goal. One student designed a model of a playground for children with disabilities, that achieved Goal 10, Reduced Inequality. In May, students at some elementary schools will present their projects at a sustainability fair.
“It creates more rounded, critical thinking,” said Santoy. “It gets them thinking on their own, rather than being told what to think. Learning a la fun.”
"We want to help our students make the connection to realworld needs while also getting a high-quality and engaging curriculum that meets the state expectations.”
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Claudia Gonzalez, Executive Officer for Elementary Schools
Brownsville ISD Making Learning Easier for Bilingual Students
by Joanney Uthe | photos by James Hord
Forty percent of the student population in the Brownsville Independent School District (BISD), approximately 15,000 students, are emergent bilingual students. These students include recent immigrants to our country and children starting school from non-Englishspeaking homes. Emergent bilingual students within BISD speak 14 different languages, with the majority speaking Spanish.
“Our students are everywhere,” said Carlos Olvera, Director of Bilingual Education. “They are in athletics, UIL, Special Education, CTE, Dyslexia, GT, etc. We collaborate with many different departments within the district.”
The Bilingual Education Department’s primary purpose is to provide supplemental instructional resources to the
various campuses within the district. This can be in the form of materials or strategies that the teacher can use to help emergent bilingual students in their classroom. It also includes helping teachers better utilize these strategies and understand the challenges of their students through Professional Development and Consultants.
Students entering Pre-K or elementary with little or no English participate in BISD’s Transitional Bilingual/ Early Exit Program. The teacher provides instruction in the student’s primary language, with no more than 80% of the instruction being in Spanish and the rest in English. Students transition into increased teaching in English until they meet the criteria to exit the bilingual program.
“The criteria to exit bilingual education is that they
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reach advanced high levels of proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing domains in TELPAS (Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment) in English and also pass the STAAR Reading test,” said Olvera. “After that, we monitor them for five years to make sure they are not falling behind.”
Emergent bilingual middle and high school students benefit from the ESL/Pull-out model. Despite the name, students are not actually pulled out of the classroom. The teacher uses a variety of Sheltered Instruction and Ellevation strategies and methods to help the student based on the individual student’s level of English. Students entering BISD in middle or high school with little or no English knowledge work with an ESL (English as a second language) teacher. The district provides dictionaries of different languages to help these students, such as Russian-English, Korean-English, Tagalog-English, and Spanish-English dictionaries. Students may also be given an iPad with Google Translate so that the student can read the teacher’s words in their primary language as they are being spoken.
Students coming into Brownsville ISD from other countries while in high school may have already completed part of their high school requirements in their native country. In this case, their credits are validated through the LUCHA Program at the University of Texas at Austin UT High School.
“This helps them to graduate on time within the four years of high school,” said Olvera. This also helps in helping them continue with a post-secondary education.
Some middle and high school emergent bilinguals will be participating in a virtual reality summer program this Summer from July 17 to July 28. The district will provide the students virtual reality goggles and software, and they will visit different places worldwide while working with the listening, speaking, reading, and writing language domains.
“These are not students who are required to do this,” said Olvera. “They are students who want this extra help to improve their English.”
Elementary students this summer will have access to books that are in both English and Spanish with questions for their parents to ask the child after the child has read the story or had the story read to them. Parent engagement is essential for emergent bilinguals, and the parent instructions, questions, and sample answers are written in Spanish to assist the parents.
“Our department’s main purpose, our main goal, is to ensure that our students are academically and linguistically prepared to meet state assessment standards and ultimately for life,” Olvera said.
“Our goal for them is to exit the bilingual program and move forward with their education and their lives without needing linguistic supports.”
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HELPING NURSES SUCCEED
STC Nursing Students to Benefit from New Scholarship Fund
by Amanda Sotelo | photo provided
Retired nurse practitioner Mary Killoran knows the value of an education in health care and has created a scholarship fund in her name to help South Texas College nursing students continue their education.
Killoran recently presented college trustees and leadership with a $50,000 donation to the STC Foundation, the first installment of an annual donation that will fund scholarships for nursing students pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
“I never got a bachelor’s degree, not even when I later became a nurse practitioner. I always wanted one,” she said. “Now is my chance to ensure that other nurses can get their degrees, if they desire one, and this money is going to help make that happen.”
Beginning this fall, deserving Associate Degree in Nursing students pursuing a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Nursing will receive a $3,500 scholarship to help cover tuition costs and other schoolrelated expenses.
“This will help alleviate the burden of
student debt and other expenses for many deserving students. In addition, it will provide recognition and validation of their hard work and academic achievements,” said STC Dean for Nursing and Allied Health Jayson Valerio, DNP, RN. “Without a doubt, Mary Killoran’s kindness will inspire our students to continue pursuing excellence in their studies.”
STC Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Economic Development Rodney Rodriguez, Ph.D., who leads the newly established STC Foundation and Foundation Board, also expressed his gratitude to Killoran for her contribution to STC student success.
The STC Foundation was established to raise funds to support student educational endeavors by means of grants and scholarships.
“It is donors like Ms. Killoran that give our students hope; hope for their futures and hope for their families,” said Rodriguez. “This scholarship is going to fund dreams, change lives and nurture success.”
STC’s Nursing program is currently ranked
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No. 1 among Texas community colleges and No. 2 among Texas universities as a top producer of graduate nurses entering the health care field. STC President Ricardo J. Solis, Ph.D., said scholarships like this help keep STC and its students on top.
“Success describes our nursing programs, and STC is a leader in putting skilled nurses into the workforce,” said Solis. “The generous donation from Ms. Mary Killoran is going to benefit our students, their families, and our program for years to come. We are in gratitude to Ms. Killoran for believing in us and in our students, and for giving them the opportunity toward a rewarding career path.”
Killoran said she knows STC produces effective and skilled nursing candidates, which is what influenced her decision to donate to STC.
“I want to be part of the positive changes STC is making in lives and in our nursing industry. This is a wonderful and rewarding profession and this is my chance to help those that are the future of nursing.”
For more information on giving to the college or creating a scholarship in a loved one’s name, contact the STC Division of Institutional Advancement and Economic Development at email@example.com or 956-872-2048.
17 RGVISION MAGAZINE . MAY/JUN 2023 EDUCATION
Retired nurse practitioner Mary Killoran knows the value of an education in health care and has created a scholarship fund in her name to help South Texas College nursing students continue their education. Killoran recently presented college trustees and leadership with a $50,000 donation to the STC Foundation, the first installment of an annual contribution.
#MEASURE WHAT MATTERS
Raise Your Hand Texas Petitions for School Accountability Change
by Joanney Uthe
Imagine getting a report card with only one grade that covered all the student’s learning for the entire school year. That is how many parents, educators, and activists view the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) rating system for Texas public schools.
At the elementary and middle school level, grading is based on one factor: the STAAR test.
Raise Your Hand Texas, an advocacy group founded in 2006, wants to change the way Texas schools are rated and held accountable. From October 2021 to May 2022, the organization asked parents, teachers, administrators, students, and community members for input on how schools should be held accountable. Between community conversations and online outreach, both commencing with surveys, the group listened to input from 15,600 Texans.
Their research showed that 83% of Texans believed the STAAR test should not be the only thing in which schools are graded. The accountability system should reflect that schools do more than teach academics. Of the more than 6,800 teachers who responded to the survey, 81% felt that pressure on the students to do well on standardized testing hindered their ability to teach.
“We are able to make a difference in students’ lives in ways other than academics,” one teacher stated in the survey.
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Raise Your Hand Texas has used this information to put together a campaign to change the Texas legislation regarding school accountability. Using the hashtag #MeasureWhatMatters, press conferences were held to further educate the public and school districts of the movement, including one in Harlingen held Feb. 10, 2023.
The #MeasureWhatMatters Conferences uses the acronym KIDS (Knowledge for parents and community members, Indicators beyond the test, De-emphasis STAAR, Seek feedback) to explain the policy recommendations being made to the Texas Legislature by Raise Your Hand Texas. Knowledge for parents and community members. Receiving a report card with only one grade for all the work a school does during the year does not help parents or educators know their strengths and areas of improvement.
Indicators beyond the test. Student safety, school climate, teacher quality, and enrichment programs are a few of the indicators Raise Your Hand Texas is recommending.
De-emphasis STAAR. The recommendation to the legislature includes limiting the STAAR test to no more than 50% of the State’s accountability score. They also want to eliminate the STAAR tests not required by federal law.
Seek feedback. Districts should seek
feedback from their community regarding where the school is succeeding and where they need improvement. Recommendations include asking the TEA to produce local, community-based, and benefits-based accountability systems.
“Our students are more than one test on one day. A single test should not be the sole indicator of school and student performance,” Raise Your Hand Texas senior director of advocacy, Dr. Libby Cohen said.
The movement away from standardized tests is not unique to Texas. Nebraska has replaced the standard testing system with one that compares the child to their own previous tests rather than the student’s grade group. Florida students will take progress monitoring tests this year instead of traditional standardized assessments. Raise Your Hand Texas is not asking to eliminate the STAAR test but rather to use it as a tool rather than the only measure for school accountability.
“We need to recognize once and for all that standardized tests work best when they serve as a flashlight on what works and what needs our attention,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said, “Not as hammers to drive the outcomes we want in education from the top down, often pointing fingers to those with greater needs and less resources.”
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The recommendation to the legislature includes limiting the STAAR test to no more than 50% of the State’s accountability score.
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22 BUSINESS RGVISION MAGAZINE . MAY/JUN 2023
Sam Garcia Architect, LLC Creates Visionary Architecture in the Rio Grande Valley
by Bryan Kirk |
Creative. Innovative. Talented. Those are just some of the words that some in McAllen’s business and civic communities might use to describe Sam Garcia and his team at Sam Garcia Architect, LLC.
For 10 years, Sam Garcia has been driven to transform the landscape of McAllen and other Rio Grande Valley communities into meccas of urban design.
The drive to build things, and the desire to create visionary architecture that rivals the skylines of other Texas cities in his adopted hometown, was something that sprung to life in Sam Garcia when he was very young.
Sam, who was 12 years old at the time, remembers the excitement he and his parents shared as they drew up their own floor plan and design for what became their dream home.
“I got to be involved with it and see that process unfold,” he said.
His parents didn’t have any construction experience, Garcia said. His father drove a school bus for a living, and his mother was a secretary, so they spent many weekends at the public library researching house plans and were able to take their ideas to the builder to create their custom floor plan.
It was amazing to see it all come to life.
After the family moved into their dream home, Sam would ride his bike through the neighborhood to see the homes families were building.
“That was, to me, a formative experience in my life,” he said. “I enjoyed seeing how construction was done. I enjoyed looking at the floor plans and the drawings, and walking through the site while the work was being done. It was always kind of a neat thing [to me].”
In the summer of 1997, he unknowingly took the first step toward that future when he took a campus tour at the University of TexasAustin.
The students were taken to the College of Business and the College of Natural Sciences, the College of Engineering. Still, none of those areas resonated with Sam.
“I asked the tour guide to take the group to see the College of Architecture,” he said. “When we walked into the school, the environment was completely different. I realized then, that this is what I wanted to do.”
Garcia fell in love with the campus and the College of Architecture. He began taking classes in 1998. He set goals, which at the time, didn’t include living and working in the Rio Grande Valley.
photos by Bárbara
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That all began to change the summer before he graduated in 2004. Garcia was working as a student intern for an urban planning firm in San Francisco, and learning a great deal about transit systems and urban development.
One Saturday afternoon, Garcia was sitting with a laminated map of McAllen and sipping a cup of coffee. He began doing an urban analysis on the map, and he suddenly began seeing how changes could be implemented.
“I really began to see the city in a way that I’d never seen it before,” he said. “Even though it was my hometown, and I’d spent my childhood there, I had this new set of eyes. I realized this was a much richer place than I ever gave it credit for.”
For the first time in his life, Garcia said he was a fan of the Valley and of his hometown.
A few short weeks after his graduation in 2004, Garcia joined the A-3 Design Competition Team for a five-month assignment in Madrid, Spain.
In 2008, Garcia returned to McAllen
and honed his skills for five years at ROFA Architects before launching his own business in 2013.
Since then, Garcia and his team have designed numerous projects that include the Cavazos Sports Institute, Mirabelle Plaza, Domain Shopping Center, the College of Health Care Professions, and Tres Lagos Community Center and Pool.
“The Valley and McAllen is still such a young place,” he said. “It’s barely coming into its own, when you compare it to other cities or urban areas.”
In March, Sam Garcia Architect, LLC. celebrated its 10th anniversary.
While the last decade has been chock-full of building a successful business, there’s still that dream that Garcia holds close to make a difference in the development of the McAllen community and the Rio Grande Valley.
“The best is yet to come,” Garcia said. “There’s a lot of upside and a lot of potential here in the Valley. I’m excited that I’ve been able to play a role in shaping my hometown for the better.”
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Mother and Daughter Share Family's Journey of Popular Vietnamese Restaurant Le Pho House
by Selene Guerrero | photo by Bárbara Delgado
The matriarch of the Le family is Hoa Le, owner of the popular Vietnamese restaurant Le Pho House in Weslaco. This local favorite comes with a unique story and begins when Hoa started her journey when she moved to the United States from Vietnam at the age of 17. Determined to create a better life for herself, Hoa lived in Houston and learned how to run a restaurant she helped successfully lead for many years before moving to the Rio Grande Valley.
She believed in the value of working hard and saw the opportunities that opened up when a person was determined. In the United States, anyone could create the life they wanted for themselves, and so she did. Hoa also did it for her children. As a single mother of four, her children added inspiration. They were who she worked so hard for so that they could learn from the power of hard work.
“I love to work. I want to work so that way I can get what I need,” Hoa said.
“I love that my dream is to have my own business, now I do it, and I am so happy.”
Hoa added that in the U.S., there is so much opportunity versus the chance for success in Vietnam. She is proud of herself and continues building on her successes.
Once in the Rio Grande Valley, Hoa successfully ran a nail salon for more than 30 years, but the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, stopping things. At that time, her four grown children led their lives in different parts of the country. The economic effects of the pandemic brought the family back together for the first time in several years.
Pam, who had been working in Dallas, gathered with the rest of the family during that time as they all faced the financial hardship the pandemic brought them. The family members were not bringing in much income, and the bills were piling up as the shelter-in-place mandates were instated.
Then, over some of Hoa’s pho, Pam said
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that the idea to sell Hoa’s beloved pho was brought up, and then the planning beganthat was the beginning of Le Pho House. Pam started posting to her social media and polling her followers asking questions like “If my mom sold her pho, would you buy it?”
The responses were very positive, and as the family did the numbers, even if just 50 to 100 people bought from them, they would stand to make a decent profit.
The Le family, including Hoa, her children Pam, Randy, Amber, and Amy, began their planning and started by promoting the pho sales on social media, meeting their customers in empty parking lots. The family kept the menu simple: pho, fried rice, egg rolls, and Spring rolls.
“We would do pre-orders, so we knew exactly how much we needed to make, and everyone paid in advance,” said Pam. “By the time we would get to the parking lot to do our deliveries, there was a line of cars lined up for their food. We thought, ‘Gosh, this is insane.’”
The Le family made a deal. The Le siblings sold the food, Pam led the marketing and business efforts, and Hoa was responsible for the cooking. Hoa cooked all night, perfecting the pho broth and ensuring enough for the following day’s orders. It was indeed a family affair, with Hoa and Pam leading the family, all coming together to fulfill Hoa’s dream of owning her own restaurant one day.
Over time, customers began knocking on the Le home, asking if they were selling that day or how to buy some pho. Hoa and her family were outgrowing their curbside order operation. At the same time, an opportunity to rent a space at a shopping center off Westgate Drive opened only minutes from the parking lots they had run curbside orders.
“We negotiated and stayed within our budget, and we were able to tell our customers
that we officially had a location,” Pam said. That was September 2020, and Covid restrictions were still strict, so the Le family continued to take curbside orders, but they now had a bigger kitchen to work with and a larger space. Pam said the family recruited more help and eventually opened up their dining space in December at 50% capacity.
“I had no restaurant background,” said Pam. “You gotta do food training and make sure your staff does the food training. We picked other restaurant owners’ brains and managed to learn.”
Pam and her family have indeed sold the food, and Le Pho House has seen great success. Restaurant goers will comment to Pam about how much they enjoy the food.
“They want to hear from her (Hoa), and every time she comes out and tells the story, people are just like, ‘that’s awesome!’” Pam said. “She’s so happy that people enjoy her food and the hospitality of it all. She really puts a lot of love into it.”
Hoa continues to instill the value of hard work and reminds her children that in other countries, people don’t have the opportunities we have in the United States. She reminds her children to be grateful and mindful of the things that they have and to stay humble. Hoa owns Le Pho House, and also owns a nail salon, and divvies up her time between the two businesses.
“I always wanted to have my own business,” Hoa said.
Hoa added that she is happy to work with her children, even though there are challenges, but they continue and do it together.
“I do everything in the back, and my kids do everything in the front. I am so proud of myself that I came to the U.S. and built my future. There’s a lot of things I want to do, and I work hard, but I love it. It means so much.”
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SERVING THE COMMUNITY
Atlas Electrical, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration, and Plumbing, a Family-Owned and Operated Company Serving the Community
by Jillian Cameron | photos provided
Sarah Hammond was born from two high school sweethearts, Rogelio and Yolanda Sagredo. Rogelio joined the Air Force after her older brother, Rogelio “Roy” Sagredo Jr., was born. After serving for about five years, her father left the military and moved his family back home to Donna, Texas. Soon he started working for an electrical company. In 1982, he decided he was going start his own company.
“We worked the company out of the house,” SagredoHammond said.
“My mom was the accountant. My dad and my brother were technicians. My dad then became a master electrician and a master contractor. And my brother, by the time he was 12, could wire a house by himself,” SagredoHammond said.
The family all played a part in running the business. Sagredo-Hammond worked the books and dispatched, helping her mother after school and on weekends.
In 1997 when she was 25 years old, Sagredo-Hammond was essentially the chief financial officer, handling all of the financial processes and responsibilities of the company on her own.
In 2004, the company became a corporation entitled Atlas Electrical and Air Conditioning Incorporated. The company downsized in 2008 when the recession
affected many businesses. Sagredo-Hammond’s dad asked her to do what she could to keep the company alive. She was able to successfully keep the business moving forward.
Then in 2011, Sagredo-Hammond’s mother suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed.
“My dad became the sole provider for my mother. So in 2012, I took over the company (as president) so my dad could focus on my mom.”
In addition to electrical and air conditioning, refrigeration services were added in 2014, and plumbing services in 2016.
“We are focused on serving our community, meaning that we lead with donations and contributions to our community,” she said. It’s these actions that set Atlas apart from other companies in their industry.
”We truly believe that the only way to grow is to help our community prosper. So we donate to a lot of local sports teams, local kids programs, and we help in any way we can by donating to local scholarships and we are very involved in our community.”
Sagredo-Hammond also serves on several local boards focused on helping women grow their business. As a female leader in a male-dominated field, SagredoHammond has faced many challenges.
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“I've had all kinds of encounters such as male customers telling me in the beginning that they didn't want to speak to me. They wanted to talk to the man in charge,” Sagredo-Hammond said.
“I've had technicians and applicants who didn't come back to work when they found out that it was a woman leading the company.”
Sagredo-Hammond also serves on a national organization called “Women in HVAC” as treasurer.
“It's very important to me, to collaborate and to work within my field and to be able to have mentorship and mentor other women in this field,” she said.
“We have an ambassador program through ‘Women in HVAC' where we go out to schools and we encourage other females to become involved. I have hired a master electrician who was a female, and my master plumber is a female,” Sagredo-Hammond said.
“I truly believe in anyone, man or woman, because we are all capable of being great technicians and great leaders in our community. And I truly invest in both parties as much as possible.”
This family-owned business prioritizes the community’s needs. Atlas is run by Sarah and Roy Sagredo Jr., who serves as vice president. Their father is the acting owner.
Atlas Electrical, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration, and Plumbing serves the Rio Grande Valley and are based out of Alton. The company’s reviews on its website speak for themselves. Visit https://www.atlasrgv.com, or call 956758-3669 for more information.
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Local String Instrument Shop Keeps the Music Playing in the Valley
by Selene Guerrero | photos provided
Bosky Strings opened its doors to the public in 2021. Located in Edinburg, the fullservice violin shop specializes in orchestral string instruments. Bosky Strings serves the Rio Grande Valley’s growing orchestral string community, benefiting local schools and mariachi groups. The shop also works with members of the Valley Symphony Orchestra, and since its opening in 2021, this specialty store has had quite a growth spurt.
The idea to open up a violin shop had been brewing in co-founders Joel Ozuna and Ray Zhang minds for some time. The two took a trip to China in 2019 and saw first-hand cellos and other string instruments and instrument cases being made.
“From there, we established some connections with people we would like to do business with and we ordered our first container of instruments,” said Ozuna. Initially, the business partners were going to open up an online store. The store had initially planned to open in 2020, but the
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business partners decided to pause those plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ozuna and Zhang decided that the best move going forward was establishing their brand and reputation within the community. Ozuna, a musician, had worked at a violin shop for many years in San Antonio, and Zhang worked as a luthier.
“The best idea would be to open up a violin shop, build that name brand, and begin selling online. That’s basically what we’re doing now.”
Bosky Strings carries its own violin brand. The body of the violin is crafted outside of the country and what sets Bosky Strings apart from other competitors is that they do all the setup in-house. They install the violin pegs, and the bridge, and then sample it to ensure that the instrument produces the best possible sound and sets their instruments apart from factory-made violins. Great attention to detail, time, and effort is placed into each Bosky Strings instrument.
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This popular string shop is known for its restorations, repairs, and offering a complete line of string instruments, bows, and accessories. The shop also offers violin lessons to students and adults. Lessons are offered for either 30 minutes once a week or one hour, once a week. There are currently three different instructors who give lessons.
“Bosky actually means having an abundance of trees or shrubs. At the time, I jokingly thought to myself, ‘Well, I have an abundance of violins in my garage, if I ever opened up a violin shop, I’ll call it Bosky.’”
The business is nearly outgrowing the 800-square-foot space but Ozuna and his business partner have managed to get creative with the space and created a second floor for storage. Ozuna said that they are beginning to get clients from outside of the Valley and have worked with customers from as far as New York City.
The team also launched a podcast called “Charros y Classicos” featuring musicians from the Rio Grande Valley who tell their stories about how they are succeeding as musicians. The podcast can be found on all major podcast streaming platforms.
Bosky Strings offers beginner and advanced musicians everything that they need to hone their skills with their own brand, expert instructors, and a dedication to providing the best quality products and service.
“We hope our shop and the podcast inspires others and helps those aspiring musicians become inspired.”
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EXPANSION IN THE MAKING
Much Anticipated Pharr International Bridge Expansion Making Progress
Pharr International Bridge is one of the Valley’s busiest, seeing commerce pass at rates that rival Laredo or El Paso’s high volume of goods moving across the Rio Grande River.
“Our trade numbers, our crossings, our revenues speak for themselves,” Luis Bazan, Director of Pharr International Bridge said. “Based on those numbers we knew we had to do something to support it, to keep up with trade demand.
Expanding the Pharr Bridge has been Bazan's priority for years.
“This is something that was talked about years ago, even five years after the bridge opened in 1994,” Bazan said “It was just a matter of making the plans and getting to know the process.”
Getting international bridges built and expanded is no easy process. The work takes tireless communication, delegation, lobbying, and, most importantly, approval by the highest elected official in the country, the U.S. President.
When Pharr officials co-hosted a groundbreaking event with Mexican officials to signify the beginning of construction on the Northboard portion of the expansion, there was a reason for celebration.
“It hasn’t been easy and it's not going to be easy going forward, especially when construction begins,” Bazan said.
“We’ve been learning the ins and outs as we go through this process. Nobody’s an expert at this when you’re dealing with two different federal governments, two different cultures, two different parts of the world. There's a lot at stake and a lot of different requirements. For us, the biggest requirement is having a presidential permit.”
The road to approval took years of lobbying and meeting with government officials.
On Dec. 31, 2020, former President Donald Trump awarded the much-needed permit for Pharr to expand its current bridge to add an additional lane.
According to a City of Pharr press release: “This second span will give Pharr a competitive advantage by adding additional lanes to completely separate trucks and cars, dedicating specific lanes for empties, full cargo, certified cargo, and passenger vehicles, thereby adding capacity and reducing wait times.”
The dedicated lanes for different needs will be a game-changer so that people traveling for vacation and truckers moving cargo won’t be stuck in similar situations. The relief of congestion could further expand the use of an already popular bridge.
“Our numbers are already there,” Bazan said. “We’re the No. 1 produce bridge in the nation right now. We’re the third largest land port of entry in the state. When I got to this position, we were fourth or fifth. It was a
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by Nathaniel Mata | photos provided
dream at first, and now it’s becoming closer to reality.”
Along with advocating for the project's approval, Bazan oversees a unique bridge connect program that brings stakeholders, businesses, and investors together. The ‘Bridge Connect’ meetings consist of seminars, talks, and share best practices and industry news for individuals and companies that make their livelihood working around international trade and commerce.
“We do need to be strategically positioned for the future demands of trades,” Bazan said. “To see this rise from nothingness to now be
in this situation is groundbreaking, a gamechanger. We’re putting our money where our mouth is at the end of the day and putting skin in the game. We followed all the rules, the protocols, and now it’s time to let this thing get built and see not just the city of Pharr prosper but the international trade community.”
While Pharr is the municipality pushing forward, Bazan knows that the benefits will spill across the entire Valley and Mexico and give the entire region an edge in the trade field.
“This is great for both countries,” he said. “This will put the Rio Grande Valley on the global stage with a competitive advantage.”
“This second span will give Pharr a competitive advantage by adding additional lanes to completely separate trucks and cars, dedicating specific lanes for empties, full cargo, certified cargo, and passenger vehicles, thereby adding capacity and reducing wait times.”
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Luis Bazan, Director of Pharr International Bridge
THE RIO GRANDE VALLEY ANGEL NETWORK
RGVAN Hopes to See the Rio Grande Valley Flourish
by Jillian Cameron
The Rio Grande Valley Angel Network (RGVAN) is an organization that provides a platform for entrepreneurs to access funding, with a scalable gain on business profits for its Angel Investors.
“It's comparable to [the show] Shark Tank,” RGVA board chairman John Martin said.
Martin shared how different entrepreneurs come and pitch their business idea to angel investors with hopes of getting the funds they need for their businesses to take off and produce successful revenue.
“Generally, we invest in smaller amounts [compared to Shark Tank]. And we do it as a group,” Martin said. Angel investors are not competing with one another for who will get the whole investment.
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Angel investment groups are made up of individuals, sometimes business owners themselves, who can provide financial backing and resources for small startups and entrepreneurs. The angel investors will sometimes exchange funding for equity in the company. Investors can be one-time investors or can be ongoing to help support and carry the company through the early stages of launching a business.
Ideally, a new company would need funding from investors only once. However, the RGVAN permits entrepreneurs to return as many times as needed to provide updates on their business, express needs for the company, and pitch new ideas to angel investors in hopes of more funding.
“We've actually had one local company come back to us three times. [They did pitches to] show us their growth and what a great thing they [were] doing and how their sales [were], and we [said], ‘Oh, ok. Well, let's do this again,’” Martin said.
Last fall, two businessmen came to RGVAN, and Martin described their venture as one of the unique startups he had invested in. One of the men had recently sold his truck equipment manufacturing company, and the other had worked for SpaceX and Tesla.
“When a semi-truck goes down the highway, it's all connected together. When that semi-truck gets in trouble for one reason or another and starts to tip over and crash, the whole thing goes over. You lose,” Martin explained that the entrepreneurs developed a device that goes between the tractor trailer hook up and the trailer. Once the device senses that the
truck will flip, the trailer will disconnect.
“So you save a $200,000 tractor and the driver, and you only lose the trailer,” Martin said.
The businessmen had just launched their business venture and had their idea patented.
“They had a great business plan. They had a great idea. They just didn't have anything else,” Martin said.
The men had gone to multiple angel investment groups attempting to raise $2 million for their company and gained $100,000 from the RGVAN.
Investors have the freedom to pitch their idea to multiple angel investment networks. Angel investment groups exist all over the country. However, the procedure of investment looks different from group to group. RGVAN investors have the freedom to decide if they’re in or out and exactly how much they are willing to put in.
Other angel investment groups may force investors to come to a decision together, which can sometimes mean the entrepreneur in need misses out.
“Our real mission is to try to get manufacturing and technology companies and startups in the Rio Grande Valley. That's our number one,” Martin said. He added that he is especially passionate about children and adults having the opportunity to learn the importance of starting their own businesses.
The investors within RGVAN cherish the community of the Rio Grande Valley and hope to see it flourish economically. More information about becoming an investor or pitching a business idea can be found on their website at https://www.rgvan.org/ or by calling (956)-357-0167.
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Angel investment groups are made up of individuals, sometimes business owners themselves, who can provide financial backing and resources for small startups and entrepreneurs.
Supporting, promoting and advocating for local business members since 1919
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Dr. Christian Corrales The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Jacob Boggus Boggus Ford
Michele Robinson Texas Regional Bank
Michelle Franco-Mar Pooches Corner
Alex Ambriz Edward Jones Investments
Eddie Bartnesky Connelly & Bartnesky Insurance
Dr. Bonnie Villarreal Rio Vista Dentistry
Daniel Martinez Farmers Insurance
Matt Wolthoff Driscoll Children's Hospital
Francisco Castellanos Chick-fil-A
Lucy Cadenas Century 21
Archie Drake Valley Baptist Medical Center
Aaryn Marez Director of Finance & Administration
Brandie Martinez Director of Marketing & Social Media
Javier De Leon President/CEO Liz Davila Director of Membership & Retention
Alyssa Alvarez Administrative Assistant
"GREAT THINGS HAPPENING AT THE CHAMBER!"
new Office Space Available Now! Located in the heart of downtown McAllen, TX. Take advantage of McAllen's newest co-working space. Easy access to Expressway 83, Business 83, and Bicentennial. We invite you to rent with us and take advantage of our creative environment, not to mention the coffee bar. We look forward to sharing your VISION! Contact us at 956.431.0103 or info@RGVisionMedia.com
USING AI FOR YOUR MARKETING NEEDS
Chat GPT Advantages, Risks, and Practices to Ensure Quality Control in Content Creation
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become increasingly popular in recent years, and its applications in content creation are no exception. The use of AI allows businesses and marketers to create high-quality, personalized, and engaging content for their audience more efficiently and effectively than ever before. However, potential issues come with using AI for content creation, such as the risk of producing biased or inappropriate content.
BENEFITS OF USING AI FOR CREATING ENGAGING CONTENT
Increased Efficiency in Content Creation
One of the most significant benefits of using AI for content creation is its increased efficiency Businesses can automate the content creation process, saving time and resources. AI tools can analyze large
volumes of data and generate content faster than humans, such as blog posts or social media updates. This allows businesses to produce more content in less time, giving them an edge over their competitors.
Personalization of Content
Another benefit of using AI for content creation is its ability to personalize content for individual users. AI algorithms can analyze user data, such as search history and browsing behavior, to understand user preferences and create tailored content that resonates with them. Personalized content is more engaging and increases the likelihood of a user taking action, such as making a purchase or sharing the content.
Improved Accuracy and Quality
AI tools can also improve the accuracy and quality of content. AI’s natural language
ARTICLE PROVIDED BY Gabe Puente , EMBA
Entrepreneur, Business Strategist, Consultant, Marketing Executive
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processing and machine learning can identify and correct grammatical errors and suggest sentence structure and word choice improvements. This ensures that the content is error-free, professional, and high-quality, which enhances the brand's reputation and credibility.
Consistency in Tone and Style
AI can also ensure consistency in tone and style across different pieces of content. These pre-programmed style guidelines ensure that all content adheres to the brand's voice and style, which creates a consistent brand identity and strengthens brand recognition.
POTENTIAL ISSUES WITH USING AI FOR CREATING ENGAGING CONTENT Lack of Human Touch and Creativity
One of the potential issues with using AI for content creation is the lack of human touch and creativity. AI-generated content may lack the emotional depth and creativity that human-generated content can offer. This may result in flat, uninspired content, and fails to connect with the audience.
Risk of Producing Based or Inappropriate Content
Another potential issue with using AI for content creation is the risk of producing biased or inappropriate content. AI algorithms are only as good as the data they are trained on, and if that data is biased or flawed, it can result in AI-generated content that is biased, offensive, or inappropriate. This can damage the brand's reputation and alienate its audience.
Limited Ability to Understand Complex Emotions and Sarcasm
AI algorithms have a limited ability to understand complex emotions and sarcasm. This can result in content that misses the mark or comes across as tonedeaf. Human oversight is necessary to ensure the content is appropriate, relevant, and resonates with the audience.
Need for Human Supervision and Quality Control
AI-generated content still requires human oversight and quality control. While AI can automate certain aspects of content creation, such as grammar and spelling, human input is necessary to ensure that the content is engaging, relevant, and aligned with the brand's values and goals.
Best Practices for Using AI in Content Creation
To mitigate the potential issues of using AI for creating engaging content, businesses should follow these best practices:
Balancing Automation and Human Input
Businesses should strike a balance between automation and human input. While AI can automate certain aspects of content creation, human input is necessary to ensure that the content is engaging, creative, and relevant.
Using AI to Enhance, Not Replace, Human Creativity
AI should be used to enhance, not replace, human creativity. By leveraging AI to automate certain aspects of content
creation, businesses can free up time for their human writers to focus on more creative and strategic tasks.
AI has become an essential tool for content creation, offering businesses increased efficiency, personalization, accuracy, and consistency. However, there are potential issues with using AI for content creation, such as the lack of human touch and creativity and the risk of producing biased or inappropriate content. Ultimately, the success of AI in content creation depends on human oversight and quality control, ensuring that the content is engaging, relevant, and resonates with the audience. So, if you are engaged with a marketing company using AI, ensure they have qualified individuals skilled in content creation, writing, and branding. To learn more about how AI can help your company with its marketing needs, reach out to the RGVision marketing team; we have a full team dedicated to creating content to align with your marketing goals. Check us out at www.rgvisionmedia.com or email info@ rgvisionmedia.com.
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RGVISION MEDIA BUILDING & COWORKING SPACE
Set to Open Summer 2023 and Search Fund Launch in 2024
by Selene Guerrero
In a world where technology and the Internet make communication more convenient, publications like RGVision Media Creative Agency have told regional stories for 14 years. RGVision Media has made it its mission to connect local businesses with the resources and tools to thrive and to tell the stories that make up our colorful Rio Grande Valley.
“RGVision started because I fell in love with storytelling,” said Gabe Puente, RGVision Media founder and chief marketing officer.
“I moved back to the Valley to tell the story of the Rio Grande Valley and represent an area traditionally underrepresented.”
RGVision Media launched in 2009, and for several years, its offices were located in Mission inside the Center for Education and Economic Development (CEED). The Mission Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) operates the CEED, which offers resources and tools for growing entrepreneurs.
In that time, RGVision Media grew. The company publishes a bi-monthly magazine, RGVision Magazine, and offers local businesses services like web design, social media management, marketing, and branding. The operation continues to grow, and so does the demand for RGVision Media’s very own space. It was time to move and to operate out of its very own facility.
The RGVision Media office will open this summer. Located in McAllen off South Bicentennial Boulevard and Austin Avenue, the space will open up to a sizeable openconcept coworking and professional space. There, coworking space members can work
at desks or lounge spaces. There will also be soundproof booths for tenants to take private calls. Offices will be available for rent if a specific business requires more space, and tenants will also have access to conference rooms. Puente hopes this space will provide business owners with a supportive community and the resources to generate growth.
The collaborative space will also have a coffee shop located inside for members and visitors. Other amenities include access to high-speed internet, printing facilities, monthly rent availability, and the unique opportunity to get support and resources to help their small business.
RGVision Magazine operations will be located at the far end of the building.
“As an entrepreneur, I’ve gone through many of the struggles that many small businesses have,” Puente said. “I started noticing a lot of businesses needing a lot more help in sales and marketing, but also need help in operations.”
Puente envisions the RGVision building becoming more than just a hub for small business and networking but a space that begins offering local businesses a roadmap that will allow them to succeed and maintain that successful track. Puente has an Executive MBA from the University of Texas Austin McCombs School of Business. The McCombs School of Business is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the #1 business school in the state of Texas and 18 in the country. The two-year program has connected him with other executives from all
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over the country who have offered a unique perspective on business and also sparked the idea for the business space.
“You have all these individuals who are extremely accomplished and have had a major impact in their industry sectors,” Puente said. “I went to that program because I wanted to understand things like business valuation, and I wanted to be able to understand private equity and see how venture capitalists evaluate companies and how they negotiate. This program has given me the knowledge and skills to do that.”
This building is just the beginning of what Puente has planned. Puente has recently partnered with other professionals in the community, and the group has begun plans to create a private equity fund or a search fund. A search fund is a financial vehicle made up of private investors to help grow and support business owners and entrepreneurs. This unique fund allows investors to acquire a percentage of the business and help them make improvements in terms of financials, business operations, human resources, marketing, and in general, supporting the company and securing future success.
Plans have yet to be finalized for this fund, and more details will follow, but one sure
thing is the new RGVision Media building this summer. The media company will settle into its new home and open it up to other small businesses to grow and succeed.
“We’re hoping to launch the fund in 2024, but this building will be our first real headquarters,” Puente said. “People can gather right here in the middle and discuss their ideas with others.”
Standing in the shell space, with the ductwork exposed, and the office spaces framed by wood beams, Puente talked about the layout and the plans to build a stage where entrepreneurs could pitch their businesses to investors one day. He pointed at a space at the north end of the building that would be an art wall featuring inspirational and fun art to inspire those working there.
“I was scared when I started the publication because there’s a lot of unknowns, but you know, there’s this thing inside that tells you, ‘Hey, this is something that the area needs, this is what you need to do,’” Puente said.
He stepped up to the challenge, and 14 years later, he is defining a new path by opening his new building and creating a path for entrepreneurs through the search fund he and other investors are developing.
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MENTAL HEALTH IN OLDER ADULTS
Depression, Anxiety, and Aging
The nation’s population is aging. According to U.S. Census Bureau (2022), there were 54.1 million people aged 65 years and older in the United States in 2019, and this number is projected to increase to 80.8 million in 2040 and 94.7 million in 2060. The overall population of older adults is growing, and the number of people over 85 is on rising. Aging brings significant biological changes, unique challenges, and particular upsets. As a society, we must be prepared to meet the physiological health needs and mental health needs of the elderly population. In the United States, National Older Adults Mental Health Awareness Month is celebrated each May, making it an excellent time to focus on the mental health needs of older Americans.
Although the rates of most mental health disorders decline during late adulthood, a variety of disorders are closely associated with this later stage of life. Older adults commonly deal with the stress of loss, including the loss of a spouse, friends, adult children, former activities and roles, as well as hearing and vision loss. Sadly, many older adults lose their sense of purpose after their retirement, and some also endure the loss of beloved pets and possessions. While not all elderly individuals experience psychological difficulties, studies reveal that more than 20% of older adults meet the criteria for a mental disorder. Half of all elderly people would benefit from some form of mental health services, but it is estimated that less than 20% of elderly people receive mental health care.
Neurocognitive disorders receive the most
attention and are often the most feared psychological problems among elderly people. However, they are not the only psychological issues that older adults may experience. Like younger individuals, elderly people may suffer from depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety, alcohol and substance use disorders, and schizophrenia spectrum disorders.
• Depression is a common psychological problem among the elderly.
• The symptoms of depression are the same for older adults as for younger people, including feelings of profound sadness and emptiness, low self-esteem, guilt, and pessimism, as well as loss of appetite and sleep disturbances.
• As many as 20% of older adults become depressed at some point during their elderly years, with higher rates among elderly women.
• The rate of depression is much higher among the elderly who live in nursing homes compared to those living in the community.
• Like younger adults, depressed elderly people may benefit from psychotherapy, antidepressant medications, or a combination of these treatments.
• In the United States, it is estimated that as many as 11% of elderly people display at least one anxiety-related disorder.
• Generalized anxiety disorder appears to be particularly prevalent among older adults.
• Many aspects of aging may contribute to the heightened levels of anxiety among the elderly, such as worrying about declining physical health and functioning.
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• Older adults who experience significant medical ailments or injuries report more anxiety compared to their healthy counterparts.
• Those struggling with anxiety-related disorders may benefit from psychotherapy and antianxiety medications or serotonin-enhancing antidepressant drugs.
• People with neurocognitive disorders experience a significant decline in at least one area of cognitive functioning, such as memory, attention, visual perception, planning and decision-making, language ability, or social awareness.
• People may also undergo personality changes and exhibit behavioral issues.
• Neurocognitive disorders are classified as either major or mild. Major neurocognitive disorder is associated with substantial cognitive decline, which interferes significantly with instrumental activities of daily living, whereas individuals with mild neurocognitive disorder exhibit modest impairments in cognitive abilities and can, with some accommodations, continue
to function independently.
MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
There are several resources available to older adults who are struggling with mental health issues and their families:
• Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers information and materials to help understand the issues associated with substance misuse and mental illness in older adults.
• Mental Health America partnered with the National Council on Aging to feature materials on older adults.
https://mhanational.org/ (Co-Authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV Frances Morales, Andy Torres, Amanda Palomin)
BY Alfonso Mercado PH.D., Licensed Psychologist Department of Psychological Science at
the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
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IN AN EMERGENCY
South Texas Health Systems Neuroscience & Stroke Institute Bring Stroke Awareness to the Community
by Selene Guerrero | photos provided
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, and according to the National Institutes of Health, there are approximately 795,000 stroke events in the U.S. each year. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted, this leads to brain damage and sometimes death.
In the event of a stroke, it is a matter of seconds that can make a difference between life and death. According to the CDC, in one second, 32,000 brain cells can die, and in one minute, a stroke can kill up to 1.9 million brain cells.
Identifying the symptoms and acting fast by calling 911 is important. The Rio Grande Valley can count on South Texas Health Systems to handle stroke cases. Patients can visit STHS’ 10 emergency rooms, including its six freestanding emergency departments that
have been certified as Acute Stroke Ready facilities by The Joint Commission. These freestanding facilities are capable of stabilizing patients having a stroke and transferring them for treatment to STHS’ Comprehensive Stroke Center at STHS McAllen.
“STHS McAllen is a DNV-GL Certified Comprehensive Stroke Center designated Level 1 Facility,” said BSN, RN SCRN, STHS Stroke Program Manager, Alejandra Ayala.
“This means our facility meets the standardized stroke guidelines set forth by the Brain Attack Coalition, American Heart Association, and American Stroke Association.”
The comprehensive stroke center offers a range of treatments and care for stroke patients, including emergency treatment, diagnosis, and managing stroke complications. This center
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“No matter which STHS facility they enter, they will be provided the best standardized stroke care from the emergency department to critical care, all the way to their recovery in our rehab.”
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Alejandra Ayala, BSN, RN SCRN, STHS Stroke Program Manager
provides the Rio Grande Valley access to stroke treatment locally and not have to travel outside of the region to receive advanced care. Identifying stroke symptoms is critical to stroke treatment.
“Our goal is to bring stroke awareness to our community because seconds matter between life or having long-term disabling effects or even death,” said Ayala.
“We only have a short treatment window, therefore urging the community to call 911 immediately when they notice stroke symptoms.”
Ayala provided a simple acronym that is widely used to identify symptoms.
Balance is affected. A person may fall or feel unsteady.
Eyes are blurry or the patient has difficulty seeing.
Face droops when asked to smile.
Arm weakness when a person raises their arm above their head.
Speech is slurred.
Time is important. If you notice symptoms, call 911.
“The best way to prevent a stroke is knowing risk factors,” said Ayala.
Those risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, alcohol consumption, and obesity.
The STHS Comprehensive Stroke Center ensures that patients receive post-stroke care and the best quality treatment for recovery. There are many forms of treatments offered to patients based on the type of stroke or treatment required.
“Endovascular stroke treatment is a less invasive stroke treatment used to treat problems affecting blood vessels, such as a clotted vessel in an acute ischemic stroke,” said Ayala.
“Advantages in receiving endovascular treatment include shorter recovery period and less discomfort.”
Strokes are a leading cause of longterm disability and death. The importance of identifying the symptoms and seeking immediate care is critical. STHS Comprehensive Stroke Center has a team of healthcare professionals who work together to provide the best possible care to their stroke patients.
“No matter which STHS facility they enter, they will be provided the best standardized stroke care from the emergency department to critical care, all the way to their recovery in our rehab,” Ayala said.
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FRONTIER DIRECT CARE
A Monthly Subscription Plan to Care
by Jillian Cameron | photos provided
There’s a subscription for just about anything you can imagine these days. From streaming services to food delivery to gym memberships, the United States is a country that likes to subscribe. Subscriptions provide the benefit of access to goods or services for a low monthly fee. Why shouldn’t the healthcare system adopt that model? Frontier Direct Care is doing just that.
“It’s Netflix for your doctor,” said Bibb Beale, CEO of Frontier Direct Care.
“You pay a monthly subscription fee of around $60 to $70 a month per person and you get unlimited access to your primary care doctor. That's through phone calls, text messages, FaceTime, or in-person visits, you get unlimited access. You can visit as many or little times as you want for the same monthly fee,” Beale said.
“Frontier Direct Care really started out as an idea from a doctor who's my co-founder. He used to work at just a regular primary care office, and I walked into the primary
care office and waited three hours (to see the doctor). I got so upset after waiting around two hours, 45 minutes. I told my assistant to create a $3,000 invoice and send it to them, to basically bill them for all of my waste of time,” Beale said.
Dr. Peter Lazzopina, the doctor Beale was waiting to see, heard about the incident, and personally connected with Beale to address the issue.
“He reached out and said, ‘Hey, I'm really sorry. Why don't you come in the back door of our practice and I'll see you in my office?’ I went in the back door and saw him, and he gave me his cell phone number and said, ‘You just call me, if you ever have any questions,’” said Beale.
“After five or six times seeing him, he sent me to his office one day. I had been coming in through the back door the whole time (to see him directly), and he said, ‘Hey, what I've been doing (with) you is called direct primary care. And it's this model where you pay a
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Dr. Peter Lazzopina
monthly subscription fee, and you can get unlimited access to me, kind of like what you've been doing,’” Beale said.
Even though Dr. Lazzopina had not been charging Beale, he explained how he had been wanting to try out this method of “direct primary care.”
Beale encouraged Dr. Lazzopina to start the business on his own. Dr. Lazzopina decided to do a four-month trial with four other families. He shared his cellphone number and practiced the kind of direct care he had been giving Beale and his family. It was a huge success.
Dr. Lazzopina asked Beale to help him start the business, and although Beale was hesitant at first, he ended up diving in and taking the lead as CEO.
Frontier Direct Care has grown rapidly since Dr. Lazzopina’s idea in 2018. The company now has more than 17 medical providers, 17 nursing staff, and 64 employees, and continues to expand today. Over the
next five years, Frontier Direct Care plans to open up 100 locations across Texas. By the end of 2027, the company is expected to be in all markets across the state and potentially outside the state.
“We have same-day appointments. So you just go online or you text your doctor and say, ‘Can I see you today?’ You can see the available time, and you pick a time and show up to one of the Frontier locations,” Beale said.
“Our wait time is, on average, less than two minutes, and our visit time is, on average, around 37 minutes. The reason the doctor can do that is because they only have a maximum of 800 patients.”
Frontier Direct Care gives doctors the freedom to spend time with patients, not paperwork. The company is working to create a more efficient system that can be effective in making changes for American healthcare.
For more information, contact Frontier Direct Care at 956-983-9272 or info@FrontierDirectCare.com.
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WELCOME YOUR BABY WITH PERSONALIZED CARE
Valley Baptist-Harlingen Upgraded Mother-Baby Unit
by Matt Lynch | photos by Alissa Castañeda
While giving birth to a healthy baby is usually the top priority for moms-to-be, both ambiance, and comfort often play large roles in a positive and memorable birth experience, and hospital stay with their newborn.
To help new mothers make the most of their experience, Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen has recently transformed its mother-baby unit.
Upgrades from updated furniture to new bathroom fixtures have been selected to create a more modern and appealing look to help new mothers feel more comfortable and right at home during their stay, said Isaura Figueroa, MSN, RN, and clinical director of labor and delivery, OB ED & obstetrics at Valley Baptist-Harlingen.
“The mothers of our community have given us the special opportunity to ensure safe outcomes for mom and baby, and their birth experience is a journey that is unique every time,” she said. “We are truly humbled to play a role in each of these stories, and that means doing everything in our power to make sure our patients are as comfortable as possible.”
The recent renovation has touched nearly all Valley Baptist-Harlingen’s Mother-Baby Unit. Fresh, new paint with accent walls throughout the space creates a warm and inviting environment for mothers-to-be and their guests. New furniture that compliments the color scheme adds another layer of comfort during maternity stays.
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There was a thoughtful approach to the upgrades, with true attention to detail paid during the course of the project, Figueroa said. New flooring and updated, refaced cabinets were installed throughout the unit to complete the visual experience. In contrast, new integrated, solid surface sinks and new shower fixtures add to both the comfort level and functionality of rooms throughout the mother-baby unit.
Figueroa said that while the new look and feel of the rooms are positive changes for patient experience, new mothers can count on the same high-quality, comprehensive care that has been offered at Valley BaptistHarlingen for generations.
“Valley Baptist-Harlingen has been serving the mothers of our community for almost a century,” she said. “We’ve gone through many
looks throughout the years, but one thing has remained the same — our commitment to quality patient care and providing the very best experience to our mothers and their babies.”
In addition to room renovations, Valley Baptist-Harlingen will soon re-launch a number of free education classes for expecting mothers. Figueroa said the classes, which were paused during the COVID-19 pandemic, will play an important role in providing comprehensive healthcare for mothers in the community.
“Learning about how to cope with labor, delivery, and breastfeeding is very important because it gives a new mom an insight of what to expect when they come to the hospital,” she said. “For example, there are so many myths out there about breastfeeding,
and our goal is to make this a very positive and successful experience for mom, baby, and family.”
Figueroa said that when it comes to education, the goal is to involve family members so that mothers can use them as valuable support systems as they adjust to life with a newborn.
“Involving family members is a crucial part of this journey because our culture is extremely united, and a new mother needs that support,” she said. “If everyone is involved and has an educated standpoint, she is more likely to succeed and/or ask for help when needed.”
Childbirth education and breastfeeding classes are also available at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville. For more information, visit www.valleybaptist.net.
“We are truly humbled to play a role in each of these stories, and that means doing everything in our power to make sure our patients are as comfortable as possible.”
Isaura Figueroa , MSN, RN, and clinical director of labor and delivery, OB ED & obstetrics at Valley Baptist-Harlingen
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HABITATS AT HOME
Grow a Native Wildflower Landscape at Home
by Colleen Curran Hook, Manager of Quinta Mazatlan | photos provided
Infusing your garden with native wildflowers is a wonderful way to bring birds and butterflies home. Quinta Mazatlan has compiled a list of favorites featured around the grounds of the urban sanctuary and created a beautiful poster.
The plants are beautiful and significantly help wildlife at a time when a small percentage of native plants remain in the wild. The Granjeno (pronounced the granhen-oh) is an example of a giving native plant from our region. The evergreen shrub will attract many birds to the sweet fruit in your garden. We have observed Green Jays, Mockingbirds, Cardinals, and Long-billed Thrashers eating the tiny orange berries. The berry-bearing plant appreciates the birds and other animals spreading their seeds.
The Valley enjoys a number of different habitats with more than 1,000 reported native species. There are plants found here that occur nowhere else in the United States. There is plenty of sunshine, but low rainfall, and most native plants tend to have small leaves.
Quinta Mazatlan narrowed the choice of native plants down to 32 to help gardeners create tiny habitats at home from such a
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large palette. The beautiful 18” x 24” poster featuring these native plants was designed by Texas Artist Don Breeden and is available in the Nature Store at Quinta Mazatlan.
“We each have the opportunity to provide homes for wildlife by replicating forests on a small scale in our own little spaces,” said Colleen Hook, manager of Quinta Mazatlan.
A must-have native plant for every garden is the popular Turk’s Cap. The red flowering plant provides nectar to support hummingbirds. You will welcome the buffbellied hummingbirds to your yard, yearround Rio Grande Valley residents, in no time!
When creating your garden environment, include pieces of wood or stumps for shelter and décor. Make sure to add water for the wildlife. Even a simple shallow bowl or a water drip on a rock works wonders! Remember that native plants can coexist with what already exists in your garden. Create a sense of place at home for birds, butterflies, and all living creatures.
Follow Quinta Mazatlan on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The Valley enjoys a number of different habitats with more than 1,000 reported native species.
Gulf Fritillary on Texas Lantana
Chile pequin (capsicum annuum)
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Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis)
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HARLINGEN’S SMALL BUSINESS HAVEN
Downtown Harlingen Caters to Local Businesses
by Joanney Uthe | photos
Downtown Harlingen looks a lot different than it did 30 years ago. Many businesses left the district in the 1970s and early 1980s to relocate to shopping malls, but today it is once again a thriving, vibrant economic community with many unique businesses.
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by Mark Puente
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The change started in 1988 when the City partnered with the Texas Main Street Program to create a Public Improvement District. In 1989, property owners voted to approve a special assessment tax for matching grants toward improvements. Nicole Valdez, a retail rental agent in the district, said that the grants have made downtown’s buildings more attractive to tenants, attracting more businesses downtown.
“The community really appreciates their help with improving our businesses and their appeal to our customers,” Valdez said.
The district is comprised of government offices, professional services, sip and dine, retail, and residential.
Many of the businesses along Jackson Street are unique shops owned and operated by residents. El Coyote Custom Leather makes and sells leather products, including purses, gun holders, koozies, and wine bottle holders. They are also a dealer of Knife Ranch hand-crafted knives.
MeVale Creations, on the next block, contains many Mexican-style crafts, from stickers to apparel. Inspired by the art supplies she inherited from her grandmother,
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artist and owner Sarah Soria creates all the items in-house.
Harlingen Bazaar is an indoor market with more than 40 vendors that is open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The vendors are local small business owners offering everything from fishing lures, food, Tupperware, jewelry, clothing, and art lessons.
The Vanity Lash Hair and BlowOut Bar specializes in a holistic approach to enhancing natural beauty. Their services include makeup, facials, lash extensions, and bridal and quinceañera packages.
Downtown Director Alexis Riojas referred to Harlingen as the “Antique Capital of the Valley,” with at least eight Downtown shops that sell antiques. Jackson Street Antiques is located in the oldest brick building in Harlingen. Built in 1909, the Letzerich Building was originally the Harlingen Pharmacy on the first floor and doctor offices on the second. The metal ceiling and other architectural
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features of the building still exist. The building’s exterior displays one of Downtown Harlingen’s 21 murals, a mural of Harlingen’s history and life in the Valley.
Directly across the street is Lozano Plaza, a green space that is home to the unique “Harlingen” sign from sculpture artist Alexander Comminos, which is made up of recycled materials. Lozano Plaza was once the location of a general store built in 1906 by Santos Lozano. It is now utilized as a venue for some of Harlingen's popular events featuring live music and local vendors.
Continuing down Jackson Street and across the railroad tracks and Commerce, the scenery changes to blighted, vacant buildings. Renovations have yet to start, but this part of downtown was added to the Improvement District in 2020 and represents how the program helps the district.
“As recently as eight to 10 years ago, Jackson Street had a lot of vacant buildings,” said Riojas. “Now they are 98.6% occupied.”
The Van Buren Street area, also known as “La Placita,” was added to the Improvement District in 2018, and
renovations are underway on many of the buildings. La Placita includes the downtown post office and two banks. Sir’s Martini Lounge is located in La Placita, a familyowned business with two different bars and an outdoor patio. Along with food and alcohol, Sir’s sells the artwork on their walls.
Downtown Harlingen has three monthly events to attract customers to the district. “Downtown at Sundown,” on the third Saturday, features 60 plus local vendors, food trucks, and live music at Lozano Plaza. “Market Days” feature over 100 local vendors on Jackson Street and Centennial Park on the first Saturday of each month.
“Harlingen Art Night,” held the last Friday of the month, features local artists and galleries. Downtown businesses have extended hours during these events.
“We are not just Harlingen’s downtown,” said Bill DeBrooke, who owns several downtown properties.
“We are the Valley’s downtown. We are very much like a 1950s downtown where you can eat lunch, shop, and go home. We get a lot of business from the rest of the Valley and tourists.”
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Celebrating Freedom and Recognizing Black History in the Rio Grande Valley
by Jillian Cameron | photos provided
Slavery officially ended in the United States on June 19, 1865. Federal troops came to Texas to deliver the important message of the Emancipation Proclamation, occurring two years prior. This news meant freedom for all slaves. That day became known as “Freedom Day,” “Emancipation Day,” and most commonly, “Juneteenth.”
The goal of Village in the Valley is to connect people across the Rio Grande Valley. Village in the Valley was created in 2019 by Dr. Theresa Gatling, physical therapist and co-pastor, her husband Pastor Alphonzo Gatling, Masha Terry, RN, and her husband Dr. Onuwa Terry, a
“I believe that it is very important that we remember, as Black Americans, what our ancestors have done and gone through so that we can see how far we've come, we can see our progress, and we can also see what we need to work towards,” Dr. Gatling said.
Sabrina Walker Hernandez, President and CEO of Supporting World Hope and bestselling author of “SuccessOnomics,” serves on the boards of directors for Village in Valley and is part of the Juneteenth celebration planning committee.
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“You definitely will get educated,” Hernandez said about the Village in the Valley Juneteenth celebration.
Hernandez added that the keynote speaker for this year’s celebration would be Dr. Natasha McNeely, Assistant Professor of Political Science at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).
“Her specialty is in civil rights and voting,” Hernandez explained. “She also specializes in how politics affect women.”
Hernandez described the celebration as a “gala with a purpose.” She added that there will be scholarship opportunities for graduating seniors, and different programs offered by the local school district.
“I’m from Canada and moved to the United States in the late 1990s,” said Marsha Terry, Co-Founder of Village in the Valley and Administrator of Terry Physical Therapy. Terry discussed her Juneteenth experience and why she is passionate about educating others about the holiday.
“I heard about Juneteenth two years after moving here,” Terry said.
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“I think it’s important for all Black people, regardless of where you come from in the world, to understand the impact of the holiday in Texas. Blacks in Texas received their freedom two and a half years later, June 19, 1865, after the Emancipation Proclamation which was issued on Jan. 1, 1863. This impacted their ability to work, get a fair education, and access to suitable housing.”
Texas has a rich history of slaves gaining freedom. That freedom happened here in the Rio Grande Valley through the Underground Railroad.
“The Underground Railroad came through South Texas into Mexico because Mexico abolished slavery in 1829,” said Dr. Francisco Guajardo, Museum of South Texas History CEO and last year’s Juneteenth celebration keynote speaker.
“In the 1830s, slaves in Texas and slaves in Louisiana went South instead of going North,” he said.
Dr. Guajardo explained how thousands of slaves ran to Mexico to find freedom and passed through the Rio Grande Valley, where local landowners helped them.
John Webber was one of those landowners and one of the very few who owned a ferry. He married and bought the freedom of Silvia Hector, an enslaved Black American, and adopted her children. He then used the ferry to transport slaves to Mexico to find freedom. The Jackson Ranch played a similar role.
“Nathaniel Jackson [was] a slave owner's son, [and his wife] Matilda was owned by his dad. He fell in love with her. He married her and moved to get away. He gave her her papers [to be free],” Dr. Guajardo said, and added that they helped ferry people across the border.
The Rio Grande Valley has a rich Black history. To learn more, attend the Village in the Valley’s Juneteenth Perfecting Unity Celebration on Saturday, June 10, from 6 to 11:30 p.m., at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.
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Think Local When Planning Your Summer Trips
by Selene Guerrero
Summertime is right around the corner, but before the trip planning begins, here are a few ideas to check out right here in the Rio Grande Valley and consider taking a “staycation,” by filling the summer days or weekends with things to do, places to stay, and see located right here at home.
PLACES TO VISIT
The Rio Grande Valley is a birding hotspot and people from all across the country, and even the world, visit the tip of Texas to spot Whistling Ducks, Harris’s Hawk, Green Kingfishers, White-tailed kites, Peregrine Falcons, Green Jays, and see a few Chachalacas roaming the grounds.
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SANTA ANA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Santa Ana is a protected wildlife refuge that protects more than 2,000 acres of native subtropical habitat. The hike starts at the visitor’s center, where visitors can read about the local vegetation and animals, and even get up close to some reptiles and feathered creatures.
As the hike begins, have binoculars handy to make identifying the birds in flight easier. The trail opens up and leads to the hawk watch tower and canopy bridge located next to each other. There are also free guided bird walks that are offered at various times of the year.
There are tram tours available throughout the year, and visitors can inquire about obtaining a permit at the front desk for a bike, as there are some trails that are more than 3 miles long. Aside from the beautiful birds, visitors can see ocelots or bobcats!
Alamo, Texas, $5 per vehicle, MondaySunday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 956-784-7500
BENTSEN-RIO GRANDE VALLEY STATE PARK
Bentsen Park is the headquarters of the nine Rio Grande Valley locations that combined make up the World Birding Center hotspots. The park begins with a visitor center with gardens to explore. This park is closed to all vehicles, but visitors can walk, ride their bicycles, or catch a shuttle.
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FRIDAY MAY 5
SUNDAY MAY 7
WEDNESDAY MAY 10
SATURDAY MAY 13
SUNDAY MAY 14
FRIDAY MAY 19
WED-THU MAY 24-25
THURSDAY JUNE 8
FRIDAY JUNE 9
SATURDAY JUNE 17 @MCALLENPAC
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This park's hiking trail is 1.5 miles. Points of interest at this park are the Visitor Center Gardens, Kingfisher Overlook, and Hawkwatch Tower. Kingfisher is located along La Parida Banco, an overlook point that sits on the water bank. Hawkwatch Tower is a two-story observation tower that gives visitors a view of Mexico across the Rio Grande River. Visitors can also take their own bicycles or rent one for $5 at the visitor center.
Mission, Texas, $5 entry, Monday-Sunday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., 956-584-9156
Other outdoor spots to visit: Estero Llano Grande State Park (Weslaco, Texas), Sabal Palm Sanctuary (Brownsville, Texas), La Sal del Rey (North Edinburg, Texas), and South Padre Island Birding Center.
UNIQUE PLACES TO STAY
Looking to get away without having actually to get away? Check out these great spots in McAllen, Texas, that offer a touch of home and give guests a spa-like retreat feel to help relax without the pressure of traveling too far from home.
CASA ARTESANA (ART HEALS)
Owned by local artist Mitch D’Arte, this 500-square-foot studio apartment is the perfect tropical getaway allowing guests to ground themselves and meditate outside of the apartment’s beautiful gardens.
The space is located on D’Arte’s private property, and guests have access to a beautiful outdoor shower that is accented by a giant mural painted by D’Arte of Frida
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Kahlo. Art is found in every corner, and the apartment is decorated by original paintings and art, as well as flea-market finds that have been restored to give the space a unique and colorful look.
Guests can enjoy an infrared sauna, garden areas for yoga, a 1957 Shasta vintage trailer, and best of all, no cleaning fees. The apartment has a full kitchen, bathroom with a spa-like shower, desk for remote work, highspeed internet, a television to unwind, and accommodates three people. The grounds are filled with art and spaces to sit and relax. Outdoor chandeliers sparkle in the evenings, and the breeze moves the wind chimes.
CASITA DE MCALLEN
This Olde-Towne McAllen home was established in 1923 and was renovated in 2022. Its outdoor area, with its large trees, and variety of plants, gives the studio a relaxing vibe.
The home is hosted by Erica de la Garza-
Lopez, who says they have had Winter Texan guests, virtual workers, traveling medical professionals, bird-watching enthusiasts, and even locals celebrating their anniversary.
The space has a romantic feel to it, and guests can enjoy local art placed throughout the Casita. The Casita has all the amenities needed for a comfortable and relaxing stay. The space is also pet-friendly.
Both homes are near McAllen’s Art District and Las Palmas Historic District. Dine at locally-owned spots like SALT, New American Table, or Espana.
These locations are available for less than $100 a night. For more details about Casita de McAllen, visit the Airbnb posting.
These are just a few ideas, but once the exploring begins, the Rio Grande Valley has many gems to offer. Kick off the summer by booking a tour of the region and discovering new places to eat, parks to play at, and places to stay!
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Memorial Day Remains a Solemn Tribute for the Men and Women Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice
by Bryan Kirk | photos provided
For many Americans, Memorial Day is a three-day weekend that signals the beginning of summer, and it’s hardly uncommon for most to spend that first summer weekend at South Padre Island, Port Aransas, or Galveston Island.
However, military veterans hold the meaning of that solemn day especially close, often for reasons they may not share with their friends and family.
Oscar Garcia and Carl Farmer both served in combat areas and have a deeper understanding of Memorial Day.
“Some people fail to realize these freedoms are not free,” Farmer said.
“Lives were sacrificed to secure and keep them. The difference between me celebrating Memorial Day and others is that I have names to remember. I have friends who died for these freedoms.”
Farmer, who is originally from Detroit, Michigan, is the Care Pastor at The Family Church.
Farmer, who retired from the Navy after 20 years of accumulated service, joined the Navy in 1973.
“I had a high school friend who told me about joining the Navy,” he said.
He spent his 18th birthday in boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Base.
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Farmer completed basic training and went to school to become a Navy Corpsman. During his first enlistment, he was assigned to a naval hospital located in Charleston, S.C., and aboard USS Edward McDonnell.
While serving at sea, he encountered a group of sailors who “changed the trajectory” of his life.
“They helped me understand the meaning and worth of life,” he said. “I became a chaplain because of the deposits they made into my life.”
After his first enlistment, Farmer joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and enrolled in college. He earned his master’s degree in divinity from
the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in 1988 and was ordained the following year.
In 1991, Farmer was recalled to active duty for service during Desert Storm as a Navy Corpsman, where he served at a fleet hospital in Awali, a small island in the Persian Gulf.
In 1995, he returned to active duty as a commissioned officer and served the next 15 years as a Navy Chaplain. As expected, his career took him around the world.
In 2010, Lt. Cdr. Farmer, then the Command Chaplain at Marine Aircraft Group 13, retired from the Navy at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.
Along the way, Farmer says many inspired
him to be the man he is today.
“There really are too many to name,” he said. “These men and women became my mentors.”
Like many veterans, Farmer doesn’t talk much about his combat experience, and reflects back to the many wounded service members he treated during Desert Storm.
It was a great career, punctuated by opportunities to see the world, and to serve and inspire others at home and abroad, but Farmer wouldn’t change a thing.
“I was afforded examples and models in leadership that I probably would have never been exposed to in Detroit,” Farmer said.
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Like Farmer, Garcia came from humble beginnings. He grew up on a ranch near Hebbronville, and for as long as he could remember, he wanted to be a Marine. There were two reasons for that.
“I wanted to get out of this small town and do something with my life, and my mom would tell me, ‘Join the military,’” he said. “I saw the commercials and the uniforms… That’s what finally got me. I shipped out three days after I graduated.”
After completing Marine boot camp in San Diego, Garcia went to school to become a field radio operator. It was a job that Garcia loved.
“The cool thing about my job was that I was able to get attached to a whole bunch of different units and see how different parts of the military worked,” he said.
He served on the U.S.S. Nassau during the first Operation Iraqi Freedom, and later at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, before he was honorably discharged in 2003.
Garcia had only been a civilian again for a year when he decided to reenlist in the Army National Guard.
His tour of duty was only supposed to last a year, but his unit was activated for a yearlong tour in Afghanistan.
They were assigned to PRT Gardez, where they provided humanitarian aid. They helped to build schools and provided security for the children attending classes in those schools.
No one in Garcia’s unit was killed or seriously wounded during their Afghanistan deployment.
In May 2006, Sgt. Oscar Garcia returned
home from his final deployment and was honorably discharged from the Army National Guard.
It’s been nearly 20 years since his last deployment, and Garcia said the decision he made at 17 to serve his country is one that he never regretted.
“I would do this again,” Garcia said. “It’s what made me. It’s what made me who I am today.”
Although he didn’t lose anyone close to him in combat when he served, Garcia said Memorial Day is special. It’s a lesson that he has instilled in his three children.
“It’s about what these men and women did,” Garcia said. “The point is that these guys gave their all for something we take for granted.”
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FUN IN THE SUN
Outdoor Places to Dine this Summer on South Padre Island
by Dennise Villalobos,
Summer season is right around the corner, and we know what that means - time for a vacation and fun in the sun. If all the fun leaves you with an appetite, South Padre Island has many options to help with that. You will want to enjoy the views and fresh breeze while eating. Here are four restaurants with outdoor seating you can enjoy this summer!
Mahi Nic: Enjoy a delicious meal dockside and pair some of the freshest drinks to enjoy a hot summer day. Mahi Nic offers a variety of starters and entrees, which include their awardwinning fish tacos. Don’t miss out on their signature blackened mahi-mahi sandwich and hand-cut french fries.
Nautico Island Grill: Nautico offers a Tex-Mex style to their casual dining experience. Their extensive menu offers soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta, and of course, fresh seafood. Enjoy their piña
coladas, flavored mimosas, tropical margaritas, or frozen basil lemonade.
Viva: This is the newest restaurant on South Padre Island. Viva is one of the top options for the best sunset and bay views. This restaurant also offers a “cook-your-catch” service in addition to its fresh seafood menu and various tacos, including pork belly tacos. Summer is also fireworks season, so you can enjoy a great dinner with a fireworks display.
Cafe on the Beach: For one of the best brunch spots on our Island, Cafe on the Beach is a classic American dining experience with fresh offerings, a full bar, and beachfront views. The cafe is open year-round for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a chef-curated menu that incorporates favorites such as pancakes and burgers to high-end items like steak and lobster.
Marketing and Communications Specialist | photos provided by South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau
92 LIFE RGVISION MAGAZINE . MAY/JUN 2023
93 RGVISION MAGAZINE . MAY/JUN 2023 LIFE
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COMPREHENSIVE Stroke Care
When residents of the Rio Grande Valley need stroke care they can count on, many turn to South Texas Health System® McAllen – one of the many certified facilities within the South Texas Health System Neurosciences & Stroke Institute.
South Texas Health System McAllen is designated by the Texas Department of State Health Services as a Level I stroke facility, making it an invaluable regional resource. It has also been certified as a DNV Comprehensive Stroke Center and the facility meets the current Brain Attack Coalition, American Heart Association® and American Stroke Association® recommendations.
In short, South Texas Health System McAllen provides the most advanced level of stroke care to the communities we serve – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
South Texas Health System is one of only a handful of facilities in Texas to be awarded the Get With The Guidelines® - Stroke Gold Plus award as well as all three target levels: Target: Stroke Honor Roll Elite Plus, Target: Stroke Advanced Therapy and Target: Type 2 Diabetes Honor Roll.
When minutes matter, count on South Texas Health System to provide stroke care you can count on. To learn more, visit southtexashealthsystemmcallen.com/stroke
Physicians are independent practitioners who, with limited exceptions, are not employees or agents of South Texas Health System. The System shall not be liable for actions or treatments provided by physicians. For language assistance, disability accommodations and the nondiscrimination notice, visit our website. 231287761-1430337 3/23
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