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ACCLIMATING TO THE IVIES It’s a whole new world going to college for a freshman. RGV “fish” on Ivy League campuses may experience culture shock, but deserve their spots in even the biggest ponds.




Credit card offers can be a problem for teenagers with little financial literacy.

Health Insurance can be complicated, but it’s vital to be aware of how you fund your health.

Temporary traffic caused by construction on our roads is a sign of our region’s growth.

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A career in the U.S. Army offers you the freedom to reach your full potential in a variety of ways. You can serve full-time or join the Army Reserve, either attend college first, or earn a degree as you serve. With more than 150 specialties to choose from, you have the opportunity to pursue one of many paths to officership. It is a unique road to build your strengths in an environment that is disciplined, yet exciting. Learn to use the latest technology and travel the world with an organization whose goals match your own: to excel and stand out as the best. There’s strong. Then there’s Army Strong. Learn more at

Visit for more information regarding opportunities within the U.S. Army. To speak with a recruiter, contact the McAllen Recruiting Center at 956.682.6141 or the Mission Recruiting Center at 956.519.8389.

©2015. Paid for by the United States Army. All rights reserved.











Copyright by RGVision Publications Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without expressed written permission of the publisher is prohibited. The opinions and views expressed in the magazine don’t necessarily reflect those of our advertisers or collaborators. RGVision magazine is published bi-monthly and circulates 12,000 copies across the Rio Grande Valley in 420 locations with a direct mail distribution to major hospitals and Superintendents within Region 1. The RGVision office is located at 801 N Bryan Rd, Mission, TX 78572. To receive an annual subscription of RGVision publications for $29.99, email

Adriana Dominguez Claudia V. Lemus Bill Martin, CFP® ERO Architects Dr. Alfonso Mercado Fortino Gonzalez PT

Kevin Martinez James Hord Jose Antonio Peña Johnny Quiroz




Exodus 3:11-12 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you..”



The Rio Grande Valley is rapidly growing, and at times we can forget that growth doesn’t happen overnight nor is it easy. Our regional development is testament to the people who are committed to creating positive change. In most cases we have found these individuals do not limit themselves or their success. However, as we explore in our cover story, too many high-achieving, low-income high school students in our region find their confidence shaken by the culture shock as they attend top tier universities, while others do not even apply. In sharing our cover story we hope to educate, inspire, and inform our readers to restore confidence. Confidence in every student is necessary to, not only compete but also, excel and achieve no matter the socio economic status.

George Cox Karen Villareal Jose S. De Leon III Lori Houston Abbey Kunkle Laura Lyles Reagan Joey Gomez Chase P. Murphy

For editorial comments and suggestions, please send e-mails to For advertising information, please call us at 210.618.8930 or e-mail us at PRINTED IN MEXICO





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38 ACCLIMATING T O TTHE H E FIRST I V I E SSTEP OF A LIFE-LONG JOURNEY It’s a whole new world going to college for a freshman. Adult education programs like the GED RGV “fish” on Ivy League campuses may experience 66



open doors for future achievement culture shock, but deserve their spots in even the biggest




Clinic is training medical students and

Clinic is training medical students and

Credit card offers can be a problem for young people with little financial literacy.

THE INFORMED PATIENT Health insurance can be complicated, but it’s vital to be aware of how you fund your health.

ponds. However, many local high-achieving, low-income students do not even apply.




Temporary traffic caused by construction on our roads FAMILY ROOTS FAMILY ROOTS is a sign of our region’s growth. Clinic is training Clinic is training medical students and medical students and




HCISD Excellence Award

The Davenport Difference

pg 8

pg 28

Immigration and Mental Health

From PSJA to Space pg 10

Growing at RGV Careers pg 14

STC Opens Doors pg 16

Need a Grant? pg 20

pg 48

Smart Withdrawal Strategies pg 30

The Power of Motion pg 54

Inside the Start Up pg 32

Extending Access to Health

QUALITY OF LIFE Ushering in Experiences pg 72

BUILDing on History pg 74

Pedestrians on Wheels pg 76

pg 56

Digital Storefront pg 34

Women Forge the Way

Don’t be Embarrassed to Death! pg 60

pg 36

Unleashing Innovation Through 3D pg 42

Eli R. Ochoa Through Time pg 44

Spring Break for All pg 78

Dedicated to Defense pg 80

Save a Tooth, Save a Life pg 64

The Farm to Table Life pg 82




By Adriana Dominguez


he Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees’ continues to be honored at the state level for excellence in leadership. H-E-B announced Jan. 13 that eight school districts and five early childhood facilities have been selected as finalists for the retailer’s 16th annual 2017 Excellence in Education Awards program. For the third year in a row, H-E-B is recognizing five public school boards to highlight the importance of strong leadership at the board level.



This is the second time in three years HCISD’s Board of Trustees are recognized in the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards Program. “We are honored to be recognized as an Outstanding School Board by the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards program. It is an incredibly high honor for us,” said Board of Trustee President Gerry Fleuriet. “I commend H-E-B and Mr. Butt for their leadership in advocating for public schools and for providing support in so many ways to the children in Texas public schools. We



Harlingen CISD Board of Trustee

are deeply grateful for this recognition of our efforts and H-E-B’s valuable work on behalf of students in Texas.” Since the program’s inception, H-E-B has awarded more than $8.5 million in funding to benefit outstanding Texas public schools. This year, H-E-B will award a total of $85,000 to the finalists and school boards, who will go on to compete for even greater cash prizes at the statewide level. Each finalist in the large district and early childhood categories, as well as the five recognized school boards, will receive $5,000; the three finalists in the small district category will receive $2,500. “To have our Board of Trustees named an Outstanding School Board in the HEB Excellence Award for the second time in three years is truly an honor and a great celebration of our board’s everlasting commitment to the students of our district,” said Superintendent Art Cavazos. “As superintendent, I have the opportunity to see firsthand the countless hours our board members volunteer to advance the work in our schools. This

recognition speaks volumes of their dedication and resolve in preparing our students for global achievement.” To determine overall statewide winners, a panel of judges visits each district, early childhood facility and school board, tours campuses and talks with administration, staff, parents, and community members. Winners will be announced at the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards ceremony May 7 at the Hilton Hotel in Austin. The winning large district will receive $100,000; the winning small district, $50,000. An early childhood facility will receive $25,000. If selected, one or more school boards will receive up to a total of $25,000. Forty teacher and principal finalists will be announced in February and March during a series of surprise visits to schools and classrooms across Texas.

THURSDAY MARCH 2 + VSO: Dvorak with Orchestra TUESDAY MARCH 7 + The Price Is Right Live - Stage Show THURSDAY MARCH 9 + Hijas de su Marde FRIDAY MARCH 10 + Yuridia SUNDAY MARCH 12 + The Illusionists WEDNESDAY MARCH 15 + Adam Trent Concerts THURSDAY MARCH 16 + Jay Leno FRIDAY MARCH 17 + Ballet San Antonio SATURDAY MARCH 18 + Marisela SUNDAY MARCH 19 + Greater Tuna FRIDAY MARCH 31 + Portraits of America THURSDAY APRIL 6 + VSO: Romeo & Juliet FRIDAY APRIL 7 + Armanda Miguel & Diego Verdaguer WEDNESDAY APRIL 19 + Menopause: The Musical

“We are honored to be recognized as an Outstanding School Board by the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards program. It is an incredibly high honor for us."

Gerry Fleuriet

Board of Trustee President

FRIDAY APRIL 21 + Shen Yun SUNDAY APRIL 23 + Paul Anka THURSDAY APRIL 27 + Paolma San Basilio con Raul Di Blasio SATURDAY APRIL 29-30 + Dirty Dancing @MCALLENPAC





FROM THE VALLEY, INTO SPACE! PSJA ISD Team Experiment Selected to Fly to the International Space Station By Claudia V. Lemus




3 … 2 … 1 … We have liftoff! For a team of five juniors in Pharr-San JuanAlamo ISD, experiencing the launch of a shuttle into space has become an exciting reality. Passionate about science, the students from PSJA Thomas Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School, designed an experiment that was selected as a finalist for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 11.

Designed to inspire and engage the next generation of scientists and engineers, the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education enables, through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre-college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture. The program typically serves 300 students in communities from across the nation and Canada in every facet of authentic research of their own design. Through this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the students will get to witness their experiment launched to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in early August of this year. In addition to proudly representing the PSJA school district, the team is one of four selected from Texas and the only one from the Rio Grande Valley. The students in the finalist team include Kirk Miller, Emiliano Nuno, Anna Pineda, Kristina Evasco, and Abigail Salazar. Their  engineering teacher, Andrew Martinez, serves as facilitator.  "Our experiment deals with gravitropism,” said Miller of their experiment titled, How does microgravity affect the growth of an Allium cepa seed? “Essentially, it causes plants to have their roots growing down because of gravity. Since there is no gravity in space, we want to see how that will affect the plant." As the first T-STEM early college in the Rio Grande Valley, PSJA T. Jefferson’s students are exposed to science, technology, engineering, and math, on a daily basis. Passionate about STEM, all five of them plan on graduating with associate degrees in the field before graduating from high school. “This is the start of our growth as individual scientists, engineers, and computer scientists,” said Kristina Evasco in an interview with KVEO News Channel 23. The junior looks forward to graduating this May with an associate degree in Engineering. Thanks to a partnership with South Texas College, more than 3,500 PSJA ISD high school students are enrolled in college courses at

"Our experiment deals with gravitropism. Essentially, it causes plants to have their roots growing down because of gravity. Since there is no gravity in space, we want to see how that will affect the plant."

- Kirk Miller PSJA T. Jefferson T-STEM ECHS

the district’s high school, which are all designated Early College High Schools by the State of Texas. Earning a spot for their experiment to board Mission 11 was a difficult process, but the students are excited for the challenge. “It’s been challenging, but they have definitely gained new knowledge and stepped out of their comfort zone,” said their teacher. “I am very grateful for the support we’ve received from our PSJA family.” Knowing students will be representing the district and South Texas in space has raised excitement among the tri-city area. For Daniel King, PSJA superintendent, he hopes the students’ triumphs inspire others to keep working hard and achieving their dreams. “This is a tremendous accomplishment,” he said. “We commend the students and teachers involved for their efforts. They will not only proudly represent our PSJA family, but also every student in the Rio Grande Valley.” Like King, all five students expressed their hopes and desire for their work to lead the pathway in STEM for others to follow. "We can only hope that students in the RGV can experience what we're experiencing,” Abigail Salazar told KVEO News Channel 23. “It's important to everybody, not just us.”




Providing a Lifetime of Quality Service 5801 N. 10th St. Ste 400 McAllen, TX Give us a call at (956) 971 - 0326 Follow us on

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YOUR GROWTH Enhancing Student Outcomes With Organizational Professional Development At RGVCareers

By Lori Houston Photo by Kevin Martinez The recent growth and expansion of the RGV Careers campus has highlighted the expanded opportunities for current and potential students of the organization. However, the growth has not only been in size. RGV Careers has made it a policy to encourage personal and intellectual growth in their students as well as the faculty and staff that serve them. With her lengthy background in education, the director of RGV Careers, Anabelle Palomo, is no stranger to the concept of professional development for teachers and how it can ultimately improve outcomes for the students. One of the approaches they take is expanding the leadership skills of the staff and faculty through book studies. “The books that we've selected are based on personal growth, growth as an organization, working as a team, and leadership,” Palomo said. The purpose is to show the staff the importance of continued growth. “Maybe someone in the financial aid office hasn’t read a book since high school. Reading develops them to another level, whether it was personal growth or how to work as a team. The knowledge base is being developed within the whole organization.” 16


According to Palomo, staff development looks different for each person; it is based on what their passion is. “It has to be what they want to do.” She says they have books that develop discussion and stretch their thinking, and develop trust. “Within our organization we are holding each other accountable and I have seen them grow. Every day our purpose is to grow as professionals.” Claudia Gonzales-Paredes, the director of the Vocational Nursing program at RGV Careers, agrees that the book studies are having an impact on the people at RGV Careers. “I think the difference between RGV Careers and a lot of other organizations is the culture. We have the culture of empowering our staff with self-development. We encourage growing yourself and learning how to grow.” Beyond the book studies, some of the staff have been inspired to continue their academic education. Mary Williams, the assistant director of nurses in the Vocational Nursing Program, has been with RGV Careers since 2009. “I found my niche here since the very first year,” she says, and has been a vocational nurse for 18 years. She now plans on working toward becoming a registered nurse. “I want to be able to set the example for students and show that even in a leadership position in a successful program, there is always opportunity to grow.” With the belief that a good leader shows you what to do rather than telling you what to do, she is excited to take her next step academically and whatever may come after that. “I'm ready to go back and I'm ready to prepare myself for the next level of leadership within the company, whether it's assisting our director or taking another leadership role,” Williams said. “I want to contribute


to the community, and give back to the education of individuals who don’t think they have an opportunity, especially those of us in the Hispanic community.” Gonzalez-Paredes has been inspired to continue her education since day one with RGV Careers. She started with an associate degree in nursing and recently completed her bachelor of science in nursing. After getting more educational experience teaching maternity and pediatrics, she transitioned into the position of director of the vocational nursing program. However, she realized over time that she would need extra education to continue in her career. She wanted to live up to the high standards they were asking of the students and felt a responsibility to her students as well. “There have been many people in my life that have told me I needed to continue my education because someone with a higher degree would come take my job, but my thinking at the time was that gaining experience was enough,” she said. “As time went on I realized that to be really be prepared for the position at hand, you also needed a formal education.” Inspired by Dr. Palomo’s education level, GonzalezParades’s next step is a Master’s Degree, which she says RGV Careers has supported every step of the way. “Dr. Palomo and I both look at it as a win-win situation,” Gonzalez-Paredes said. “Dr. Palomo sees the value of personal and academic development for her staff because it is going to benefit the organization in the end. What I bring to the organization will benefit the students, the staff, the faculty and the Valley.” Her continuing education only strengthens

“I think the difference between RGV Careers and a lot of other organizations is the culture. We have the culture of empowering our staff with selfdevelopment. We encourage growing yourself and learning how to grow.”


RGV Careers, which in turn empowers students in the Valley to continue their education. Following the director’s example, GonzalezParedes uses performance evaluations of her staff in order to help pinpoint opportunities for continued development. She wants to know what they want and where they are headed. “If you don’t give them opportunity, they are going to find opportunity elsewhere,” she said. The book studies and evaluations are an effort to offer these personal development opportunities without pushing it on them. “Growth can’t be forced.” “The point is to benefit our students,” Palomo said. “I feel accomplished when our students receive their certificates. Those are our success stories.” To learn more about RGV Careers, call (956) 781-6800 or visit





Jay Peña and his grandfather Antonio Gonzalez




rowing up near onion fields on the outskirts of Rio Grande City, Juan Jose Alejandre Jr. had no way of knowing to what extent his life would change after enrolling in South Texas College. After persevering through an initial failure, his college education would eventually provide the path to a dynamic and fulfilling career as a corporate attorney, a drastic change from the farm life his family had known for generations. He would even have a new name — changing it as an adult to Jay Peña to honor the stepfather who raised him. The oldest of five children in a migrant family living in a micro-community known as El Refugio, Peña said that at one time he wouldn’t have been surprised to find himself leading a life like that of his grandfather Antonio and late grandmother Rosaura Gonzalez. “My grandpa is one of the last of five generations of migrant farm laborers in my family,” Peña said. “With farm labor, college seemed unattainable.” School was a struggle for him from middle to high school, Peña said. “I was one of those kids



who had trouble acclimating. I graduated maybe 20 kids short of last.” Poor study habits entrenched in high school would have more serious consequences in higher education. Nevertheless, he enrolled at what was then South Texas Community College. “I failed every class I took,” Peña said. “I eventually got kicked out with a .04 GPA.” Peña says he can recall taking his STC classes at the Roma High School campus and at the old Fort Ringgold campus in Rio Grande City. Peña said life became more difficult out of school. When an early marriage ended in divorce, he moved in with friends in Edinburg and took a job as a bailiff at the Hidalgo County Courthouse, where he worked for a few years. He also enrolled in police academy in Pharr and graduated with a basic reserve officer’s license but soon felt he was missing something. “I felt like I'd let my mom down. She wanted so badly for me to go to college. My brothers and sisters looked up to me, too.” He spoke to a counselor at STC, Santa E. Peña (no relation to Jay Peña), who explained that STC could replace his previous Fs with new grades if he retook the classes. “I couldn’t believe it. It was a fresh start. This counselor said, ‘Yes, you can replace all of your classes, but from then on it’s up to you.’ So I gave it a shot.” At his wife Monica’s urging (then his girlfriend), Peña sold his ‘86 Chevy, a pickup he affectionately named “Cleotilde” after his great grandmother, to buy a bicycle and to help him transition back into college.


“I had to take those college success courses before I could retake all the other classes I failed,” said Peña, who passed the student skill-building courses with no problem. Then he enrolled for his first semester, taking 12 hours. To his amazement, he received all As. He was even more surprised to have made it on the Dean’s List for the first time, which motivated him so much the following semester that he refused to miss class even after getting hit by a car. “I carried my bike with me to school and rushed to professor Elizabeth OrtegaHilpert’s class. I had a presentation that day, and she was tough. I got that A.” Peña pushed through an entire degree plan within one year and made the Dean’s List every semester, leaving STC with a 3.98 GPA. He even qualified as a finalist for STC’s first President’s Inspiration Award along with two other students, an honor that came with a $1,000 scholarship. “That was great money, but that wasn’t the reason I was so happy to be on there,” Peña said. “I had never been recognized before.” Though Peña didn’t receive the scholarship, he felt his grades were high enough to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin. He left STC just four hours shy of completing his associate degree in business administration and management. Inspired by his STC professor, the late Jay Ramanujam, Peña studied economics and received his bachelor’s degree at UT. Upon graduation, he taught middle school in La Grulla and started a home healthcare agency in Rio Grande City, Angelitos Health Care, with his mother and stepfather. Peña also completed a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Texas-Pan American. Thereafter, he received his Juris Doctor (doctor of law) from Texas Southern University. His younger siblings followed: two graduated from the McCombs School of Business at UT, one from UTPA and another from Texas Tech. One sibling, Isaac Peña, graduates from Cooley Law School in Michigan this fall and another, Erika Peña, started law school recently at Baylor. His parents, Alvaro and Dina, are also thinking of attending STC.

Peña is now an associate attorney at Fong & Associates, LLP in Houston, Texas. He's served clients across numerous industries and from all over the world, including Mexico, Brazil, France, the UK, the UAE, India, Pakistan, and China. He also serves as general counsel to Ango Global International, Inc. (AGI), a newly structured private investment firm in Sugar Land, Texas. The firm manages over $75 million in private investment and is the exclusive domestic affiliate to international energy, industrial, and wastemanagement companies. AGI recently acquired Ango World Holdings, Inc. (AWHI), a publicly traded investment banking firm where Peña serves as chief legal officer. AWHI has offices in Houston, New York, Florida, and Switzerland and is planning for listing and admission to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in mid-to-late 2018. In retrospect, Peña recognizes that his academic enlightenment began at STC when he decided to dedicate himself to his education. He credits STC with his brothers and sisters’ academic success, too. “It really is so simple. Just get educated, especially if you’re an older sibling. You have to set the bar.” At the same time, he understands that it’s difficult for many people, especially when they’re first generation college students. “If I have a message to students, it’s to never underestimate the power of determination,” Peña said. “You can turn it on whenever you want. Some of us learn to turn it on when our backs are to the wall.” Though Peña is honored to serve the corporate and international business communities, he enjoys being home with his wife and children, Annakaren and Baby Jay, in Rio Grande City — close to his roots and not far from the onion fields. Peña is an example for students in the Rio Grande Valley. “As someone who was not a standout student, who didn’t have the college educated family — I made it, and so did my brothers and sisters. The world is a wonderful place. Be determined, and get out there.”

“If I have a message to students, it’s to never underestimate the power of determination.” - Jay Peña




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APPLY TODAY Now Accepting Students Living Anywhere in the RGV • Full Day Pre-Kinder • Eight Early College High Schools (Earn 2 years of College FREE)

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The Educational Research Institute secured $1.35 million for upgrades to Pre-K education in three school districts.

great ideas with perfectly executable plans are abundant and funding is not, getting a grant takes a really good sell. The Educational Research Institute (ERI) in Harlingen is a professional grant-writing agency with an 80 percent success rate, securing over $269.4 million in successful grant applications for school districts, medical institutions, non-profits, municipalities and other groups. WHERE TO BEGIN?

There’s nothing like a great idea, but even a great idea needs an executable plan of action and a source of funding if it is to get off the ground and make a real-world impact. Grants are essentially free money for great ideas - with the clause that it must be used to advance the particular purpose agreed upon by the grant-giver and applicant. However, because



Proposals for state grants are typically due approximately 30-45 days after they are announced by the funding agency. To begin the process and make the most of that time, a formal agreement between ERI and the participating district/organization should be made as soon as possible, followed by a


need assessment conducted by the ERI staff, which takes 2-3 weeks from start to finish. Once the need assessments are completed, the ERI staff are able to produce a grant proposal to best address the identified needs. A GOOD MATCH ERI recently secured a total of $1.35 million for Pre-K Partnership Planning by writing three grants of $450,000 each for Pharr San-Juan Alamo ISD, College Station ISD, and Weslaco ISD. These school districts have worked with ERI on 14 grants to date since 2008, which have resulted in $23.8 million in grant funding for these three districts and the 63,187 students enrolled in them. ERI is proud to have assisted these districts in securing funding to continue their educational and outreach goals; all three are distinguishing themselves through partnerships with higher education and by producing high-achieving students. REAPING THE RESULTS OF TEAMWORK The recently secured Pre-K Partnership Planning Grants will assist school districts in developing partnerships with Texas Rising Star 4-Star private

providers to expand instruction delivery models for 3 and 4-year-old prekindergarten students. The partnerships established will increase continuity of instruction, Kindergarten Readiness, and a successful transition of young children from private to public school settings. For Weslaco ISD, it takes the shape of a partnership with the local daycare, Children’s Depot #2. “This partnership will allow our students to expand their knowledge and build a strong foundation at a young age,” said Joanne Serna, Director of Children’s Depot #2. “One of the benefits from this partnership is the integration of technology in the classroom. Our students will be using iPads and touch screen panels as part of their curriculum and learning.” Thanks to Weslaco I.S.D and the Pre-K Partnership Grant, the Children’s Depot is also able to introduce two more Texas certified teachers to the facility. With these types of programs and more made possible by grants secured by ERI, cultivating school-ready skills in our community’s youngest learners is not only a great idea, but a truly attainable goal. To learn more about ERI’s work or to begin a grant process with them, visit their website www.erigrants. com.

The McAllen Performing Arts Center is one of the most beautiful theaters I’ve ever performed in.

They don’t make them like this anymore. Whoever designed this theater knew what they were doing.” TONY BENNETT

December 6, 2016, McAllen, Texas

956 661 0400 MARCH/APRIL 2017



Healthcare for every lifestyle. Primary care physicians. Walk-in locations. Urgent care. From annual physicals to unplanned illnesses … from allergy season to holiday mishaps … from head to toe for children to seniors … choose Valley Care Clinics to keep your family healthy.

Location Hours McAllen Family Practice

M-F: 8 am to 6 pm

1800 S. 5th Street • McAllen, TX 78503 Weslaco Family Practice

M-F: 8 am to 5 pm

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M-F: 8 am to 5 pm

306 E. Main Avenue, #5&6 • Alton, TX 78574 Harmony Internal Medicine and Family Practice

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Edinburg Family Practice

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No appointment necessary. Walk in to any Valley Care Clinics location, or call 1-855-VCC-APPT (1.855.822.2778).

The care you need 160388 11/16





ACCLIMATING to the IVIES RGV students may experience culture shock, but deserve their spots at tier one schools By Chase Patrick Murphy & Karen Villarreal

fter graduating with a 3.98 GPA from a high school in one of the most underserved and unrepresented areas in the United States, Michael Vargas could have gone to many, if not all, Texas-based schools. However, his heart was set on achieving his full potential. Despite growing up in a financially challenged family where he would be the first to attend college, he applied to an Ivy League university. It was a heavy decision to apply, but one he was glad to have followed through on when he got a life-changing offer. “When you get a full ride to one of the most expensive and prestigious schools in the country, you have to take it,” Vargas said. He found himself as a freshman Brown University, stepping into college for the first time — and a great deal of culture shock. Not only was the weather notably colder than what he was accustomed to (Vargas got to experience what 13 degrees felt like during his first winter), his new peers lived in a completely different economic situation. “I saw what real wealth looked like for the first time in my life. … It was a whole new world,” he said. “I was bumping elbows with rich kids that I recognized from magazines and media. It was pretty surreal to sit next to the sons and daughters of famous people.”

How Diverse are the Ivies?

The widespread wealth of his peers was not just Michael’s imagination. A recent report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (a private, independent foundation dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need) found that only 3 percent of students in the most selective schools come from the 25 percent of families with the lowest incomes, and 72 percent come from





In 2015, at Brown University




Brown University Student Body



Hi spanic STUDENTS

Af r ican Amer ican STUDENTS



the wealthiest 25 percent of the U.S. population. One measure of the economic diversity of a campus is the number of students awarded a Federal Pell Grant. Though not a perfect metric (foreign/international students are not eligible for Federal Pell Grant, among other factors), the program (which provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education) is useful to illustrate the difference in student body economic demographics. Out of the 6,302 students that attended Brown University in 2015, there were 1,095 Pell Grant recipients at Brown — approximately 17 percent. According to Brown University’s financial aid website, the percentage of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants has increased 11 percent over the last five years. While that’s a positive indicator that the expansion of the Pell Grant program is increasing economic diversity at Ivy League universities, the Cooke Foundation study states that colleges described as having competitive admissions have increased their Pell Grant recipient percentage up to as high as 42 percent. Topping the list of economic diversity among public universities, New Mexico State University has awarded a Pell Grant to 88 percent of its students. In the Lone Star State, Texas A&M Kingsville stands at 80 percent.

Apply Anyway

Are low-income students not getting accepted to Ivy league universities because they don’t compete? Research suggests that’s not the case — it’s because they take themselves out of the running by not applying at all. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, most high-achieving, lowincome students do not apply to any selective college, so they are invisible to admissions staff. The Cooke Foundation study states that 48 percent of highachieving, high-income students apply to a selective school, compared to 23 percent of high-achieving, low-income students. Another study states it this way: for every high-achieving, low-income students who applies, there are about 15 high-achieving, high-income students vying for the same spot, and more than 80 percent of the nation's most selective institutions give a preference to children of alumni, who are typically wealthy. Low-income students are unlikely to come to the attention of admissions staff through traditional recruiting channels, and few of these students follow through on the application process. Despite all this, low-income students who know they are strong candidates should apply; there is no way to know what might happen without taking that step. Remember the case of Vargas — he ended up with a full scholarship.



Parents: Provide Support

Paula Garcia, executive director for Teach For America, says she observes many interested students put off from applying by the price tag, expectations, and culture shock associated with the top-tier schools. “Many times, kids just find it easier to stick close to home or to return to home after they have been away at school,” Garcia said. “Families can be enabling.” Vargas found firsthand that the first obstacle he and many RGV students face is not gaining academic acceptance, but finding support both financial and emotional. “There can be so many mental and physical obstacles placed in front of you,” he said. “Parents and family culture have a lot of weight in this decision.” Vargas explains that low-income kids get accepted to top-tier schools all the time, but don’t feel that they can afford to go. What students and parents do not fully understand is that there is a sizable amount of money available through grants and other forms of financial aid, but they need to be educated on where to look. He envisions mentorship as helping to educate families and guide them through this process. “Out of benign ignorance, parents often make the decisions for their kids, resulting in them not furthering their education or achieving their full potential,” he said. “They are qualified for scholarships and financial assistance, but parents and students often do not think that they are deserving of this money.” Vargas says students need to know that they are doing the right thing by asking for help and must be validated in pursuing higher education for themselves. “Students need to know and understand that they are worthy,” he said.

Worthy of the World

Garcia feels that many students coming out of the RGV are suffering from “Imposter Syndrome.” “Children who have grown up in poverty, as minorities, with English is a second language, or first generation immigrants often suffer from selfdoubt that comes with their culture, upbringing and background,” she said. “Even the most educated and college-ready student has to navigate through obstacles, and some give up on the process too easily.” She adds that Teach For America wants to keep students from self-segregating out of Ivy League or tier-one schools. “Often, students feel like they are not good enough and worry when they don’t understand the rules, processes and even the overall wording or language of applying for these schools. We try to move the mental and physical obstacles that have been placed in front of them,” she said. She explains that Teach For America educators teach three basic principles to help their students develop the confidence to attain their highest potential. “Number

one is the ability to set goals and meet goals. Number two is having the grit and being resilient; knowing that obstacles are opportunities. And number three is having awareness and self-efficacy; knowing what you don’t know, and educating yourself in the process.”

Struggles to Succeed

Low-income and first generation students may find struggles in Ivy league classrooms as well as with the campus culture — but they aren’t insurmountable. They just need to remember that they’re in school to learn and not to play keeping up with the Joneses, and find the support on campus to help them succeed with their studies. According to the Cooke Foundation report, “The lucky few low-income students who get into top colleges and universities have proven that they can handle the most challenging academic work because 92 percent graduate and do well academically.” Brown University took a strong step to support its student body with the opening of the FirstGeneration College and Low-Income Student Center on Sept. 16, 2016. Graduating long before its opening, Vargas did not get to benefit from Brown’s new center; he admits that his first year there was an uphill battle. However, he still managed to get his bearings, hunker down, and flourish. “The first semester was crazy!” he said. “I had to read twice as much and work twice as hard because many of the incoming students went to private schools or academies prior to attending Brown. They were just better prepared for elite college life.” Vargas says he spent more time studying than his classmates his freshman year, but things started to click after that. When asked what kept him going when times got tough, he said he had no thought of quitting. “I felt the reward would be worth the work,” he said.

Reaping Rewards

A recent article from the New York Times confirms his theory. “Even though low-and middle income students face challenges that other students do not, lower-income students end up earning almost as much on average as affluent students who attend the same college,” it states. In 2009, Michael graduated with a degree in political science on time, just four years after leaving home. He joined Teach For America post graduation to share his experiences, and advised potential college students be open-minded and grow their network. “Be ready to embrace your mistakes,” he says, adding that the people you meet from school can connect you with people and positions that will become the initial stepping stones in your career. “Open doors, jobs, and positions come from the networks you build.” Michael now works for a political leadership organization based out of Washington, D.C., called

The first semester was crazy! I had to read twice as much and work twice as hard because many of the incoming students went to private schools or academies prior to attending Brown…they were just better prepared for elite college life.” - Michael Vargas

Leadership for Education Equality. Vargas also sits on the school board for his former high school district. “Because of the issues I faced coming into school, I had this gravitational pull to work towards helping other students,” he said. “I took advantage of my opportunity to give back.” Michael is not alone in working to help remove the roadblocks and concerns for the next generation of RGV students. There are great groups like Teach For America helping to break down boundaries, setting examples, and giving back to the community. “Tier One” universities are becoming a real option for graduating RGV students and increasingly, these schools are becoming more attainable. As more RGV students find their way onto top tier campuses, they will change the campus culture with their presence, ideas and opinions. However, regardless of the environment they find themselves in, they have proven with their acceptance that they are worthy; they worked hard to pursue their education and have the dedication to use it, like Michael Vargas, to change their lives.


The Davenport Difference for Business Owners What does your insurance agency do for you? By Jose De Leon III


onsidering the high cost of health care in the United States, it’s no question these days whether an individual should be insured. In the workplace, health insurance is an enticing benefit; in Texas, 48 percent of the population is insured through their employer, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study based on census data. With many options regarding what benefits employers can provide to their employees, human resources departments and business owners have a difficult task in deciding the packages that make most sense for their situation, but insurance agencies help with just that. Davenport & Associates specializes in group benefits, and prides itself on being a different type of agency that provides year-round support for more than insurance. According to Dusty Davenport, CEO, they provide resources that can save their clients thousands in HR consulting and professional fees.

Analysis and Guidance

Insurance packages are a lot of information to handle, and Davenport says it's not uncommon for clients to feel overwhelmed. Changes to the Affordable Care Act and other legislation makes enrolling a process that takes careful consideration; According to a 2015 ConnectedHealth consumer survey, 54 percent of employees say selecting a health plan is more complicated than solving a Rubik’s cube. “Davenports and Associates will help with any 30



"For over 20 years, we’ve fulfilled this goal by offering products from top-rated carriers and supporting clients with friendly customer service and clear straight talk.” - Dusty Davenport, CEO -

insurance questions. Our mission is to match clients with an insurance package that works for them,” he said. “For over 20 years, we’ve fulfilled this goal by offering products from top-rated carriers and supporting clients with friendly customer service and clear straight talk.” Most employers typically review their company’s insurance plan once a year. However, due to changes in personnel and other activity that may occur over the year, Davenport’s team of 15 brokers maintain close contact with their policy holders. They recommend that business owners start thinking of any changes they might make to their insurance plan in advance and discuss with their insurance broker, especially if they are a large group.

Beyond Insurance

Davenport and his team stay up-to-date on all federal and state benefit laws and serve as a resource to the HR staff by regularly informing and advising them of changes that will affect their employer and employees. For small businesses with a small or nonexistent internal HR department, Davenport can be a real benefit, providing support with claim service, explanations of employee benefits, online administration tools to help with payroll, and vital guidance with compliance issues. Davenport and Associates provide the legal documents typically produced for a fee by attorneys and HR service providers to keep employers in compliance with the U.S. Department of Labor as well as resources for COBRA, health care reform, ARRA, HIPAA, HIPAA Privacy, Section 125, and FMLA. Davenport says that 32 percent of business plans audited by the U.S. Department of Labor received fines of over $10,000. Davenport & Associates assists with reporting, filing, and answering other compliance questions to avoid that problem. When working with an employer, he makes it a point to make employees aware of the value that their employers are offering them with their insurance. Some employers cover the entire cost

of insurance for the employees while others cover a percentage. Davenport says that often, employees are not aware of how much coverage they have and don’t take full advantage of it. “Taking advantage of their preventative services through their employer’s plan, they could possibly detect and prevent future complications with high healthcare costs,” says Davenport. They also provide online resources to expand existing HR departments’ capabilities, such as online access to benefit information, wellness program implementation, and benefit booklets. This is all part of Davenport’s efforts to increase communication and education about insurance for business owners and those managing insurance for large groups. The firm provides a range of articles, videos, and handbooks covering topics such as benefit statements, company policies, health awareness, retirement planning, wellness initiatives, and more. “Think of us as an extension of an HR department,” Davenport said. Dusty Davenport has been in the insurance business for nearly 12 years alongside his father, Rip Davenport. He hopes to continue his father’s legacy of providing excellent service, while taking it in a new direction by expanding their service offerings. “Break away from the mold of the traditional broker,” Davenport said. For more information, visit or call (956) 971-0326.

D AV E N P O R T & A S S O C I AT E S Raymond R. (Rip) Jr. CLU ChFC & Wilson R. (Dusty) Davenport





leading up to retirement to develop a withdrawal strategy that works with your other streams of income (e.g., Social Security, annuities, incomeproducing investments, pensions and distributions). You’re looking to create a sustainable plan that gives you confidence that your money will last at least as long as your retirement does. Hopefully even longer. Something For Everyone


It's official. You're retired. As in, your days are yours alone. No early morning meetings. No deadlines. No paycheck. Wait. What? Without a job, you’ll no longer receive a salary. Something you’ve likely relied on every couple of weeks for the past 40 to 50 years. It’s unlikely that Social Security alone will be enough to replace that flow of income and fully support your standard of living in retirement,

which means it’s time to start drawing down the retirement income you’ve saved so diligently over the years. And that’s easier said than done. There’s a highly emotional component to drawing down your savings without knowing exactly how long you’ll need it to last. For many, tapping into their retirement principal causes some anxiety. They view their savings as a safety net of sorts, when in reality it can help fund their vision of retirement. So it’s important to start planning for this early. Work with your advisor in the months and years

Fortunately, there are flexible strategies that can be used alone or in combination to get to the ideal income you desire at each stage of your life. There are many variables to consider – unknowns like longevity, inflation, market performance and long-term care costs – which is where your advisor can come in handy when designing an income plan to cover the next 20 to 30 years of life. Let’s take a look at the two main approaches designed to provide reliable income to cover different retirement spending needs and preferences. In both cases, it’s a good idea to start with a conservative withdrawal rate; then increase it incrementally if your portfolio grows. CONSTANT WITHDRAWALS The constant withdrawal method advocates estimating your expenses and withdrawing a set dollar amount from your portfolio every year to cover initial spending expectations. Like Social Security, you would adjust the amount for inflation and withdraw the new dollar figure. Because you set the rate at the beginning of retirement, it doesn’t factor in some of the “what ifs” that might come along as a customized plan would (see nearby chart on how income needs can change over time). Should your wants and needs deviate from your budget or the market become unpredictable, your measured withdrawal plan may not keep up. So, that brings us to flexibility. As mentioned earlier, it may be best to start with a relatively conservative withdrawal

As featured in WORTHWHILE, a quarterly periodical dedicated to serving the clients of Raymond James advisors and affiliated advisory firms. 32



amount to account for an unknown sequence of returns early in retirement. If your portfolio experiences a market boost early on, adjustments can be made upward to allow for higher withdrawals. And vice versa. Strength: A predictable and consistent amount of yearly income Consideration: Relies heavily on portfolio value at the beginning of retirement to determine future withdrawals PERCENTAGE-BASED WITHDRAWALS

Percentage-based withdrawals are based on the current value of your portfolio. You can withdraw a constant percentage, say the 4% often espoused as a rule of thumb, or take a more variable approach. With each passing year, it may make sense to gradually increase your withdrawal percentage to match your changing life expectancy. This is similar to how traditional IRAs calculate required minimum distributions. A percentagebased withdrawal may make more sense for those who rely on their retirement savings mostly for discretionary spending or are comfortable with their income fluctuating from year to year. Strength: Flexibility to allow for larger withdrawals following positive portfolio performance and lower withdrawals during periods of volatility Consideration: Annual income varies with the markets and the size of your portfolio

Sophisticated Strategies There are variations on the main strategies, each with its own benefits and considerations. FLOORING Flooring relies on guaranteed income from Social Security and annuities to cover your retirement living expenses – the essentials. You then tap into your investment portfolio for discretionary spending. Relying less on your portfolio gives your assets a better chance to grow and fund long-term goals.

The retirement “smile” Income needs change in retirement. For some, the more active early years of retirement require more income to fund travel, hobbies and home improvements, while the middle years become more routine and may require less. Later, depending on your health, you may need to budget for higher healthcare costs.

Good for: Those with long life expectancies; risk-averse investors who prefer a steady “paycheck” with less risk

BUCKETING Bucketing provides a twist on asset allocation. The idea is to invest a certain portion of your portfolio in relatively safe and liquid investments (think cash and cash alternatives) so that you feel confident that your needs will be met over the short term. While the cash provides a safety net of sorts, it may limit overall returns as it sits idle. The rest of your portfolio would be dedicated to growth investments that can help give you a better chance of funding long-term goals.

find your preferred lifestyle requires more than you had anticipated. What we’re saying is your spending strategy must align with your withdrawal strategy to keep your plan on track. Set up systematic withdrawals, say monthly or biweekly, to help you stick to your budget, and be sure to monitor your budget every month. And during periods of rocky market performance, be prepared to cut discretionary spending or tap into existing lines of credit to improve the long-term sustainability of your retirement investments. Most of all, work with your financial advisor to set realistic expectations for what you can comfortably spend during what should be the best years of your life. There is no assurance any investment strategy

Good for: Those who prefer a safety net when

will be successful. Investing involves risk including

drawing down the value of their portfolio

the possible loss of capital. Withdrawals which exceed earnings will reduce the principal value of

Adjust as Needed

your retirement savings. Asset allocation does not guarantee a profit nor protect against a loss.

With all of these models, there are a few things to keep in mind. Even with a carefully planned withdrawal strategy, you can’t account for everything. You may be excited about a new grandchild and spend more than you had planned or MARCH/APRIL 2017


Bill Martin, CFP®

1845 Capital of Raymond James 7001 N 10th St, Ste 205 McAllen, TX 78504 956-331-2777 |





START UP For two South Texas entrepreneurs, finding success means constantly learning By Abbey Kunkle

Be your own boss. Make your own hours. Do what you love. Every day. Live the dream. Whether it is out of necessity, in pursuit of that “million dollar idea,” or for sheer passion, starting a business has been the road taken by business-minded individuals time and time again. In fact, according to CNN Money, nearly 500,000 businesses start in the U.S. each year. Whether it’s your brother, your neighbor, your former coworker, a person you met at church or in a coffee shop, it’s likely that at least one of those people has started a business at some point. And if it was a success or a catastrophic, monumental failure, it’s also likely they’ve got a piece of advice or two that they’d be willing to share. Even though “what to dos” are valuable, “what not to dos” can sure come in handy, too. Ideally, you should seek out the most successful entrepreneur you know and try to emulate that success. Successful South Texas entrepreneurs Ashlynn Elliff of Ashlynn Elliff Designs and Matt Wilbanks of HelpSocial, Inc. offered an inside look at some of the challenges, setbacks, and surprises they faced on their paths to success. Though these entrepreneurs came from unique backgrounds and different fields, they ran 34



into many of the same challenges and agreed on four things they learned along the way: Make sure you have a relevant product, and then get ready to CHANGE IT.

This is a big one, and reasonably so. If you want to be successful, you need to make sure your passion translates into something tangible and valuable to your customers. When considering the long-term trajectory of your business, start with a vision but allow for flexibility along the way. For HelpSocial, rapid changes in technology keep them on their toes and require them to be ready to adapt their product at any time. Wilbanks, along with co-founder Robert Collazo, opened up their business in 2014 after being coworkers for eight years. They started HelpSocial to focus on a platform built for social customer service with a product that differentiated from the many social media marketing products by helping companies to see the big picture in online customer service. For Eliff, the challenge came in wanting to grow too big too soon. She has been designing and refining her skills for almost a decade. Last year, the Palm Valley City Commission chose her design to represent the City of Palm Valley with a

“It was going to be learning a lot of new things. It has just been a constant state of learning the whole time.” -Matt Wilbanks new official logo. Her heart is in the creative aspect of things, and you can see the passion that translates into each beautiful invitation, business card, and website. She soon realized that when starting a business, you can’t accommodate every request, and sometimes you just have to say “no” to projects. Rather than trying to have do everything, having a clear focus on relevant services will help you to continue to enjoy what you do and better serve your customer base. People won’t come to you. PERSISTENCY is key.

There are many ways to get your name out there including collaboration, reaching out to people online, or by word-of mouth. It likely takes a variety of things to help you grow, but most importantly, you must be persistent. Looking

back on their beginnings,Wilbanks said some people said “no” because it wasn’t their main priority, “so we had to keep looking for those that said yes.” Be willing to LEARN everything else (or else).

When thinking about their day-to-day activities, many entrepreneurs start out with expectations that may or may not be correct. Coming from a background in sales, Wilbanks expected his focus to be in that department; however, he quickly realized that leading a company entailed so much more. “It wasn’t just going to be things I had experience in,” he said. “It was going to be learning a lot of new things. It has just been a constant state of learning the whole time.” Elliff, who loves being creative, said she learned that she is also not “just a designer” anymore, adding, “I am a bookkeeper, secretary, manager, customer service representative, assistant, and more.” Want to start a business? Get ready to do it all. Find your SUPPORT network.

Both Elliff and Wilbanks shared that a having a support system can make or break your business. Above all, Wilbanks suggested finding great mentors and advisers to keep you on the right track. Joining a business accelerator program could be a good option, or you can just ask people for advice. Wilbanks said there is a wealth of knowledge out there. Even those who you might never expect to give their time are often willing to share what they know. “Sometimes starting a business can feel very lonely, but that is totally wrong. There are so many people who are willing to help,” Wilbanks said. “There is such a great community.” Entrepreneurship takes a special kind of person, but people try to do it every day. Starting a business takes focus, commitment, and depending on who you ask, maybe even a measure of luck. If you’re successful, you will likely find strengths you never knew you had, and you will definitely learn. You will learn a lot. You will learn the ins and outs that make a business take off and keep on running. You will learn how to do everything from the books to cleaning the bathrooms. At some point, you will learn how to delegate, or you will end up in over your head and missing out on the potential to harness the strengths of others. Will it be challenging? Definitely. Will it be successful? Maybe. Just think about it this way — it could be one of the best decisions you will ever make, and if it doesn’t end up being all that you hoped, you still learned a lot from it. Even if you have failed before, don’t let it stop you. Statistics show that even if you fail, you are more likely to be successful the second time around than if you had never tried at all. If you’ve been thinking about starting a business, get prepared, get out there, and give it a try.





Websites are your business’ online counterpart By VISION MEDIA

We read a sobering statistic recently: 46 percent of businesses don’t have a website. Twenty or even 10 years ago, websites were largely optional because people were highly likely to consult a phonebook or drive around looking for what they need. In 2017, when people are doing more research online than ever, businesses are losing those customers to their competition that has an online presence. Vision Media Agency is a locally founded company aiming to give small businesses in the Rio Grande Valley an affordable option to get technologically connected. “It’s vital to have that online representation, even if it’s just a simple one-pager with your hours and location,” says Gabriel Puente, CEO of Vision Media Agency. “But a website can be so much more than that. It’s your first opportunity to give customers an idea of what you are about.” You have windows in your store that you decorate in an enticing way to bring people in. A website is a giant window; it’s your digital storefront. You want to make sure your website is inviting, because it is being judged just like your physical store’s window. 36


The Right Impression “Imagine walking by a neglected-looking store with outdated signs up, cobwebs everywhere — me personally, I’m not likely to take a gamble on that,” Puente said. “I’ll pass it by to find one that is more likely to provide great customer service.” If you have a website but haven’t updated it in the last couple of years, you are not only giving the impression that you’re behind the times, you are also missing out on some technology that’s readily available like mobile compatibility and responsiveness. “You really need to update. There are many ways to be mobile friendly in 2017 and no reason not to be,” said Puente, referring to a website’s ability to automatically resize to fit the device being used, whether it’s a tablet, cellphone, laptop, or desktop computer. “Being mobile-friendly shows you care about customers’ experience.”


It’s vital to have that online representation, even if it’s just a simple one-pager with your hours and location.” - Gabriel Puente, CEO of Vision Media Agency

Hire an Agency

Value Your Time There are services out there to generate a website all by yourself, but filling in the information is more of a task than it seems. “These DIY websites give you a skeleton, but like a human being, there is much more needed after a skeleton,” Puente said. “You need the meat that makes it up; you are made responsible for your website’s content — its soul.” Writing copy that really describes your business and capturing solid photos is doable for some people if they have the time to dedicate to it. But most people are busy, and want a fast turnaround. “You’re going to waste so much of your time trying to do it all yourself,” Puente said. “It’s OK to ask for help from professionals.” Do you value your time? Hire a creative team to do the heavy lifting for you.

Small businesses may think they can’t afford an agency, but it’s definitely become more affordable in South Texas in recent years. Vision Media agency is a creative team made up of writers, photographers, videographers, and web editors looking to serve those who are not yet comfortable playing the web game. “We are here to help everyone and anyone. We can tell you what is more attractive for your users, how to reach your demographic, direct your photo and video shoots — do what needs to be done to turn your ideas into a real, usable website in a matter of weeks,” Puente said.

Social Media Is Not An Alternative Most business that don’t have a website and just have social media do that for one reason: It’s within their budget. But the amount of information you have on there is limited. You can’t really highlight as much as you can on a website. And, importantly, not everybody has Facebook or Twitter, while almost everyone today has access to the internet and a web browser. “Businesses who only have a Facebook account are missing out on all the people who don’t have an account there, who are trying to look them up on a search engine,” Puente said. “Don’t be one of those.” To get started with Vision Media, call 210-618-8930 or email





At Gold Financial Services, Mortgage Lending has a Personal Touch By LORI HOUSTON Photos by JAMES HORD & JOHNNY QUIROZ I









Though homeownership is a huge part of the American dream, many find that buying a home is also one of the most stressful things a person can go through. From deciding how much house you can afford, to finding the right realtor to expedite the process, you worry and wonder if you are making the right choices. The complicated process seems to induce stress at every step, but the team at Gold Financial Services, which serves the entire Rio Grande Valley, strives to make that process as smooth as possible for homebuyers by connecting to its clients in a personal way.

“Our top people get really involved and become friends. They're right there with them,” said Crystal Quintanilla, who has seen Gold Financial Services evolve in the six years she’s been with them. According to Quintanilla, women in this field were typically processors or other support staff in the past, but Gold Financial is changing the narrative from the traditional, male-dominated financial services field into one that is more equally representative. When she came aboard, Quintanilla was one of two women working with Gold Financial Services as a licensed originator. Today, the dynamic organization has 22 licensed originators, 13 of which are women.

Will [Esquivel, regional manager] allows us to shine. Where I worked before, I was always kind of pushed to the back, assisting others. Here, Will tells us to go for it and hopes we beat him. It’s been a huge difference. - Crystal Quintanilla, Gold Financial Licensed Originator

A newer trend in real estate highlights the need for a perspective shift in the loan industry. According to 2016 Census Bureau data, women accounted for 17 percent of homebuyers, and 15 percent the year before. Additionally, a survey conducted among homebuyers who purchased homes between July 2014 and June 2015 found that more single women purchased homes than single men. Nancy Woolam, a 30-year veteran in the mortgage field, noted that “a trust develops faster between women. Women understand women’s needs, the demands of family and children.” The women of Gold Financial are in a unique position to connect with this growing demographic of homebuyers. According to Quintanilla, the change in Gold Financial’s structure happened naturally; they did not actively try to recruit women into the company, but

found more and more female loan officers gravitated to their new offices when they were expanding in the Valley. The new dynamic in the company has a collaborative, family feel to it. “We have a mutual respect for one another,” Corina Baker said. “You can see it in the smiles, the looks, the ‘I feel you, girl,’ sympathies when we discuss hiccups on our files.” Several of the women at Gold Financial Services addressed the role of leadership in cementing this culture, noting that Will Esquivel, regional manager, offered them career support they felt was lacking in their previous positions. “Will allows us to shine. Where I worked before, I was always kind of pushed to the back, assisting others,” Quintanilla said. “Here, Will tells us to go for it and hopes we beat him. It’s been a huge difference.” Esquivel’s philosophy of family first allows the women of Gold Financial to feel secure in their careers and at the same time, be able to take care of their personal family matters. Since they are commission based, they can set their own hours. However, Gloria Ortegon says that hard work and dedication are required to make a vision into reality, so they find that they work more than they ever have before. The motto at Gold is to provide the best for their clients. Jennifer Sanchez says the only way to do great work is by loving what you do; they’ve found a workplace that allows them to do just that. The care and nurturing in the office of Gold Financial translates into stronger relationships with their clients, and satisfaction for the women of Gold Financial Services when they can help families in the Rio Grande Valley attain the American dream of homeownership. “It's awesome to coach a family who might not be ready to purchase, and help them get ready,” Quintanilla said. “When they finally get their home, it's just amazing. It's very rewarding.” According to Isabel Mercado, making the transition to homeownership is emotionally impactful, especially when the move is from an apartment complex where walls separate your neighbors or you have been living with a family member. “Moving into a home that they


can call their own is an entirely different experience,” Mercado said. “I have had customers cry at a closing, although some withhold their emotions until they leave the closing and cry in the parking lot.” With the help of a lender that understands the customers, the home buying experience can be a positive experience for all parties involved. Gold Financial Services is a team that celebrates the connection forged over the course of putting keys of new homes in their client’s hands. “Homeownership gives you that sense of accomplishment, pride, and empowerment,” Mercado said. Having experienced those positive feelings in the workplace, that’s what the women of Gold Financial Services want for their clients and aim to help them achieve. To learn more about Gold Financial Services, visit their website, www.

1 IN 5 Homebuyers are single women.

2X Rate at which single women are buying homes compared to single men.

! Single women make up more than one-third of the growth in real estate ownership since 1994.

Source: Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University Corp NMLS#129022




Bank of Debt

Credit Card

1678 2345 9012 1974 0000






you are pre-approved BY GEORGE COX


eenagers may be at risk of developing bad credit and not even know it. Enticing credit card offers targeting young adults are showing up in mailboxes with greater frequency all the time, and delivering with them one of the many potential financial pitfalls facing today’s teens. Credit card companies package their offers in attractive ways that on the surface can almost sound like they are giving you free money:

“You are pre-approved,” teases one envelope, while another flier advertises “Cash back on all purchases — low minimum payments!” These are just a few of

the ways companies get the attention of prospective customers, and for young people inexperienced in financial matters, they may be hard to resist. When you open the envelope with a credit card



offer, the selling points are in large type. The dangers are found in the tiny type, where you learn things like you will pay an interest rate of 20 percent or higher, you may be penalized with late payment fees, and your interest rate may increase with even one late payment. And credit card holders often don’t realize just how big a chunk of the minimum monthly payment is eaten up by the finance charge and what that means in terms of total debt and how long it will take to pay down the principal. “You could double your debt in just a few years,” said Terrance K. Martin, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. “I have seen many students who maxed out their credit cards because they didn’t realize what it took to make payments.” Martin works with college students to develop


sound financial habits and learn to handle debt in responsible ways. He said young people coming out of high school and headed for college are at risk of hurting their future financial security if they don’t learn some basic lessons early in life. “When they start college it’s a different ball game,” he said. “They are being asked to be complete adults who think for themselves.” Martin suggests that early involvement by parents is the best way to learn fiscal responsibility. “Having access to credit cards and building a credit profile from a young age is valuable, but you have to be careful,” he said. “You have to start at a young age and we can be creative on how we do it.” One way parents can help is to put their teenagers on one of their credit existing card accounts. That gives the young adult experience in managing credit spending, and parents can monitor their credit card use. Another idea would be for parents to set up their child with a pre-paid debit card, giving them the experience of using the card but with limits. When the money is gone, it is gone and the card can’t be used anymore. And parents can help youngsters at an early age by showing them that money needs to be earned. They can pay children for chores around the house and then let them make decisions on how best to spend that money. Taking an example from his own early life, Martin said his first lessons in money management came from watching his grandmother save and be thrifty in what she purchased. Today he applies those same lessons with his children, helping them make wise choices. Not long ago Martin’s daughter asked him to buy her a pair of the latest and most fashionable — and expensive — athletic shoes. He engaged her in a discussion about what was most important to spend money on. An aspiring artist, Martin’s daughter wanted culture but he led her to what she needed: art supplies. “You have a dollar and you need to make a choice. You have X amount of money and you must make the right decisions,” he said. Martin said he sees college students

on an almost daily basis struggling with finances. He is an advocate of more financial literacy education, and he spends time educating young people in the benefits and dangers of using credit and managing money. “I do the financial literacy aspect under the service aspect of my job,” he said about his efforts to reach out in communities to teach money management to young adults. But he would like to see these lessons become firmly ensconced in high school and college curriculum. “We need a class in personal finance at the freshman level,” he said. Martin proposed such a course and in 2015 a pilot program was approved with 150 students enrolled, but it was canceled at the last minute for reasons he never learned. Martin also served on a Texas state curriculum committee to help develop a personal finance course for high school students. Last year it became mandatory for Texas high schools to offer the class as an elective, but it’s not a class students are required to take. “That’s unfortunate but eventually I think it will go that way,” he said of his hope that financial literacy will be taught to all high school students. Perhaps the most important financial decisions facing teenagers is how to pay for college. “I think if you are in high school, start engaging career and college counselors for guidance,” Martin said. “You will be able to make your own decisions with that knowledge.” Financial aid and student loans can be beneficial to students needing help paying for higher education, but they rarely cover all the financial demands of college. “Not all financial aid programs are equal from school to school,” Martin said. “They cover maybe only up to 80 percent.”

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For many UTRGV students coming from the low-income segments of South Texas where parents are often unable to help with expenses, paying for college also means finding a job. And while that may help financially, Martin sees it as a potential obstacle to student success. He suggests that young people entering college should minimize the time they work during the first couple of years. “Ninety-five percent of my students work and they are not as





focused on school at times,” he said, adding that the time students spend working can affect not only their education but their ability to find a job after they graduate. Navigating personal finance can be tricky enough for adults, which makes it even more important for young people to get an early start. Here are a few simple tips based on advice from Martin and an article in U.S. News and World Report: BE RESPONSIBLE Parents can help here by giving their children the freedom to manage their own budget. Parents should be strict with the money they give them and not bail them out if they overspend. And it’s never too early to start saving for the future. MAKE A BUDGET Teenagers should learn how to balance a budget, which can be as simple as tracking how much money is coming in and going out and never spending more than they earn.



MANAGE DEBT Everyone has to borrow money at some point. Learn the difference between types of loans and credit cards. A student loan is often essential and is strictly regulated. Credit card use should be minimal or avoided altogether due to high interest rates. READ THE FINE PRINT It’s boring but it can help teens avoid poor financial decisions. TRACK YOUR CREDIT SCORE Credit scores are used to assess people for loans, credit cards and mortgages. A bad credit score can cause big problems in the future. PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY Billions of dollars are stolen from people through identify theft and financial fraud. Be cautious about giving out personal or financial information in person or online.








Foldio 3D Printing Solutions Unlocks Next Level Manufacturing and Innovation in the RGV By K A R E N


3D printing has been dubbed by many as “the third industrial revolution.” The possibilities empowered by the capabilities of 3D printing have become more widespread in recent years as 3D printing has become more affordable, more user friendly, and more broadly functional. Modern 3D printing technology

spans a wide range of techniques and materials with commercial and industrial applications in almost every field, such as manufacturing, dental care, healthcare, architecture, and even art. Now, stateof-the-art professional 3D printing is available to the Rio Grande Valley through​ Foldio​3D Printing Solutions.

- Jose Laguna and Ximena Alvarez in the Foldio office in the CEED.




Any individual with any project in mind can come to Foldio for help executing their vision through 3D scanning and printing, bringing a sketch and walking out with a professional prototype or finished product. The company offers both professional services and self-service in planning and design, CAD modeling, laser scanning, and 3D printing. Foldio works with manufacturing companies, small businesses, hopeful entrepreneurs, designers, hobbyists, artists, and the general public. In addition, Foldio has partnered with top manufacturers to offer advanced professional and commercial 3D​ printers, scanners, and software to help produce objects in high detail in a variety of plastics, metals, rubber, nylon, elastic materials, ceramic, and more. "Every day, the field of 3D printing is removing more and more boundaries and exploding the possibilities of ways makers of all types, from artists to engineers, can bring their ideas to reality," said Jose Laguna, Foldio CEO. Businesses across the U.S. are increasingly using 3D scanning and printing at all phases of the product lifecycle — from concept models and prototypes to small and large-scale manufacturing. Foldio is helping businesses benefit from new capabilities to help reduce time-tomarket while also cutting costs and maximizing production efficiency. The

Our technology enables the creation of enduser ready and even moveable, functional parts in a single print. - Jose Laguna, Foldio CEO

company will guide businesses through planning, selection, and implementation as well as ongoing support. "We enable manufacturing companies to move through iterations of product development prototypes much faster and at a lower cost. Our technology also enables the creation of end-user ready and even moveable, functional parts in a single print," Laguna said. Foldio​is newly established in their location inside the new Center for Economic Education and Development (CEED) in Mission, but the company founded by Laguna has 25 years of experience in the managed printing services and document management industry in Mexico. He explains that they chose the Rio Grande Valley because of its huge potential. “This area is geographically strategic,” Laguna said. “We have access to both markets, and the manufacturing along the border, so it’s a good point from which to grow.” Alex Meade, CEO of Mission EDC, says 3D printing is the wave of the future. “It is already transforming the manufacturing industry. Having forward thinking tenants, like Foldio, will not only allow Mission EDC to stay on top of the latest trends but will help add to the creative culture that we are focused on cultivating at CEED." Local institutions recognize the potential of 3D technology. Foldio is now working together on makerspaces which are now under early development inside both the CEED in Mission, where Foldio is currently located, and UTRGV’s Center for Innovation and Commercialization (CIC) which will open December 2017 in Weslaco.

“Access to prototyping has been a huge problem for innovators in the valley,” says Laurie Simmons, Director, UTRGV Center of Innovation and Commercialization (CIC). “Through our partnership with Foldio, we hope to fill this gap. Our goal at the CIC is to help start-up companies go from concept to the marketplace. Having 3D technology at the center will give innovators the opportunity to test their concept. Hopefully the concepts that work will launch into a scalable business.” As the use of commercial 3D printing continues to grow exponentially, so will the demand for skilled designers a​nd engineers. To help prepare the next generation, the company is working with public schools throughout the region to help educators in both STEM and careerrelated curriculum. In addition, efforts like the makerspace inside Weslaco CIC will help prepare students for advanced careers. “We’re going to bring the technology closer to students and local innovators, and will collaborate with them on projects so they can start developing prototypes,” Laguna said. “As we grow, we hope to have internships available that will eventually become full-time jobs.” Foldio also envisions to build a network of various manufacturing and “making” companies across the RGV. These range from classical machine shops and fabricators (subtractive manufacturing) to those that also utilize more modern 3D printing technology (additive manufacturing). Together, this network will leverage functions like cloud lifecycle management, on-demand manufacturing, and distributed manufacturing to foster regional growth by attracting and serving customers from outside the Valley. With these collaborative networks and makerspaces in place, Foldio will drive the Valley in the direction of the next industrial revolution. Now that advanced 3D printing is a viable option in the Rio Grande Valley, we are excited to see what residents create and how it will positively affect our region’s development. To learn more, visit


Far Left: CAD designed Sculpture 3D printed with ColorJet. Top to bottom right: Faucet prototype 3D printed in MultiJet Scanned lower jaw 3D printed with ColorJet, Manifold prototype 3D printed in Stereolithography Engine Prototypes 3D printed in Stereolithography, and Elastomeric hose prototype 3D printed in MultiJet




Eli R. Ochoa in the lobby of ERO Architects with his Belgian Malinoises, LaLa and Maya. 46




through time Local architect Eli R. Ochoa designs culturally relevant spaces that honor the past and will be embraced far into the future By Karen Villarreal Photo by Kevin Martinez


hat inspires an architect? For Eli R. Ochoa, it is the blending of the old and new. He has a deep respect for local history and cultural roots, which he incorporates into structures by utilizing the latest technology. For over 30 years, he has maintained a forward-facing level of technology in his award-winning, McAllen-based firm, ERO Architects. Utilizing 3-D design, modeling, and scanning to create spaces that elevate the public’s experience of architecture, Ochoa and his team aim to transform public spaces into those that truly reflect the community in which they are placed. Ochoa’s childhood experiences influence his approach to building, incorporating the background of the place, its history, and the people. “I have beautiful memories of growing up in the Valley, around family,” he said. “That’s culture. All that was part of me. We respect it.” When he designs and builds for the Valley, you can feel it from the inside and out.





DESIGN AND BUILDING Ochoa’s interest in buildings manifested in his childhood; he recalls building small “log” cabins out of the twigs dropped by the mesquite tree in his yard in La Feria, Texas. “I’d organize them into little neighborhoods,” he said, and his interest in architecture deepened when their move to his mother’s hometown, Mission, coincided with the building of their new house. “I’d walk to the construction site after school and spend the afternoon there watching the house go up,” he said. Serendipitously, Arturo Guerra (the builder of the Ochoa home) had a brother, Italo, whose engineering firm in Austin hired Ochoa after he graduated with his structural engineering degree. When Ochoa left for college to earn his two degrees (one in architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington and a structural engineering degree from the University of Texas at Austin), it was not because he was itching to leave the Valley like many high school students today. It was because he had to in order to pursue 48


his dream career. “I couldn’t get a degree in architecture or engineering down here,” Ochoa said. He says that with the advent of UTRGV, students who want to go into those fields have a very viable option. “I don’t think most people realize how awesome their engineering school is. It’s a very good school, so they don’t have to go away.” Although Ochoa worked happily in Austin for several years after his graduation, he always kept a soft spot for his hometown in his heart, and everything he learned during his time studying and working upstate he intended to bring back home one day.

THE TUG OF RGV ROOTS That day came one Thanksgiving when he was unable to take his family on their traditional trip down to the Valley. Once homesickness struck, he realized it was time to bring his young daughter home to be raised closer to their family — which would mean forging his own way in a region that was still developing. Despite the difficulty he anticipated with finding work in the Valley, it was an easy decision. MARCH/APRIL 2017

By January, they were back among their family and the palm trees of the RGV. Ochoa started his own firm and got to work looking for business. “That first day that I went out, I got enough work to carry me through that first month,” he said. “I feel very blessed to have gotten work where supposedly, there was none. The rest is history.” Despite the 200 public projects ERO Architects has completed, Ochoa says his biggest achievement is not in the buildings or awards, but in the team of partners and employees that share his vision he has surrounded himself with. Four partners complement ERO Architects’ capabilities by bringing marketing, management, and operations expertise (among others) to the table, and an in-house team of 25 employees has shown tremendous growth. “We’ve assembled a very capable, sharp group of employees that (I hope) we’ve been able to teach in everything from architecture to society,” Ochoa said. “I ask my team to be true professionals.” He explains that means giving back to the community


I’d walk to the construction site after school and spend the afternoon there watching the house go up.” - Eli R. Ochoa and being a part of it, for example, by engaging in community service, serving on boards, or taking other leadership opportunities when possible. His chief marketing officer, Brian Godinez, serves on seven boards, and Ochoa himself has been involved in Toastmasters, Rotary Club, and other organizations that drive him to encourage excellence in his employees. He recognizes that when his employees are able to produce their best work as individuals, the company will reap the rewards of a strong reputation. “In order for us to be successful, I have to provide our employees with the tools to help make them successful,” he said. At ERO Architects, those tools are part of a $3 million investment in technology.

TECH@ERO “Technology has always played a big role in the culture of this office,” Ochoa said. His work in the engineering field has driven his interest and understanding of the potential that technology can bring to all fields, but especially to architectural design. The office’s latest upgrades allow

ERO Architects to utilize 3-D capabilities to provide more efficient, detailed customer service and communication. A 3-D printer creates models in-house, 3-D computer visualizations allow clients and builders to see a working preview of the design (the technological advancements allow for micrometer design accuracy), and a 3-D scanner grants the builder greater precision than manual measurement. “When the designs get to the construction stage, they’re working on a building that will not only function perfectly, but inspire people,” Ochoa said. “For example, the McAllen Performing Arts Center’s arches for acoustics have to be put in specific spots. The only way we were able to verify for the owner that it was constructed accurately was to do a 3-D scan. No other architectural firm in the RGV has that leading-edge technology.” To learn more about ERO Architects, visit their website,



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Immigration & Mental Health W

ith the current political climate the topic of immigration cannot be escaped. The fast changing U.S. policies that have been implemented most recently have already started to affect people's perspectives on immigration and health care. With this in mind, one cannot help but think about the lives that are directly affected. Having attainable resources to maintain good physical and mental health is an imperative part to achieving a fulfilling and healthy life. For many immigrants who make the transition to the United States,



however, the experience can often be overshadowed with homesickness, the hardship of learning a new language, and culture shock. Whether these personal experiences are internal in nature, or encountered externally through changes in our environment, we have all been acquainted with the outcomes of mental health issues. In ideal circumstances, any person could seek medical help and be referred to local resources in the RGV community to help ameliorate the process of dealing with these types of issues. Immigrants coming into the United States,


however, do not always have the same resources. The acclimation process that immigrants go through can be taxing to the mind and body; the new environment can leave people feeling alienated, which can lead to improper directions on resources that are available to help them deal with this complex and life-changing transition.

Making the Transition

Many individuals and families migrate to the United States for an array of reasons. Numerous are escaping violence, poverty, and many are reuniting with family members who have been living in the U.S. for a long time or seeking educational and economic opportunities. The United States is home to approximately 40.4 million immigrants, according to 2011 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. One in five individuals living in the United States is first- or second-generation immigrant, and almost one-quarter of children under the age of 18 have an immigrant parent (Mather, 2009) and current estimate of undocumented population is 11.7 million (Passel, Cohn, & Gonzalez-Barrera, 2013). Once in the United States, immigrants may find it difficult to adapt to their new lives and settle into their new communities. It is stressful to learn new social rules, familiarize oneself with a new language, and possibly face discrimination. Given that anxiety disorders appear to be the most frequent mental health issue among immigrants followed by depression, addressing such issue in a culturally sensitive atmosphere can be imperative to reducing the frequency and severity of mental health disorders that this marginalized group experiences. Immigrants in the age range of 18 to 25 are more vulnerable to suffer from anxiety and depression; 4 1/2 times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety when compared to the same age groups that have not made the transition to a new country. Although these mental health symptoms are prevalent in this population, the level of resiliency is clearly evident.

APAs Crossroads Report

In 2013, the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Immigration published Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century, “an evidence-based report on the psychological factors related to the immigration experience … focusing on factors that impede and facilitate adjustment.” The report was intended to facilitate decision-making in regards to immigration, which has become a societal, political, and legal issue in contemporary America. The report outlined three guiding principles: (1) immigrants are resilient and resourceful, (2) immigrants are influenced by their social contexts and, thus, ecological circumstances should be considered when framing their experiences, and (3) it is essential to use cultural lenses with the diverse immigrantorigin population.

Services in the RGV Community

As noted above, the immigrant population are at a psychological risk level that can be alleviated with the right guidance and culturally competent services and support. Mental health providers in various settings are available in the greater Mission, McAllen, and Edinburg areas and often offer pro bono services that are available to the community. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in San Juan, Tropical Texas Behavioral Health, Methodist Healthcare Ministries, and UTRGV’s Counseling and Assessment Preparatory Clinic are some sites that offer counseling and support in a safe atmosphere. In addition, Texas Riogrande Legal Aid and ProBar offer pro bono legal services. The availability of mental health outreach in our community can be underestimated but with the right information immigrants and their families can seek the professional and legal help they need for a smoother transition.

References available upon request . (Co-Authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Paola Quijano, Cesar Martinez, Melissa Briones, Abigail Nunez-Saenz, Andy Torres, Bernardo Garza, & Armando Villarreal-Sosa).


ALFONSO MERCADO, PH.D., LICENSED PSYCHOLOGIST Valley Psychological Services - Assistant Professor-Department of Psychology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley




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ome medical professions are straightforward — eye doctors help you with your vision; dentists concern themselves with oral health. With some professions, such as physical therapy, it’s not as obvious. A “movement specialist” like Fortino Gonzalez, who has practiced for over 29 years, can improve the quality of life of almost any person experiencing pain, discomfort, stiffness, or weakness by providing life-changing education about the human body’s natural movement. “The most valuable thing a physical therapist has to offer a patient is knowledge — expertise in movement and how to take care of yourself,” Gonzalez said. “It takes over seven years to become a licensed physical therapist. We are talking about a lot of movement science, not just some weekend certification with the latest greatest ticket.” A physical therapist understands and explains to patients what a normal movement through full motion should feel like and shows them how they can resolve abnormal movement themselves. Gonzalez makes the analogy of the body being like a car — a technical machine that’s designed to work in a specific way. “You rotate the tires on your car because you want to prolong the life of your tires and make sure the car runs smoothly,” Gonzalez said. “Your body needs the same attention, and if you don’t know how to do that, you need to seek the people trained to help you.”

LE ARNING BODY AWARENESS Every pain has a tissue of origin. “When people experience ‘sudden’ pain or discomfort, they were likely experiencing warning signs all along,” Gonzalez said. Whether they choose to heed them is a different story. Many people live in denial, pushing through their pain, or treating it with a temporary solution like massage, hot packs, shock therapy, etc., instead of addressing the root cause. “This mindset is common in our society because we like drive-thru, quick and easy. Patients go home feeling better, but the root issue isn’t resolved,” Gonzalez said. This will inevitably lead to bigger issues in the future. “The body is very forgiving, but if you continue to irritate and insult it, it will continue to create problems for you.” He explains that many issues can be episodic in nature and have a very high recurrence rate. With each recurrence the episode takes longer to resolve and is usually more debilitating with more intense and frequent symptoms. If you don’t get to the root of what’s happening, history repeats itself. A highly trained physical therapist can help you find the root cause through a systematic mechanical assessment which entails moving the body through full motion. “Before sophisticated imaging machines such as MRIs and scans, we learned about orthopedic problems by taking a good history and moving the patient,” Gonzalez said. While medical imaging machines do help us see things we couldn’t before, Gonzalez says they sometimes reveal too much, like false-positives at rates as high as 32 percent that may be nothing more

than an incidental finding. “The clinical presentation is much more reliable than a picture if done by a highly trained individual,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes, after the assessment, I realize it’s not a mechanical problem and it’s due to something else entirely — and that’s when I refer patients back to their physician.” However, he believes a physical therapist should be the first stop that a patient makes if an orthopedic problem is suspected and cites a California-based pilot program doing just that. “Manual orthopedic therapists are on-call 24 hours a day in this hospital system,” he says. “They are the first healthcare practitioner to see the patient if an orthopedic problem is suspected by their physician. They quickly do their assessment and determine if it can be resolved through physical therapy or if further testing and referral to an orthopedic surgeon is warranted." What they are finding is that the issue is resolved quicker and that the cost per case is significantly decreased. They are identifying the issue quicker, the patient is healing faster, missing less work, and feeling more satisfied with their treatment.

TAKING PROPER ACTION The most common injuries Gonzalez sees are spine, neck, thoracic or lower back, shoulder, hips and knees, and ankles (in that order). He determines what can be done for that tissue at that stage of the episode. “Is it a tendon or cartilage? A joint capsule or muscular? They are all completely different and would require specific recommendations or advice,” Gonzalez said. Whenever he decides a patient needs a very specific movement or exercise, it's a question of frequency, duration, and intensity. However, Gonzalez says he sees all sorts of patients who are misinformed with an expectation that someone can “just fix it” for them. “We don't like hearing that we have to change the way we sit or be aware of certain actions we’re performing that may be contributing to the problem,” he said. “Most of the time, if you move in the right direction, you’re creating the right environment for healing.” With the right instruction from a trained professional, the root cause of a longstanding problem could be unlocked and resolved on the patient’s terms with the power of motion. Fortino Gonzalez is a physical therapist, Diplomat of the McKenzie Institute, Certified in Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (Dip. MDT), Fellow of The American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists (AAOMPT), and a Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist in Physical Therapy (OCS) serving the Rio Grande Valley from his practice, McAllen Physical Therapy. To learn more, visit or call (956) 661-1964.





EXTENDING ACCESS TO HEALTH Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s Outreach Services Provide a Community Safety Net By K A R E N V I L L A R R E A L Photo by T O N Y P E Ñ A

Further cementing its role as a beacon of health care for our community, Rio Grande Regional Hospital makes continuous efforts to make health care accessible to everyone. Whether individuals are financially unstable or geographically isolated, the hospital serves patients through their Outreach Services located throughout Hidalgo County, which includes four multipurpose women’s clinics, a new family practice clinic, and three regional medical laboratories. Healthy Women, Healthy Babies Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s Women’s Services Department works in conjunction with their four Rio Grande Women’s clinics. “The clinics were created to serve the women of our community who do not have a relationship with an existing OB/GYN and need prenatal care or other medical services,” said Matt Wolthoff, Chief Operating Officer of Rio Grande Regional Hospital. Since the creation of the Women’s Clinics in 1997 by a group of local obstetricians, the outreach efforts have been very successful. The four clinics located in McAllen, La Joya, Alamo, and Edinburg provide a combined total of nearly 9,000 well woman care and pregnancy monitoring visits and accounted for almost 400 deliveries last year alone. “All four state-of-the-art-locations have a perinatal certified nurse practitioner, and a board certified obstetrician as the medical director, ” Wolthoff said. The clinics are conveniently located to be more accessible to patients coming from rural areas and colonias. “We have a partnership with The Texas A&M Promotora Program,” Wolthoff said. “We value our partnership with the promotoras because jointly we are able to provide resources to a population that often doesn't have access to care.” Through the partnership, educational material in English and Spanish is distributed to homes and community centers in rural areas. “It's more than just providing health care — it's




providing education and getting the families started off on the right foot, taking care of themselves and their baby,” Wolthoff said. Linda McKenna, Director of Clinical Operations, says transportation for these pa-

tients is a real challenge. “That’s why the location of our clinics is very important and we're interested in adding additional clinics,” McKenna said. “It's a convenient place for them to receive quality prenatal care for themselves and their babies.”

Healthy Families These services are especially important in underserved communities, where many of the deliveries fall into the high-risk area. “We see high-risk pregnancies, multiple C-sections, a high incidence of diabetics or ladies who develop gestational diabetes while pregnant that require really close monitoring. Rio Grande Regional Hospital provides care for babies who are born needing to go straight into our NICU, as well,” McKenna said. Rio Grande Regional Hospital also recognizes that many of the women utilizing their clinics likely don’t have a primary family doctor to visit after they deliver. With the establishment of the Family Practice Clinic, Rio Grande Regional Hospital is creating a bridge for patients to find resources for care. “Prenatal care over the course of a pregnancy results in a trusting relationship that develops between patient and nurse practitioner,” McKenna said. “We're focusing now on extending that relationship to make sure the whole family is part of our program. If someone has a baby, we're going to make sure they have continued access to care. That's what family practice is all about.” The Family Practice Clinic was part of a larger project that included putting a case manager in the emergency department. “We are trying to offer

continuity of care after patients leave the ED to ensure everyone coming out of the ED has a follow up appointment if they need one,” Wolthoff said. If an individual doesn’t have a dedicated health care provider, they can find that care at our Family Practice Clinic. “Once we get them into our clinic, they’ll always have somewhere to go,” McKenna said.

Regional Medical Labs In addition to providing health care and education at the women’s and family clinics, Rio Grande Regional Hospital provides individuals the opportunity to be proactive and monitor their own health at a low cost. Texas is among the 11 states in the U.S. that allow direct-to-consumer testing. This means individuals can get a number of lab screenings performed without a doctor's order. In 1984, David Almquist, Laboratory Director at Rio Grande Regional Hospital, developed a wellness program that provided affordable access to lab tests. “The first year, we served 247 people,” Almquist said. “It’s been growing ever since.” In 1998, Rio Grande Regional Hospital opened the first regional lab in an effort to improve the community’s access to health care. Now, with three regional labs in addition to the lab at the main hospital where patients can walk in

“Once we get them into our clinic, they’ll always have somewhere to go." - LINDA MCKENNA, DIRECTOR OF CLINICAL OPERATIONS





“It's more than just providing health care — it's providing education and getting the families started off on the right foot, taking care of themselves and their baby.” - MATT WOLTHOFF, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER

for services, they are performing over 65,000 tests per year. The regional labs also offer a heart source program where you can get an EKG reading of your heart. “We have many people who visit our labs and receive abnormal EKG results . These findings can then be shown to a cardiologist who can then address the findings accordingly. Offering these low cost services is a great way for many to manage their health,” Almquist said. Once a person has a wellness screen, individuals can then take those lab results to their doctor, who can then move expediently in their diagnosis because they already have the information they need. According to Almquist, approximately 75-85 percent of the information a doctor needs for a diagnosis comes from blood. “We can tell you if you’re a candidate for congestive heart failure before it starts; we detect thyroid problems and various forms of cancers — we have a test for a bacteria that causes a lot of indigestion,” he says. “We want to help you stay healthy. It is very important that we all become proactive about our health.” Many people put off their health because of the high costs associated with health care, especially if they’re uninsured. Though the testing offered at the RGRH labs is quality work executed by certified medical technologists, they offer cash pricing to make it affordable for everyone. “These are comprehensive profiles with over 50 tests for the wellness screen, for example, that only costs $20. We offer a lot for a very low price.” Almquist explains, “We have a mantra — if you come into our lab by 10 a.m., you can get results by 3 p.m. You get same-day service at all of our lab locations, 2 in McAllen and 1 in Alamo.”



“We want to help you stay healthy. It is very important that we all become proactive about our health.” - DAVID ALMQUIST, LABORATORY DIRECTOR

Expanding Outreach Outreach efforts go beyond providing service at the regional labs and clinics. Almquist’s team goes out to RV parks, schools, businesses, and other locations almost every day — in January 2017, he visited 23 mobile parks to draw residents’ blood. “We see close to 4,000 people per year this way,” he said. After his explanation of the tests, they know how they can change their habits to affect the condition of their bodies. This education is the transformative action that the RGV needs. “Rio Grande Regional Hospital is aiming to impact the wellness of the Rio Grande Valley,” Wolthoff said. “We want to be on the cutting edge and on the forefront of that, always providing our patients and the community with health care they can trust.” To learn more about Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s outreach efforts, visit their website at www.RioHealth. com.







If you’ve tried it all to reduce joint pain, it may be time to consider a more permanent medical solution. We offer minimally invasive options that may eliminate joint pain and get you back to a more active lifestyle. To find a doctor near you or make an appointment, call 877-855-0269. /conquer




TO DEATH By Lori Houston

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, it is expected to cause about 49,190 deaths during 2016. The death rate is high because many people who are at risk for colon cancer do not get screened for the disease. Colorectal cancer is most common in people age 50 and older, and the risk increases with age.

Several factors can contribute to many people avoiding a screening exam via colonoscopy for colorectal problems. For some, the procedure can appear somewhat invasive and embarrassing, as a flexible tube with a camera and light at its tip is inserted through the rectum. The colonoscope is advanced into the colon to evaluate suspicious lesions. In addition, lack of regular access to health care, as in the case of the uninsured, also contributes to the lower colon cancer screening rates.




According to Dr. Jose Rodriguez, of Texas Gastroenterology Institute (TGI) in McAllen, the number of people in the Rio Grande Valley who are at risk for colon cancer who are not getting screened is even higher than the national numbers. Rodriguez believes that an innovative Virtual Colonoscopy procedure will be instrumental in making sure residents stay on top of their health concerns by offering a screening option that is minimally invasive, and therefore less embarrassing, as well as less expensive than a traditional colonoscopy. TGI is the first medical office in the Rio Grande Valley to offer Virtual Colonoscopy to their patients. A Virtual Colonoscopy is a computed tomography (CT) scan that produces a 3-D image of the colon, allowing the gastroenterologist to “see” inside of the colon. Instead of the traditional scope being inserted and moved around the colon, a virtual colonoscopy starts with a small flexible tip inserted into the rectum and the colon is gently inflated. Sedation is unnecessary with a virtual colonoscopy, allowing the patient to resume normal activities after the brief procedure. According to Dr. Valeska Balderas at TGI, the older population in the Rio Grande Valley usually have several comorbidities making them high risk for sedation. “If a patient is deemed to be too high risk for sedation, then a virtual colonoscopy is definitely the way to go because it offers the same benefit of a traditional colonoscopy in detecting colon cancer.” The accuracy of a Virtual Colonoscopy is comparable to a standard colonoscopy for people at average risk for colon cancer. The 3-D image of the colon created by the virtual software allows you to “actually fly through the colon virtually, with the advantage of being able to look around and turn around and look back behind folds, which we obviously can’t do with a real scope,” Rodriguez said. An added








benefit of the Virtual Colonoscopy is that it gives the doctor additional information of the surrounding organs, not just the colon, allowing them to see if there are any other medical concerns arising in the abdomen. For people who have a high risk of colon cancer, or are showing symptoms, a traditional colonoscopy is recommended because polyps or lesions can be taken care of during the procedure. The recommended screening interval for a Virtual Colonoscopy is every five years because the scan does not pick up lesions or polyps that are less than 5 mm.





“Polyps take a while to grow so we tell people every five years instead of every 10 years as with the standard colonoscopy,” Rodriguez said. “It is a little bit more frequent but it’s a lot less invasive and I think people like that they don’t have to be sedated and it doesn’t take very long. The other thing is it’s a lot less expensive, the cost is a big deal to many. The cost is really about one-third of the cost for a regular colonoscopy, so even people with high deductibles or no insurance can still afford it.”



Recommended screening interval for a virtual colonoscopy is every

The 3D image of the colon created by the virtual software allows you to “actually fly through the colon virtually, with the advantage of being able to look around and turn around and look back behind folds, which we obviously can’t do with a real scope.” - Dr. Rodriguez.




THE REESE 202 S 1st St. Ste #102 Harlingen, TX 78550 (956) 423 0191

Preparing your child for the test that matters most, LIFE. The only Waldorf School in the Rio Grande Valley 18347 Kilbourn, Combes, TX 956-778-4295



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MAKING LIVES Founded in 2008 by a group of emergency room physicians, Neighbors Emergency Center operates as a freestanding emergency room, providing patients with the same level of service as a hospital-based emergency room. We operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Neighbors Emergency Center takes pride in only hiring local board certified physicians to care for patients. By doing this, our physicians provide nothing less than the highest of quality patient care. Neighbors Emergency Center is rooted in and driven by a purpose that sets us apart from the healthcare industry as a whole. Our purpose drives our vision which is inspired by our patients, culture and community. Neighbors Emergency Center believes in providing extraordinary care that is dedicated to making lives better every day. Neighbors Emergency Center operates around an unfaltering vision to be “The Best Neighbors Ever” – this means providing unparalleled medical care driven by compassion, respect and dedication.




2073 E. Ruben Torres Sr. Blvd. Brownsville, TX 78526

1725 N. Ed Carey Dr. Harlingen, TX 78550

6700 N. 10th Street McAllen, TX 78504





Save a Tooth, SAVE A LIFE RGV DENTIST OFFERS STEM CELL PRESERVATION By Abbey Kunkle Over the past few decades, many of us have heard about saving and preserving a baby’s umbilical cord blood at birth, and although we hope never to need it, research has proven that stem cells obtained through this preservation may help in future treatments for dozens of diseases. What makes stem cells unique is that they have the ability to transform into different types of cells and can aid in many forms of healing. These exciting



possibilities have the potential for major medical advancement in the curing of disease, injury, and even repairing deterioration of tissue that occurs as a natural part of the aging process. So what can you do if your baby is not a baby anymore and you didn’t save the umbilical cord blood? Thankfully, scientific breakthroughs in research have brought to light the availability of stem cells from your child’s primary teeth.


As parents, we sometimes tend to write off these “baby teeth” as a chance for our kids to clumsily perfect their tooth brushing skills. Who knew these tiny, temporary teeth could be so important? As science and technology have progressed exponentially, the discovery of stem cell extraction from baby teeth along with continuing research has shown major potential in the field of regenerative medicine with the potential to treat diseases like diabetes, macular degeneration, heart disease, burns, and much more. About 10 years ago, Dr. Kenneth Baker of McAllen Family and Sedation Dentistry brought the technology to the Valley through collaboration with Store-A-Tooth, a leader in dental stem cell banking. According to Baker, participants have increased as the public becomes more informed about the future possibilities associated with stem cells. Parents of young children tend to be some of those most interested, but although they can provide some of the most vital stem cells for preservation, the process is not limited solely to the use of baby teeth. Wisdom teeth, which are often extracted anyway, can also be an excellent source of stem cells. “The thing about stem cells from a tooth is that this is technology that is slightly ahead of its time,” Baker said. “With the technology still progressing, this is a decision you would make for the future.” According to the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit medical practice and pioneer in medical research and application, “Regenerative medicine is a gamechanging area of medicine with the potential to fully heal damaged tissues and organs, offering solutions and hope for people who have conditions that today are beyond repair.” Though the field has been around for decades in the form of transplants, stem cells are at the forefront of research in the field. They can be collected through cord blood as well as from bone marrow, however, Baker noted that for the latter, it is often a painful procedure. Moreover, even if you have already banked your child’s cord blood, you might still consider storing

their baby teeth as they will likely be used in different types of clinical applications related to bone and tissue application rather than blood-related diseases. In the past, the topic of stem cells has been a controversial one. Due to ethical convictions on the subject, the term “stem cells” has been given a negative connotation, specifically because of embryonic stem cell research. However, not all stem cell research involves human embryos. Though this particular method of obtaining stem cells remains a polarizing issue, Baker noted that obtaining stem cells from teeth is bioethically sound. No one is harmed in the name of science and extracted or avulsed teeth are generally discarded. Currently, teeth are the most noninvasive, convenient, and affordable stem cells to collect. For those interested in the possibility of storing stem cells from teeth, Baker provides access to the registered, certified, and accredited Store-A-Tooth, which has been available since 2006 with dentists across the country providing materials for the preservation and transportation of teeth. Depending on the amount of stem cells preserved, Store-A-Tooth prices range from $849 to $1,749 with an additional $120 per year for storage. Discounts for multiple family members, payment plans, and even need-based grants are provided. To find out if Store-A-Tooth is right for you, call Dr. Kenneth Baker of McAllen Family and Sedation Dentistry at (956) 686-2052 for more information.

UPCOMING EVENTS SUNDAY MARCH 5 + South Texas Wedding & Quinceanera Showcase

FRIDAY MARCH 10 + North American Jewelry, Gift & Accessory Show- McAllen

THURSDAY MARCH 16 + Stars Extravaganza

FRIDAY MARCH 17 + Saxet Gun Show

WEDNESDAY MARCH 22 + 2017 South Texas All Hazards Conference

SUNDAY MARCH 26 + RGV Wedding Fair

MONDAY MARCH 27 + Infinite Love - Anita Moorjani What if this is Heaven?

SUNDAY APRIL 2 + Together for Our Health - Health Fair Hosted by KRGV Community

FRIDAY APRIL 7 - 9 + 27th Annual Rio Grande Valley Home & Garden Show

FRIDAY APRIL 21 + Casting Crowns

FRIDAY APRIL 28 -30 + South Texas Comic Con

“Regenerative medicine is a gamechanging area of medicine with the potential to fully heal damaged tissues and organs.”


For More Info:




700 Convention Center B McAllen, Texas 78501 Phone: (956) 681-3800 Fax: (956) 681-3840




The Informed Patient Know Where Your Health Insurance Stands to Avoid Medical Bill Shock By C H A S E P A T R I C K M U R P H Y & KAREN VILLARREAL


e’ve all heard it a million times: when in doubt, ask — especially when it's a question of health. Yet we live in a world of rapidly rising health care costs and constantly changing insurance policies: we often don’t know how much treatments cost, what’s covered by insurance, and how much health care we can afford. According to Wilson Davenport, SGS of Davenport and Associates (an employee benefits agency out of McAllen), and Charles Mallon, CFO at Rio Grande Regional Hospital, many people play a game of assumption with their personal policies that leads to outrage at billing processes. However, we cannot afford to be ignorant about our health; from both the financial and medical perspective, it’s important to be an informed patient. “I would encourage anyone to research how they fund their health,” Mallon said. 68


Every Case is Different

Whether you are insured or uninsured, there are certain costs associated with each procedure and it is normal to receive not just a single bill from the hospital, but many bills from an assortment of health care professionals. For example, although patients may argue that they weren’t “seen” by a radiologist during a particular hospital visit, they were performing their service behind the scenes as part of the patient’s treatment, and their charge is valid. “Health care billing is extremely complicated. Even people who are in the field need to have a consistently refreshed education on the billing process and stay current with policies,” Mallon said. “Our people are having to constantly stay on top


of the rules and regulations, so it’s understandable that patients are going to have issues.” He says one of the biggest misconceptions he sees is that patients get a bill with a very high number, and think they are expected to pay it all in full. “There are many legal and contractual reasons that the charges are so high; it confuses patients, or makes them upset or angry,” he said. “In the case of insured patients, the total in-network charges will be contractually reduced to an amount negotiated with your insurance company. For uninsured patients, they will be asked to pay more out of pocket, but they also qualify for significant discounts. The difference approximates the amount the insurance company would have paid the provider.”

Sable’s Story

Sable Moya is a McAllen resident who is all too familiar with the difference having insurance can make. She became pregnant while uninsured, so her baby’s care and delivery at McAllen Medical Center were covered by Medicaid, but her subsequent complications were not. “After the C-section my blood pressure went up, so I had to stay for a few days,” she said, remembering that when it was finally low enough for them to be released, her new son Luke had also just been cleared from the NICU. “On the way home I waited in the car while my husband, Adam, went into a gas station. When he got back to the car, I was having a stroke.” He immediately rushed her back to the hospital because she couldn’t speak or move her right side at all. “I had a seizure while Adam was trying to check us in,” said Moya. “They did bedside surgery to drain the blood clot and I was put in a medically induced coma for two weeks. Then I was transferred to Houston, where I was in the hospital for two months, then two months in a neurorehab facility.” Moya says that they were able to get insured before the transfer to Houston thanks to the Affordable Care Act. “Because of Obamacare, my life was probably saved,” said Moya. “We saw a bill that said the neurological rehab center was $1,200 a day, but thankfully that was completely covered. I was there for two months, so you can imagine what our debt would be if it wasn’t.” Three years later, Luke is doing well and Moya’s health is fully recovered, but it’s not the same case for the family’s finances. She worries because despite being aware of the importance of having insurance, rates are going up and she is not currently covered. “Adam makes just enough for us to not qualify for Medicaid but we can’t afford insurance on our own right now,” says Moya. “In case something massive like this happens, it’s so important. But what can we do?”

Uninsured but not Alone

Mallon says that they see uninsured patients coming into the Emergency Department, where they are

stabilized as required by the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. “It doesn't mean they get care for free, but the physician will see them and In the case of assess them, then discharge them with uninsured instructions to seek a clinic. If they’re patients, they unable to pay at that time we’ll send will be asked a bill.” to pay more out Sable Moya says that the bills of pocket, but incurred in those two weeks before they also qualify she got insured had to be paid out of for various pocket, but they were fortunate that discounts. her husband is a local musician who was able to throw fundraiser shows to help with the cost. “He ended up raising thousands, but it all went to my bills, every penny,” she said. “We’re so grateful. If the community hadn’t helped us, we’d be in such tremendous debt.” Online, it’s not uncommon to see individuals creating GoFundMe or other crowdfunding accounts to cover their medical bills. Rio Grande Regional Hospital also has a charity program that helps the uninsured, but operates on a case-by-case basis. Uninsured direct admission patients not having an emergency (those sent to the hospital directly by their primary care provider for any reason) do not fall under EMTALA and hospitals do not have to admit them if they are unable to pay. Mallon explains that complications may arise that may impact the cost of care for these patients. They are given the best estimate prior to the procedure, but no two cases are exactly alike. The initial estimate is just that — an estimate, not a guarantee.

The Value of Knowing

If you do have the opportunity to get insurance, it’s important to understand it to make the best choices for your health and finances. Your doctor and your insurer are there to provide answers which should bring comfort and resolution. Like all hospitals, Rio Grande Regional Hospital has employees who are dedicated solely to explaining billing and helping patients understand the financial aspect of the treatment they received. However, it is helpful when the patient can meet them halfway with the information. “If we can issue a clean bill with all the proper data and information, we can process a clean claim and hopefully the patient’s outcome is also a clean bill of health,” Mallon said. Even though it can be confusing, it’s important for insured patients to sit down with their HR representative or insurance agent to form a complete understanding of their part of the responsibility — ideally before they need to use their insurance. Adriana Morales, Director of Community





& Public Relations at Rio Grande Regional Hospital, says it's our individual responsibility as consumers to be aware of what we’re purchasing and what’s covered. “Most insurance plans often include preventive care,” she said. “Being informed and taking advantage of those benefits means taking a proactive approach to your health.”

Understanding Insurance

At the time of open enrollment when health insurance is offered, individuals have to decide between a plan that costs less per month, but has higher deductibles or copays when you use the services — or one that takes more out of your paychecks, but will typically drive down those same costs when used. “Do people really understand that? Sometimes,” Mallon said, explaining that the best choice comes down to the consumer knowing themselves and their family’s health, ages, and activity level. These all factor into whether the family will likely meet a high deductible. For example, a plan with a low monthly cost may have a deductible requiring thousands to be spent on health care before the insurance company reimburses the client. “Always try to have a sense of where you are with your deductible,” he said. “If you meet your deductible early in the year, your patient responsibility will be greatly reduced the remainder of the year. Some people never meet it for the entire year.” Along with information about deductibles and copays, individuals should be aware of the network of physicians and providers they can visit without problem. When employers put a plan together, they work with the insurance company which contracts with certain doctors or hospitals. Patients who are out of network don’t get the contractual rate, and it will cost the insurance company more to pay for that claim — which, of course, is passed down to the individual. Davenport says that policyholders are generally unaware that not all procedures or providers are covered or part of their network. “Prior to a non-emergency procedure, get authorization from the insurance carrier and make sure the health care provider is in-network to avoid further out-of-pocket cost,” he said. “Research the doctors, facilities, pharmacies — whatever medical care you need. Education is key.”

Always Ask

When you go to the garage to get your car worked on, you skeptically wonder if the mechanic is trying to pull a fast one when they say that the problem lies in your “flux capacitor,” which will cost you $1,200. (No matter what, it’s always $1,200, isn’t it?) Nobody wants to spend that kind of money on a repair, so we almost



always ask questions. You can and you should! There may be alternatives that can save you a lot of money — and the same is true, in many cases, with health care. “Most patients do what the doctor tells them and go where the doctor tells them to go, but patients have a choice and they should ask questions,” Mallon said. Have a list of questions to ask before you agree to a costly procedure. “Patients can say no to too many services attached to a procedure, depending on the situation,” Mallon said. As a consumer, you need to be aware of your ability to waive some things or request more affordable alternatives, such as generic drugs. Davenport adds that the insured can deny any recommended service/procedure from a doctor as well as deny services from any particular doctor. “They can request the doctor, facility or lab of their choice to get a particular test or procedure completed,” Davenport said. However, individuals must be very informed about their benefits to see how making these choices might affect their out-of-pocket cost. The same applies to ambulances: in a non-life-threatening situation, individuals can request that EMS take them to a doctor or hospital that’s in their network as opposed to the closest one. Sable Moya and her husband can also attest to the patient's involvement in the decision-making process. While the local hospital suggested a wait-and-see approach to her recovery, she knew that the first six months after a stroke are crucial for recovery. Moya wanted to make as much progress as possible while she could, which would take therapy. “I went from sitting in a wheelchair, unable to move, to walking and talking and taking care of my son within a number of months. It made a huge difference,” she said. “If we had said ‘I guess the doctors Patients can say know best,’ I would probably be in no to too many a nursing home right now.” services attached Education is certainly key when to a procedure, it comes to avoiding expensive depending on the and dangerous missteps with situation.” our health — that’s what makes the question-asking process - Charles Mallon, imperative. “With all the changes in health care and insurance for the past several years, be in control of your medical care and understand your benefits,” Davenport said. Armed with information, residents of the Rio Grande Valley will be empowered to take charge of their health.




Diplomat of The McKenzie Institute USA/ International


Board Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy


Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists


Over 29 years of clinical experience in orthopedic physical therapy


Former UTPA Bronc Track / Cross Country Team member (class of 1988)


Faculty facilitator / advisor for The McKenzie Institute USA


PHONE : [ 956 ] 661 - 1964


Convenience With You In Mind! Rio Grande Regional Hospital is committed to providing you and your loved ones with comprehensive outpatient healthcare services, close to home. Conveniently located throughout the community, Rio Grande Regional Hospital has Women’s Clinics, Outpatient Laboratories and a Family Practice Clinic available to meet your families medical needs. The Women’s Clinics provide a broad range of outpatient services for women. Rio Grande Women’s Clinic – McAllen 222 E. Ridge Road Suite 101 McAllen, Texas (956) 632-6032

Rio Grande Women’s Clinic – La Joya 1000 E. Expressway 83 (1/4 mile west of Buena Vista & Hwy 83) La Joya, Texas (956) 583-2646

Rio Grande Women’s Clinic – Alamo 427 E. Duranta Avenue Suite 108 Alamo, Texas (956) 787-0770

Rio Grande Women’s Clinic – Edinburg 2502 E. Richardson Road Edinburg, Texas (956) 380-4477

The Outpatient Laboratories offer a wide range of wellness tests with no appointment or doctor’s orders needed. Regional Medical Laboratory – North 5018 North 10th Street, Suite C McAllen, TX (956) 682-0502

Regional Medical Laboratory – South 901 South 10th Street, Suite 340 McAllen, TX (956) 631-7806

Regional Medical Laboratory – East 427 East Duranta, Suite 105 Alamo, TX (956) 787-1672

Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s Family Practice Clinic provides medical services to patients of all ages. Rio Grande Regional Family Practice Clinic McAllen Medical Plaza 222 East Ridge Road, Suite #104, McAllen, TX (956) 661-3880

101 East Ridge Road | McAllen, TX 78503 | 956-632-6000 |

Teaching at the heart of what matters! If you have at least a Bachelor’s degree and are looking for a rewarding career in a prestigious profession, Region One’s Project P.a.C.E. can start you on your way to a purposeful career in education! Region One ESC’s Project P.a.C.E., accredited by the Texas Education Agency, is a rigorous, fast-paced educator preparation program designed to prepare and certify highly qualified individuals to teach in Texas public schools.

Why Region One Project P.a.C.E? • • • • • • • • • •

Access to Region One ESC resources Continuous support from educators passionate about teaching Dynamic educational network Financial Assistance for program costs Job search assistance Join a community of learners Call today for next Ongoing professional and personal development program start date! On the job training Small investment, great return Teacher centered experience For program information, eligibility requirements, program start dates, and application information, visit our website at or call (956) 984-6036.

BUSINESS PHOTOGRAPHY Brownsville, Edinburg James Hord (956)371-0891


Ushering in Experiences Ambassadors of the Arts at McAllen Performing Arts Center Give Back To Community By L O R I H O U S T O N Photo by J O H N N Y Q U I R O Z





rts and culture make considerable and necessary contributions to the well-being of communities and are powerful tools with which to engage communities in various levels of change and growth. Through the McAllen Performing Arts Center, the City of McAllen is committed to providing a broader variety of entertainment and live performances that have never been possible before in South Texas. Along with local talent, the MPAC hosts Broadway productions such as “Annie,” “Jersey Boys,” and “Mamma Mia.”The McAllen Performing Arts Center also opens up new opportunities for residents of the area to gain immersion in the performance art world through its Ambassador of the Arts program. Civic engagement within the arts and entertainment is the mission for the McAllen Performing Arts Center Ambassador of the Arts program. Ambassadors promote the arts by ensuring that every guest has a positive experience with the live arts, regardless of the role they fill as volunteer ushers, ticket takers, or guest services personnel. All Ambassadors can answer questions about the shows and venue, adding to the community’s knowledge of the arts and solidifying the center’s role as a cultural landmark for our region. “We want the ambassadors to be able to tell the story of the MPAC to any and every guest who wants to know about it,” said Kristina Garza, coordinator of the program. “Many of our ambassadors have backgrounds in the theater arts, whether they were performers themselves in the past, worked on shows, or have attended many operas, symphonies, or plays.” Their experiences have given them

an appreciation for and knowledge of the theater, including theater etiquette, that they can share with the South Texas community. “We really appreciate them helping elevate our program to the highest caliber,” Garza said. The intricacies of the building’s many symbolic design elements were explained to all the ambassadors at an open house orientation so that they can accurately relay the information to the patrons attending the events. “The staff was here training us, walking us through the different levels, and explaining what all the colors mean,” said Norman Frey, who attended the orientation with his wife, Betty. “They explained everything, from inside to outside.” For example, a piece of the original stage from the McAllen Civic Auditorium was cut out and now finds its home inside the main lobby of the MPAC. This pays tribute to all those who have performed at the McAllen Civic Auditorium and brings together the historic past of the arts in our city with the new, exciting future the MPAC will bring to our community. Betty said she and her husband love getting to tell guests about the building. “People seem to appreciate it,” she said, “and it’s what we like to do.” The Freys say they volunteer a lot, but are delighted by the wide assortment of opportunities available. Another MPAC Ambassador of the Arts, Blanca Palomo, said she approached the program out of curiosity

about the new entity. “I have a full time job, but wanted to see if I could help out the community,” Palomo said. Her first show was Tito Puente Jr., which she says was a really nice event that got her hooked on volunteering at MPAC shows — she has served in four events so far. “I have made some friends and it has been an exciting time,” she said.

“You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.” - Winston Churchill         

Building Our Community Through the Arts Through their service, Ambassadors of the Arts with MPAC develop skills in leadership and communication. This is a unique opportunity for community collaboration and organization as the Rio Grande Valley has never had a performing arts venue as ambitious as this project before. If you are interested in becoming an Ambassador of the Arts for the McAllen Performing Arts Center, you can visit www. or reach out to to learn more.




Visit to view more images or call 956.802.1157 to discuss your photography needs.

Freelance Photographer





BUILDing ON HISTORY Urban Design Group Seeks Public Support For Livable, Safer And Sustainable Cities By LORI HOUSTON


n studying history and exploring the founding of ancient civilizations — whether it be that of the Egyptians, Aztecs, Incas, Mesopotamians, or Chinese — we find many similarities. All of these ancient civilizations were founded in areas close to a significant body of water, most often a river, that provided them with not only a means of transportation, but also a source of irrigation for farming. Soon shelters would be built and as more people began to settle, more amenities and market places would eventually be added, building up the villages to towns and eventually cities. A key aspect in the building up of these urban areas, though, was functionality. Historically, the main goal was to live in a community where you had everything you needed within walking distance. You could live, work, shop, and find entertainment and education all within a short distance. Though these models are ancient, they are still the basis of many modern cities today, and are indeed embedded into the Rio Grande Valley in our downtown areas, from Roma to Brownsville. However, all across the Rio Grande Valley, downtown areas are at risk of becoming a thing of the past. Businesses and corporations, more interested in turning a profit than in preserving historic buildings, often find it easier to demolish seemingly wornout buildings than to restore them with modern amenities. However, these historic buildings have



character that define a place and give the people of the city a sense of belonging. “Urban cultures go back to ancient town planning concepts that embrace efficient and holistic community models,” said Pedro Ayala, urban designer and founder of BUILD, on why building urban culture is beneficial. “It’s the most logical, economic, responsible, ethical and sustainable way to build our communities.” It is for this reason that Ayala organized and founded the Building Urban Cultures Education Initiative on Aug. 29, 2016, a day after the announcement of the Historic McAllen Civic Center demolition. The Building Urban Culture Education Initiative is a grassroots effort to build awareness and education in social, economic,


Urban cultures go back to ancient town planning concepts that embrace efficient and sustainable development. According to Ayala, in order to begin building an urban culture, we must first begin by appreciating and building pride in our downtown and historic districts. This honor and pride can ultimately lead to the restoration and reuse of historic buildings. He says McAllen can benefit from revitalization by bringing more housing to the downtown region, as affordable and mid-level housing in downtown areas provide for long-term, sustainable development and a more vibrant downtown that will keep people downtown and attract visitors from Mexico’s urban areas. “People from Mexico identify with downtown living,” Ayala said. They are used to the culture of metropolises like Monterrey or Mexico City; they are attracted to museums, art galleries, and entertainment. “They come here and they feel alienated, so the majority go to bigger cities, like San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and Los Angeles.” Ayala believes the way to remedy that is to build community — which is done in part by increasing the city’s walkability. Walkability is designing cities with a human activity factor in mind, giving individuals the ability to access services by foot without depending so much on a motor vehicle. Factors that increase the walkability of an area (like wide sidewalks shaded by trees and lined with benches) are traditionally seen in downtown areas. “It has been proven that walkable neighborhoods

and holistic community models.” - Pedro Ayala improve sociability, health, safety, and the welfare of various socioeconomic conditions,” Ayala said. It is important that the city and the community work together on revitalization projects and ideas, because they each have their own respective properties and responsibilities. “You have different people that own these different buildings,” Ayala said, “so it is hard, but not impossible.” Community involvement is key and it is for this reason that the BUILD organization has hosted these events and focuses on change through an education and awareness campaign to build a positive identity in the Rio Grande Valley. Through regular socials, seminars, and workshops, members of the community are encouraged to attend, ask questions, and make suggestions. “We have big potential here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Ayala said. “It just depends on how we use it.” To learn more about BUILD (Building Urban & Innovative Land Development), visit their website at and subscribe your email to their mailing list. Their next event, Preservation and Public Art, will be held on April 6, 2017 from 6-8 p.m. in the historic downtown of Harlingen.






ON WHEELS Be aware of bikes, skates, and boards on South Texas roads! By Abbey Kunkle Photo by Tony Peña

As the RGV has continued to grow at an exponential rate, cities across the Valley have taken steps to make our thriving area more pedestrian friendly. Whether for transportation, exercise, or just plain fun, bicycles, skates, and boards have made a comeback, and every day, people are choosing to get outside and ride. As drivers, we always take extra care to watch for people at crosswalks and in school zones, but as we share the road with cyclists and skaters, we need to remember to watch out for these pedestrians on wheels. Henry Roberts, long-time owner of Bicycle World, knows a thing or two about bicycles. Having been in the business for 40 years, he has practically seen it all and has a great perspective on the history of biking in the Valley. According to Roberts, when he took over the business from former owners who originally opened the shop in 1952, there was little to no competition in the area, and cycling was not anywhere near as prevalent as it is today. He remembers days when his store was busiest during the holidays, with parents coming in to find that perfect gift and children’s bicycles hanging along every wall. Nowadays, Roberts has seen a major increase in adult interest in cycling. With races like the recent 27th Annual Jalapeño 100, hundreds of riders join in to ride anywhere from 12 to 100 miles. These days, when you are out and about, you will al78



most surely see someone cycling or skating. Thankfully, cities from Brownsville to McAllen have long been preparing for the ever-growing trend with some amazing infrastructure accommodations to keep pedestrians safe. “Of course, when it comes to cycling or any sport, safety is the main priority,” said TxDOT Public Information Officer Octavio Saenz. He pointed out that when cyclists choose to ride on the road, they have the same rights as well as the same responsibilities as vehicles. “An awareness and level or respect in which we all follow the rules of the road is important,” he added. “We don’t live in a vacuum. We work together, live together, and ride together.” If you choose to ride on the road, always use proper signaling, go with traffic rather than against, and never ride without potentially life-saving equipment, including a helmet and reflective gear. Recently, McAllen, Harlingen, and Brownsville have implemented bike share programs with stations strategically placed in parks and public spaces. McAllen led the way with their BCycle program rolling out in the fall of 2015 with 80 bikes at eight different locations. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley was not far behind, partnering with the cities of Brownsville and Harlingen to bring bike sharing to the Lower Valley. The group enthusiastically welcomed the City of Edinburg to the club this past January when they unveiled four bike stations with 20 bikes. Using a bike share is a great way to get from here to there, try out something

new, and get some exercise while you’re at it. For those of us who did not grow up riding bikes or skating in the streets, getting out there for the first time might be a little intimidating. Cars seem faster and larger than when we are riding in them, and some of us might even be a little embarrassed that we won’t be good at it. Also, as we get older, our bodies may not adapt to new things quite as quickly they used to. The great thing is even if we don’t want to get out in traffic, there are so many opportunities for biking and skating on trails and in parks all throughout the Valley. You can find kids, parents, and grandparents spending time at thriving skate parks like the one in Los Fresnos, others birdwatching as they enjoy the hike and bike trail at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, and people seeing the city on some of the excellent trails in Brownsville and McAllen. Cycling, skating, and boarding can definitely be a blast, but these activities boast so many other benefits. In recent years, Roberts has seen cycling become a very social event. Instead of meeting for happy hour, groups often meet up after work and go for a cruise or even a 20-mile ride. The social aspect often becomes the main draw, and as an amazing side benefit, people begin to lose weight and even combat ailments like depression. “So many people out there have this stigma about a bike as a toy, but when they find out what it can do for you, it’s worth so much more,” Roberts said.


SPRING BREAK For All South Padre Island's Party-goers Share the Beach with Nature Lovers By Jose De Leon III


magine a small Texas island town of less than 3,000 people. It has white beaches, calm weather and water, idyllic seascapes completed by sunsets painted across the sky; the sounds of gulls and taste of salt in the air are the backdrop to the sandcastle capital of the world. However, for one week every March, thousands of college-aged students descend onto South Padre Island for one of the country’s biggest beach parties, where the tranquility of the South Texas seaside is temporarily superseded by throngs of people enjoying their fun-in-the-sun vacation. For Keith Arnold, director of SPI’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, Spring Break is a yearly tradition that serves as proof of how people love coming down to the Island.




“It’s self-evident why people come here; they love the beach and tropical environment,” Arnold said. “It’s so laid back and tropical here — perfect for college kids who want to get together and have a good time.” Drawing together thousands of partygoers, one of the most popular Spring Break attraction at the island is the Ultimate Music Experience (UME) music festival. Since 2010, the Valley’s largest musical festival has brought such music heavyweights such as Tiesto, Skrillex and Calvin Harris. This year, the seventh annual UME will see Marshmello, Tiësto and Zedd taking the stage from March 15-18 at a new location. The festival will move from its previous venue at Schlitterbahn Water Park to Clayton's Beach Bar and Grill. Known as the "biggest beach bar in Texas," Clayton’s claims to be the Spring Break destination for music and merrymaking. Says owner Clayton Brashear, “Spring Break is way more exciting with Clayton’s concerts and Mega beach party. We bring shows the RGV hasn't seen.” For 2017, they will be hosting Lil Wayne, Russ, Kodak Black and 21 Savage, Rae Sremmurd with Clinton Sparks, Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert, among others. According to Brashear, his beach bar has the highest sales numbers for alcohol on the island year after year, and is also the best-selling bar south of Houston. “We sell hundreds of cases of beer and liquor during March,” says Brashear. Unsurprisingly, lots of people plus lots of drinking leads to some rowdy and forgetful guests. He says they’ve found everything from your typical misplaced wallet to diamond wedding rings and even Ferrari car keys. Though it's fortunate when a lost item is reunited with its owner, keeping track of valuables is largely out of the bar’s hands. Visitors should be aware of their surroundings and take all measures to have an incident-free vacation. Brashear reassures visitors that their safety is a priority at Clayton’s, and they are taking such measures as hiring a professional security company that is well equipped to handle all situations that may arise from Spring Breakers. Outside of the party scene, there are many other activities and elements that take advantage of the nature of the Island for people to enjoy. SPI is also a haven for parasailing, dolphin, and bird watching. As host of the Texas International Fishing Tournament, SPI is known as a fishing destination for fishing enthusiasts all over the world, and the

many island piers provide a welcome respite to visitors who want to take a break from dancing on the sand. “Fishing is really popular, as well as windsurfing and sand sculpting lessons. There’s a huge nature component in why visitors love the area,” said Arnold. “SPI offers a lot of entertainment from water-based to nightlife activities; it’s the whole package. Just walking on the beach is enough to make someone happy.” Arnold recommends any visitors, both new and returning, research the Island to find the kinds of activities they’d wish to explore and see if they can get to them all in one trip. “The quality of our beach is better than any in Texas. It’s what makes us a destination for visitors,” Arnold said. “We know you can’t explore the entire island in just one trip — even if it’s a week-long trip.” Even though Spring Break occurs once a year, the city starts to prepare for it months ahead of time. SPI’s city manager calls for regular meetings between the public safety and works department starting in the fall. As part of their planning, the city even hires up to 180 “temporary workers” to ensure they have enough hands to help clean up the city or work security, Arnold said. The Spring Break committee also installs port a potties throughout the city in designated areas and commits to daily bach cleanup to make sure the beach is “more presentable than usual.” Another essential item the committee covers is alternate traffic routes to prepare for the onslaught of traffic brought on by thousands of visitors — a sure sign of a successful Spring Break, according to Arnold. “We’re a friendly city and we don’t complain about traffic since it means more people will stay here to help our economy,” Arnold said. “We’re happy to have them here.”

We know you can’t explore the entire island in just one trip — even if it’s a week-long trip.” - Kieth Arnold






DEFENSE By Laura Lyles Reagan 82



South Texas aikikodas are training for self-defense and personal centeredness.

Sensei Edward at the Southern Institute of Aikido teaches “the gentle way” as a lifestyle to empower women holistically.

The goal of many martial arts is to teach individuals to train and protect their bodies while strengthening their spirit. Aikido is one such ancient fighting philosophy taking root in the Rio Grande Valley, with a unique set of principles to help develop centeredness so that one’s Ki, or energy, may be grounded like the earth, fluid like water, agile like wind, and ready to act in any situation. Avoiding an attack or applying an effective defensive technique entails developing self-control and personal centeredness. Aikikodas, or individuals who practice aikido, blend with their opponent to avoid injuring themselves while creating distance and an opportunity to resolve conflict without causing harm. In fact, one of the most distinguishing aspects of aikido is that practitioners aim above all to develop victory over oneself before attempting victory over an opponent. Several dojos offer the opportunity for practitioners to build confidence in their ability, strengthen bonds with their colleagues, and surprisingly, develop compassion for anyone against whom defense is necessary. That’s not to say that they aren’t capable in a self-defense situation. In fact, many of the techniques are incredibly effective - although it doesn’t look as though the aikikodas are doing much with their movements, try being on the receiving end of one of these wrist holds! Sensei Edward Contreras is Chief Instructor Shihan of The Southern Institute of Aikido in McAllen. The dojo has been instructing children and adults in Aikido and Tai Chi for several years, and

produced several black belts, but in the last six months a new class has created a safe space for women to learn and practice the art. “Women are often thought to be easy targets for would-be assailants and many live with fear or general insecurity. They are told to attend self-defense seminars, but practicing moves one time is only the beginning,” says Sensei Edward. “The motions need to become second nature in case of an attack.” He encourages women of all ages to learn “the gentle way,” as Aikido is sometimes called, as a lifestyle to holistic empowerment. The dedicated women’s class is taught on Mondays by Sensei Edward and on Wednesdays by Jackie Whitehouse, one of the Southern Institute of Aikido’s first female students. She joined almost two years ago and is now working on her brown belt, which means she can begin learning to teach on her own. Most of her students are currently yellow belts, but as Sensei Edward reminds them, “Black belts don’t start out as black belts. It is a discipline. Keep coming. Keep learning.” Whitehouse reports feeling safer and more confident being by herself in situations such as walking to her car at night. She even believes she could intervene to help someone else being attacked, which is something she would not have considered before learning Aikido. “It’s very empowering to know that you can handle a scary situation without having to depend on someone to help you,” says Whitehouse. “You can even be that help for someone else.” Whitehouse says she never thought of herself as athletic before she started training in Aikido, and was at first worried she might fall or be hurt or worse yet, hurt others. Once she started, she says she found it to be a lot less scary than it seems. She has learned from her Sensei to master her own body and mind. “Even if you are never in a threatening situation, Aikido is a positive approach to calm the mind and maintain physical condition and flexibility,” advises Whitehouse. It is low impact and non-competitive, combining aspects of strength training, yoga, and body conditioning. “Come try it! You never know what you can do until you try.” The first lesson is always free and group rates are available. Visit http://www. for more information.


"Black belts don’t start out as black belts. It is a discipline. Keep coming. Keep learning.” - Sensei Edwards Contreras




By Abbey Kunkle

In today’s world, shoppers have nearly everything we want at our fingertips. Clothing, school books and more can be purchased online and at your doorstep in just days. Even groceries can be bought online, and of course, convenience is often a priority. However, in recent years, RGV residents and people in communities across the world are again realizing the major value of shopping at their local farmers markets. The Brownsville Farmers Market was one of the first to come to the RGV about eight years ago, providing local growers with a place to sell their seasonal, farm-fresh goods to the community. Since then, farmers markets, both small and large, have popped up around the Valley in communities including McAllen, Harlingen, South Padre Island and more. Debbie Cox, of Perennial Favorites, has been a vendor at



many of the Valley’s farmers markets since their inception. She is a member of the Harlingen Farmers Market Board of Directors and the Cameron County Master Gardener Association. Specializing in herb, veggie, butterfly, and hummingbird plants, Cox said that the markets have grown over the years, with more vendors to provide increased options for local consumers. Depending on the season, shoppers will find fresh fruits and vegetables, all kinds of nuts, fresh eggs, cheeses, jellies and jams, local honey, and homemade soaps. You can even find certified grass-fed beef and fresh gulf shrimp. Because farmers markets are scheduled at different times in different areas, it allows vendors to bring their fresh harvests to people all over the Valley. Cox has seen a lot of growth over the years in both vendors


and consumers, but said, “There are still people that don’t even know there’s a farmers market, which is amazing to me. It seems to be a well-kept secret.” With continued growth of these events, many of the markets have brought in live music, free Zumba, activities for children, and cooking demonstrations so that people can not only buy the farm-fresh produce, but also learn how to cook it. These events support local growers and encourage healthy habits in the RGV. The benefits of buying locally are widespread and multifaceted. Farm-fresh is the best, and by cutting out the middleman, shoppers get high-quality goods at a great value while also supporting vendors in our own communities. That sense of community is strong, and the activities are a lot of fun, too! Next time you’re ready to head out for some groceries or just have a good time, check out one of the many farmers markets that can be found right here in the RGV.

Yahweh's All Natural Farm and Garden Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 19741 Morris Road, Harlingen, TX

Earth Born Market Monday - Saturday: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. 4508 N. Taylor Road, McAllen, TX

Pharrmer’s Market Thursday: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 724 N. Cage Blvd., Pharr, Texas

Grow'n Growers Farmers Market Saturday: 9 a.m. to noon 201 N, First St., McAllen, TX (Firemen's Park, Corner of First Street & Bus 83)

Harlingen Farmers Market Saturday: 3 to 4:30 p.m. Downtown "A" Street between Jackson and Monroe

McAllen Farmers Market Saturday: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 4001 N. 23rd St., McAllen, Texas (McAllen Public Library)

South Padre Island Farmers Market Sunday: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the Shores, 8605 Padre Blvd., South Padre Island, TX

Brownsville Farmers’ Market Saturday: 9 a.m. to noon 1534 E. Sixth St., Brownsville, TX (Linear Park next to the zoo - Sixth & Ringgold)

Crockett’s Bayview Farm Crawl Friday: noon to 6 p.m. 176 San Roman Roadd, Los Fresnos, TX 78566






Traffic is a symptom of expansion typical of metropolitan areas. By George Cox Photo by Johnny Quiroz





frequent complaint of drivers in the Rio County Metropolitan Planning Organization Grande Valley is that many roads are Director Andrew Canon. outdated and unable to handle an ever“Our entire plan is for 25 years,” Canon said. growing traffic demand. “We break that down into a 10-year and a fourAnd drivers also complain when major highway year plan, but we plan for 25 years in advance.” improvement projects are underway because the The HCMPO is one of three such organizations work slows down traffic flow even more. in the Valley, with another responsible for the Then, when those projects are finally complete, Brownsville metropolitan area and a third that some drivers still complain the results are too little plans for the Harlingen-San Benito area. These too late and still behind the growth curve. organizations provide data that is used to develop It seems a never-ending cycle that frustrates and the UTP. even angers people who spend a lot of time on the Through constant vigilance and public road as commuters or commercial drivers behind engagement through public meetings, social the wheel of a big rig. media, and other platforms, the HCMPO It’s also true that the cycle is never ending in that continually gathers input and information about the Texas Department of Transportation and other transportation needs in the short and long terms organizations are constantly reviewing and updating and frequently amends the plans. plans to try and keep up with the “We amend it every Valley’s growth that shows no quarter,” Canon said. “We signs of slowing down. And that have several open houses and The plan presented by the is a daunting task. public outreach meetings, not commission will allow Texas TxDot is responsible for mainto mention our website and roads to keep pace with our taining 80,000 miles of Texas social media for engagement.” population growth, provide roads, and for supporting aviation, The planning process inmuch-needed congestion rail, public transportation, and volves more than identifying relief for working Texans and water ports. Last fall the Texas transportation needs and put the Lone Star State well Transportation Commission unprojects. There must be a on its way towards having a veiled its 2017 Unified Transporway to pay for what are very first-class highway system for tation Program. With $70 billion expensive infrastructure imdecades to come. worth of projects over the next 10 provements. years, the plan is the largest of its “We are required to identify -TX Gov. Greg Abbott kind in the state’s history. dollars to go with the “Texans have sent a loud and projects,” he said. “We only clear message that they are put projects in there that we tired of sitting in traffic, and this funding plan know we have identified funding for the next 25 will significantly address safety, maintenance, years.” connectivity, and congestion on our crowded At a recent public meeting, Canon described highways,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said when how the public often views the process. the plan was released. “The plan presented by the “It’s mostly tedious things people don’t want to commission will allow Texas roads to keep pace hear about,” Canon said, according to a recording with our population growth, provide much-needed of the meeting. congestion relief for working Texans and put the “But the amazing thing is when we get moving Lone Star State well on its way towards having a forward with it, they’re always a little shocked. first-class highway system for decades to come.” But we have a 25-year plan so it’s not like these These 10-year plans are updated every year as projects just popped up out of the blue. There is a officials constantly work to keep from “getting process for them,” he said. caught behind the eight-ball,” according to Hidalgo “It’s good to have media engagement so we can



TxDot is resposible for maintaining

80,000 miles of Texas 2017 United Trasportation Program is worth

$70 billion The entire plan is for

25 years



South Texas Transportation system covers

8 counties 14 int'l crossings

The district has a population of

1.37 million 6,500 lane miles of state roads 19 million vehicle miles every day


let them know. We don’t want people to be surprised when big projects come their way. In the transportation realm, a lot of us kid that until we see bulldozers nobody is really aware of it, and then it’s like, ‘Hold on, what are you doing?’” A Regional Mobility Plan compiled by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership using data and economic projections from a variety of sources and most recently updated in 2013, makes note of the “explosive” growth in the Valley that continues to drive the region’s economic significance in Texas. “Being one of the fastest-growing areas of the U.S. and Texas has both positives and challenges from a transportation perspective,” according to the plan. “Growth means awareness of the issues and (hopefully) an increasing tax revenue for addressing them; however, it also means many urgent issues competing for attention and resources and the danger of ‘falling behind the curve.’” The state transportation system in South Texas falls under the oversight of TxDot’s Pharr District, which covers eight counties with 14 international crossings and a complex of highways that make up the southernmost portion of the interstate system known as the NAFTA Highway. The district has a population of 1.37 million, and more than 6,500 lane miles of state roads racking up some 19 million vehicle miles every day, according to fiscal year 2016 figures on the TxDot website. “We are growing and we need to build additional corridors,” said Octavio Saenz, public information officer for the TxDot Pharr District. Saenz said that in the past 40 years vehicle registrations in the South Texas district have increased 172 percent, while vehicle capacity of the roads has only increased by 19 percent. While the 2017 UTP is touted as the largest in Texas history, Saenz pointed out that it is not a guarantee that all the projects will come to fruition. “People have to understand that the information we provide, there is a reason behind everything. We have numbers to validate everything we do,” he said. “The UTP guides transportation project development and it’s a very important document,” Saenz added. “But it is neither a budget or a guarantee that projects can or will be built.” Major roadway projects underway this year include the I-2 and Bicentennial interchange in McAllen at a cost of $46 million and the $38 million U.S. 83 Super 2 Highway project in Zapata County. Plans for the future include a new 22-mile road between north Edinburg to Donna that would bypass



the heavily traveled Expressway 83 and Highway 281 interchange at Pharr, with a projected price tag of $55 million. When it comes to transportation dollars the Valley competes with the rest of Texas and there is a discussion under way over the merits of consolidating the three MPOs into one large district. Proponents of the idea say that the move would give the Valley greater statewide clout and access to funding. Such a move would make the Valley the state’s fifth-largest MPO behind population giants like Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio. While some South Texas officials worry individual communities would lose some influence and lose out on funding to larger entities, proponents say the Valley would become more competitive for transportation funding. “No one loses a seat at the table under a proposal that is out there,” the HCMPO’s Canon said. “It’s just the opposite, it’s reinforcing local control. Every city has control over its own destiny.” In Cameron County officials are a bit more skeptical and want more detailed information about the plan before taking a stand. “Can we have some hard answers to some questions?” Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez asked in an interview with The Monitor last year. “One: If we get more money. Two: How much? Three: Where is it going to go to? Those are the questions that have never been answered.” The upside for Canon is the potential to secure more transportation funding for the Valley, but he also agrees the plan needs greater and more detailed study. “I’m sure like everything there would be growing pains to make sure there was no local voice lost in the process,” he said. Whatever happens with the MPOs, just like rolling the bulldozers on a new project, takes time and planning. In the meantime, Valley drivers will continue navigating the sometimes frustrating traffic congestion that is symptomatic of economic growth and expansion.

In the past 40 years of vehicle registrations it has increased

172% while vehicle capacity of roads has only increased by


Cost of I-2 & Bicentennial interchange in McAllen project

$46 million Cost of U.S. 83 Super 2 Highway project in Zapata County

$46 million

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March / April 2017 - RGVision Magazine  
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