Colonias efforts
earn recognition

CHUD’s Laredo office earns TDHS Community
Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service

The Texas Department of Human Services (TDHS) recently presented a group of volunteer social workers from the Laredo Regional Office of the Texas A&M College of Architecture’s Center for Housing and Urban Development (CHUD) with the 2003 Community Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service. The award honored CHUD volunteers for demonstrating extraordinary initiative and originality in supporting the state’s Colonias Program.

Managed by CHUD, the program offers assistance to the residents of impoverished border communities, or colonias. These underdeveloped, unincorporated communities usually lack one or more major physical infrastructure elements, such as running water, sewer systems, paved roads, electricity, safe and sanitary housing and storm drainage. In Texas alone, there are more than 1,500 colonias, with nearly 500,000 residents. Those numbers are expected to nearly double by 2010, according to CHUD officials.

“All of us in the Center for Housing and Urban Development, and in the College of Architecture, join in celebrating and congratulating the staff of the Laredo Regional Office of CHUD for this well-deserved recognition,” said Robert Segner, CHUD’s interim director. “Their outstanding work is certainly emblematic of the dedicated efforts of our center employees and partners, in behalf of the Texas colonias residents.”

“I was surprised and very honored,” said Oscar Munoz, the director of the CHUD Central Rio Grande Region. “It is very heartwarming to see a group of people being recognized for doing good things.”

Colonias outreach workers are trained by the TDHS staff to mentor colonias residents who have recently started new jobs. The volunteers periodically check on their clients, assisting them with skill development and adjusting to the workplace environment. The outreach workers have mentored approximately 500 clients in the five years the program has been in existence.

In addition to the mentoring program, the volunteers assist the South Texas Food Bank, sorting and bagging food donations twice a week. In return for their work, the food bank donates 50-pound bags of food to colonias residents at CHUD’s regional community centers. These centers facilitate community activities and house meeting rooms, classrooms, libraries, medical clinics and playgrounds.

Munoz and his staff at the Laredo office have also developed the “Colonia Student of the Month” program, through which the high schools recognize outstanding students from the colonias. Additionally, universities and junior colleges have established over $25,000 in scholarships for colonias students. In 2004, the Colonias Program partnered with the University of Texas Health Science Center to provide information on health careers to students.

“What distinguished the Webb County Colonias Program was the innovative ways they volunteered and partnered with the food bank, other service providers and area school districts,” said Gloria Jackson, a volunteer coordinator at the Laredo DHS office.

The 2003 Community Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service was presented to Munoz and volunteers from CHUD’s Laredo Regional Office at an April 13, 2004 ceremony at the TDHS office in Austin.

“This is great positive recognition for us,” Munoz added. “This gives our office a sense of accomplishment that what we are doing is being recognized by, not only the people who get the services, but others who watch and have seen what we do.”

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