Serving in San Juan, Texas
Experience daily life along the US-Mexico border.
The Rio Grande Valley often looms large in today’s news. But beyond the headlines and politics lies vibrant communities requesting your help. The families we assist struggle with the basic necessities of life. You can lend your hands and spirit to projects improving conditions through the good offices of an exemplary program founded to assist migrant farm workers. In just one week, you can make a positive difference, form bonds with the people of San Juan, and learn firsthand about border issues from the local people in this multicultural area.
Community Partner & Work Projects
Our host and community partner is Proyecto Azteca, a non-profit self-help construction company that serves low-income families in colonias (unincorporated, low-income neighborhoods, often with few city services) in predominantly rural areas of Hidalgo County, Texas. Established in 1991, the United Farmworkers of America, Texas Rural Legal Aid, and the Texas Low Income Housing Information Services came together to respond to the housing crisis in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley’s colonias and developed Proyecto Azteca. In the first year, Proyecto Azteca organized self-help construction with just four families. Today, Proyecto Azteca is a nationally recognized, community-directed, self-help housing organization that has financed and trained close to 1,000 families in the construction and first-time ownership of their own homes in over 150 colonias and rural areas. Proyecto Azteca is also part of a large coalition of community organizations working to improve the lives of area residents in the areas of housing, education and health.
Community work projects in and around San Juan include serving along side local volunteers at a food bank and soup kitchen, repairing homes of low and very low-income families, and providing assistance to refugees at a Respite Center.
Food Bank and Soup Kitchen
The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley serves over 75,000 area residents each week. Volunteers are needed to support the critical mission of these local institutions by sorting, boxing, and distributing fresh produce, dry goods, and frozen foods and serving meals to children, families and seniors.
Prepare, Pack and Serve Meals for Food-Insecure Residents
The St. Vincent De Paul Soup Kitchen supports low-income and unhoused individuals in the San Juan area. Volunteers often help to prepare and serve meals with this volunteer-run organization.
Refugee Respite Center
After families cross the border and are cleared by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the Respite Center offers a place to rest, clean up, and possibly get fresh clothes before they are on their way to their final destination. Volunteers provide childcare, help with meals, sort and disburse clothes, assist with paperwork, and befriend refugees who have left terrible conditions in their home countries and often traveled great distances at tremendous risk to find safety in our country.
Home Repair or Construction
Proyecto Azteca serves low-income residents through the repair and construction of single-family homes. Volunteer assignments depend on time of year, available financial resources, and the volunteer’s skill level. Not every service program can engage volunteers on home repair or construction, but when needed, skilled volunteers work with local people repairing homes, painting, siding, tiling, preparing sites, landscaping, building disability ramps, and upgrading bathrooms to be disability accessible. Families who qualify for a new home are required to work on their own homes. Unfortunately, some families who are either disabled, elderly, or both cannot fulfill the 550 “sweat equity” hour requirement. That is where volunteers make a huge difference. The hours volunteers put in are banked and used to help elderly and disabled families meet their sweat equity requirement.
Service Program Logistics
All programs are led by an experienced people and program team leader. In cooperation with the community leaders, your team leader facilitates your team’s orientation, assists you in becoming fully engaged in the community work project, and manages all service program-related logistical issues.
Three meals a day are included in your service program contribution beginning with dinner on the first Saturday evening through breakfast on the final Saturday morning. Meals are at Proyecto Azteca’s dining room or the worksite. The team leader purchases food locally for meals prepared in the center’s kitchen. A typical breakfast includes eggs, cereal, toast, coffee, and juice. Lunch is taken bag style to the work sites. Typically, lunches include sandwiches and other basic lunch items and snacks. Dinners are prepared by a local cook and are served family style. Desserts, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages are available for an additional charge.
Texas cuisine reflects influence of the area’s indigenous population and the varied immigrants who have settled there. The most popular foods in South Texas are Tex-Mex, Cajun, and Barbeque. Chili con carne is the official state dish. Tex-Mex includes flautas, fajitas, tamales, enchiladas, nachos, refried beans, and Mexican red rice. Flour or corn tortillas are central to this cuisine. The Cajun preferences reflect the influence of neighboring Louisiana, with the post-Katrina diaspora giving it a major boost. Gumbo, blackened fish, and po’boy sandwiches are a few typical items found on area plates. Barbecue’s roots come from European immigrants prior to the civil war with techniques designed to make tough cuts of meats more appealing. Today nearly every resident has their own take on the perfect ‘cue. Any instructions or preferences we might provide may well be considered fighting words. That means you’ll just have to decide for yourself.
Standard volunteers’ lodging is dormitory-style at Proyecto Azteca’s dorm in San Juan. Two large bedrooms, one for men and one for women, with bunk beds offer comfortable sleeping. There is a bathroom off each bedroom with a total of four showers. There is also a large common room/dining room/kitchen. The kitchen is equipped with a refrigerator/freezer, stove, oven, and microwave. The dorm is adjacent to Proyecto Azteca’s main offices, and is air conditioned and has Wi-Fi.
For an additional fee, volunteers may opt to stay in a nearby hotel. The Best Western McAllen Medical Center provides clean single, double and family rooms with private bathroom and shower, free Wi-Fi, an outdoor pool and an HD TV.
All onsite transportation is included in your service program contribution. You will meet your team leader and other team members at the McAllen airport and be driven in a Global Volunteers van to Proyecto Azteca or the Best Western, both about fifteen minutes away. You will return to the airport on the final day of your program. Transportation to the work sites varies from mere steps away to about 20 to 45 minutes by passenger van. Note: transportation for free-time activities is not included.
Accurately assess your functional mobility. Our work assignments and partner communities require varying levels of physical stamina and mobility. After you register, you will be asked about your physical capabilities relating to your mobility. Please answer the questions honestly.
Required Mobility for Texas: Somewhat mobile – Walk 0.5 mile, climb two flights of stairs, walk on uneven terrain, and get on and off buses and trains with assistance.
Free Time Activities
Global Volunteers arranges for a visit to the border and one or more lectures/conversations about border issues presented by local knowledgeable professionals. There is no charge for these. You’ll also have ample free time in the evenings and on the weekends before and after the program to enjoy area cultural and natural attractions. All these free-time activities are your responsibility. Activities include visiting the nearby Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, home or host to over 400 species of birds, or the Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center, an historic Spanish Revival adobe hacienda surrounded by lush tropical landscaping and native woodland. Five minutes from our lodging is the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle, one of Texas’ most popular pilgrimage spots. Down the road is the McAllen Heritage Center, a small museum focusing on the history of the area and the International Museum of Art and Science.
Service Program Contribution
Global Volunteer’s service program contribution covers all lodging, three meals a day, in-country team transportation, emergency medical evacuation insurance, all preparatory materials, onsite orientation, a full-time team leader, and administration costs. The service program fee is $1,177 for one week.
For an additional charge of $570 per room for the week, volunteers may elect to stay at the nearby Best Western McAllen Medical Center. This hotel offers comfortable accommodations with a private bathroom, hot water, air conditioning, flat screen TV, a pool and free Wi-Fi. Singles, doubles, and families can be accommodated and daily transportation to the worksite is included. The extra charge is per room, not based on the number of people staying in the room, so if friends or family stay together, the 2-4 person room rate can be split.
Please ask your volunteer coordinator about referral credits as well as discounts for students, companions, groups, and alumni volunteers. We encourage you to use Global Volunteers’ online fundraising tool where you can create a personalized webpage to request partially tax-deductible donations from family and friends to help cover your service program contribution. Airfare and free-time activity expenses are your responsibility. The service program contribution and airfare are tax-deductible for U.S. taxpayers.