When 200 students from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg-Rio Grande Valley joined more than 150 student and staff volunteers from The University of Texas-Pan American, the result was a Make a Difference Day event that was a fun learning experience for all.
UTPA Student Michael Betancourt, a University Program Board member, said he came to the event to teach kids.
"But I ended up learning from them," he said. "These kids were truly amazing."
State Representative Aaron Peña joined student leaders and volunteers along with UTPA's Bucky the Bronc and other area corporate mascots in welcoming the third through fifth-graders for the daylong activities.
Student groups volunteering included Delta Zeta, Student Leadership Academy, Omega Delta Phi, Kappa Delta Chi, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Alpha Sigma Tau, Student Leadership Program, University Program Board, University Ambassadors, Unity Hall, Student Government Association, Delta Xi Nu, Association of Migrant Students, and Delta Upsilon.
"It is always great to give back," said UTPA student and Omega Delta Phi member Luis Guzman II, who saw his young team - "Shake 'n Bake" - win a Mini-Olympic gold medal as the day's grand champions.
UTPA student Lori Aleman, a UTPA Ambassador, said she enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the children about seeking higher education.
"This project allowed me to see the way that we can have a positive influence on younger children and encourage them to attend college," she said.
Student Leadership Academy member Orlando Hinojosa joined others in noting that the Make a Difference Day event not only strengthens the community but also the University students' leadership skills. Fellow leadership academy member Vania Barrera agreed.
This is the third year UTPA has planned a project for the National Make a Difference Day, now in its 17th year. Created by USA Weekend Magazine, Make a Difference Day, which takes place the fourth Saturday of every October each year, has become the nation's most encompassing day of helping others with millions participating.
Amy Martin, director of UTPA's Student Leadership Academy, assisted a six-member student planning committee that organized the local project. She said the goal for the event was to connect the girls and boys with University students as well as to provide fun, educational sessions and activities to instill bonding between all the Boys & Girls Clubs in Edinburg.
"Hopefully, we fostered a special memory in every child to take back to their families as well as empowered them with information on the opportunities available to them through higher education," Martin said.
Other University support for the festival came from the UTPA Cheerleaders, the UTPA Offices of Intercollegiate Athletics, Auxiliary Services and Residence Life, Student Union, and the UTPA Helping Hands. Corporate supporters included Edinburg McDonald's, Marble Slab Creamery, A & L Athletics, Rio Grande Valley H-E-B, Cold Stone Creamery, Avant Premium Water, Academy Sports and Outdoors, Jack in the Box, Wendy's, Home Depot, Domino's, Red Robin, Breadsmith, Sam's Club, Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees and Little Caesars Pizza.
"The children really benefited from their interaction with the University students. It was a great opportunity for our kids to meet with them and be inspired about going to college," she said.
Founded in 1969, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg serve more than 19,000 young people, primarily from disadvantaged circumstances, offering them guidance-oriented programs emphasizing character and leadership, education, the arts, health and life skills, and sports, fitness and recreation. They operate eight chartered school sites, one school outreach program and eight safe neighborhood units where kids can spend time after school and during the summer.
For more information on Make a Difference Day projects conducted nationwide, log on to www.makeadifferenceday.com.