Students help spruce up city of McAllen neighborhood during annual service project
Posted: 05/07/2008
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Close to 130 student volunteers from The University of Texas-Pan American were able to help make a huge difference - literally in tons - in a Rio Grande Valley neighborhood April 19 when they teamed with Keep McAllen Beautiful to conduct UTPA's fifth annual United to Serve project.

Joined by 10 UTPA staff members, university students helped clear approximately 47 tons of trash - including nearly 700 tires - and other debris from the streets and yards of elderly, disabled and low-income residents in the Idela Park and La Balboa areas of the city. Two neighborhood houses also got a coat of paint during the day thanks to the volunteers' daylong efforts.

UTPA students Houston Gomez (left) and Humberto Alex Rodriguez (right) helped clear old tires from a McAllen neighborhood during the University's fifth annual United to Serve project.
"The United to Serve project once again showed the positive impact that UTPA students can have on our community. Through their service, lives were changed, and it was amazing to see the community coming out and cleaning their yards while the students cleaned the alley ways. It became a group effort to clean the 70 blocks and make one area a little nicer to live," said staff volunteer Christine Stuart-Carruthers, assistant director, UTPA Office of Student Life and Transition Services.

Held in close conjunction with National Volunteer Week, this year April 26-May 3, United to Serve is a University of Texas System-wide volunteer initiative involving UT System students, administrators, faculty and staff in an effort to engage and mobilize thousands of volunteers in the more than 15 communities where UT System institutions and/or facilities are located or serve.

"This project provides students the chance to give back to the community as well as promotes an interest in lifelong volunteerism in our students," Amy Martin, assistant to UTPA's Dean of Students and the United to Serve project coordinator.

UTPA sophomore Aaron Alvarez, a member of Omega Delta Phi Fraternity, said he appreciated the group camaraderie of the event that brought together students from a number of the University's student organizations to work on one project.

UTPA student John-Robert Iruegas (right) assists fellow student Maria Hinojosa (center) as they joined other volunteers in helping paint two McAllen houses during UTPA's United to Serve event April 19.
"I learned it's not about who you are or who you're with; it's about what you're doing. We all came together, in unity, to better serve our surrounding community and make a difference," he said.

The reaction of the neighborhood's residents made an impression on John-Robert Iruegas, a UTPA junior who volunteered.

"I was part of a group that got to paint a family's house, and the astonishment on their faces when we were done gave me a great feeling," he said.

According to Chris Lash, Keep McAllen Beautiful executive director, the project area was just identified recently by McAllen city officials as one in great need of a clean-up. Volunteers from the city's offices of code enforcement, parks, public works, police and the recycling center worked alongside the University's students. Lash said it was a privilege to work with UTPA.

"Our community is the one who benefitted from this tremendous effort and we are very thankful that it came together as greatly as it did. UTPA staff and student volunteer organizations did a great job of organizing the group of volunteers so in turn, it made it a great collaborative effort for all of us involved," she said.

For more information on United to Serve activities on other UT System campuses, go to