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"If You Can See It, You Can Be It"

"If You Can See It, You Can Be It"

(Written for the Harlingen Independent School District Media and Public Relations department) Commissioner Julian Alvarez III, representing Labor on the three-member Texas Workforce Commission, appointed by Governor Greg Abbott in 2016, grew up in Harlingen in the Fair Park neighborhood. He attended Bonham and Bowie Elementary schools and played football at Gay Junior High School. While attending Harlingen High School (HHS), he was a letterman in baseball. He graduated from HHS in 1982. His parents didn’t expect him to go to college after graduation. They were hard workers (his father from La Feria sold cars for more than 25 years at Boggus Ford and his mother from Harlingen worked as a bank teller) but they had not attained higher education. The Commissioner's decision to attend college was part of what he calls “mirror association” – his close childhood friends Roberto Gallaga (now an Athletic Coordinator/Athletic Teacher at Memorial Middle School in Harlingen) and Daniel Araiza (now Principal at Secondary Alternative Center in Harlingen) went to Texas A&I University in Kingsville, and he followed suit after briefly attending Texas Southmost College. The Commissioner had to pay for college on his own so he worked as a custodian at The Sportsman in the summers while his father helped by providing his sales commissions when he could. The Commissioner was the first and only member of his family to attend and complete college, earning his Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education degree from Texas A&I. His professional career started at Texas State Technical College (TSTC) in Harlingen. He also worked as a highway patrolman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. He returned to TSTC as their Director of College Information, where he was responsible for getting students in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) interested in the TSTC programs and support services. He then made the leap into the political arena by serving as the Texas Regional Director for U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. In that position, he championed legislative and policy issues related to south Texas. He also served as President and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership where he coordinated programs to advance economic development and employment opportunities. He was appointed to the Texas Workforce Commission in 2016 and has been extended by Governor Abbott through February 2023. As Commissioner, he is responsible for representing the interests of nearly 14.5 million working Texans, the second-largest skilled workforce in the United States, second only to California. During the pandemic the Commissioner informed me that more than 70 companies moved to Texas. The Commissioner was in Harlingen recently presenting Jobs & Education for Texans (JET) grant checks to Santa Maria Independent School District and the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District. When asked what the checks provide, he explained that the funds enable training for students interested in welding (or other industries like auto body and healthcare) with welding stations and virtual reality (VR) glasses. For the students interested in healthcare, they can use a simulator to draw blood or even use a mannequin to simulate childbirth. This unique kind of training allows students to learn right away if the job they believe they wanted is a match or not. Students who complete this training are then able to move on to jobs that require specific certifications and credentials. When I asked the Commissioner what advice he would give to students, he said success doesn’t “necessarily require a four-year degree.” Many of the demanding occupations require industry credentials and other forms of certifications. Another saying he likes to tell young girls is “ if you can see it, you can be it ,” meaning visualize yourself in the job you want, whether it be in coding or Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM)-related fields, and you can make it a reality. The Commissioner informed me that kids in the RGV have many opportunities now and are excelling at the regional, state, and even national levels when competing in such contests as FIRST Robotics. Overall, he said “who you surround yourself can pretty much tell you how you are going to be in the future. Find positive people and be around them.” The Commissioner continued, “be humble with your success that you are going to have in the future” and continue to love your family. Another of his favorite sayings is: “Remember when you wanted everything you have today,” which is a reminder to stay humble and be grateful for what you have and the hard work it took you to get there.

2023 Year in Review: Coffee, Restaurants, and More Places to Shop

2023 Year in Review: Coffee, Restaurants, and More Places to Shop

(This article was written by Lisa Campos and appeared in the December 2023 issue of the Explore Harlingen Magazine . Updates since the original article was written have been included.) 2023 was a big year for new businesses opening in Harlingen. Since January, I have been tracking and sharing new business openings on my Explore Harlingen community page on Facebook. Although the majority of what I tracked were restaurants, Harlingen did see a few retailers open locations this year, with national chain, Academy Sports and Outdoors, as one of the biggest and most exciting store openings in recent Harlingen history. Their newly constructed location at 2831 W. Expressway 83 in the Harlingen Corners shopping center (next to Five Below), celebrated its grand opening weekend November 17-19, 2023, with its soft opening for friends and family starting on November 12, 5-9 pm. Other new retailers that came to Harlingen this year included Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, a national discount closeout retailer, which opened on January 25 at Valle Vista Mall. Seasonal national store, Spirit Halloween, opened on August 12 at its temporary location at 1106 S. Expressway 83 and closed after Halloween. Several coffee shops opened in Harlingen this year, giving some healthy competition to Starbucks. Two national chains, Dutch Bros Coffee, which opened on June 30, and Scooter’s Coffee, which opened on August 13, brought their well-known offerings to Harlingen. Dutch Bros demolished the building at 1601 W. Harrison to create their brand-new drive thru only shop, while Scooter's Coffee constructed a new building for their drive-thru only shop at 2304 S. 77 Sunshine Strip. Additionally, several small coffee shops opened this year including: 4 Dogs Roasting, which offers coffee and tea accessories and gifts, opened on February 9 at 108 W. Jackson. Sovereign Coffee, of Brownsville, opened its second Rio Grande Valley (RGV) location in Harlingen on March 2 at 1733 S. 77 Sunshine Strip. NAME UPDATE: Cafe 406 (formerly Sparrows Sip & Thrift), a coffee shop featuring Erika's Gourmet Cookies, opened in mid-August at 406 E. Harrison. Tora Coffee & Tea, of Brownsville, opened its second location in Harlingen on September 29 at 620 W. Van Buren Ave. In addition to coffee, Harlingen added several places for its residents to eat this year, including: Ricardo's Restaurant, which has several locations throughout the RGV, opened on March 13 at 3201 S. Expressway 83, Unit C. Jersey Mike's Subs, a national submarine sandwich shop, opened on March 22 at 2217 W. Lincoln. Brady's Grill, a locally owned restaurant from La Feria, moved to Harlingen on May 6 at 610 Lewis Lane (however, they have since moved to San Antonio). Mariscos Tulum, a Mexican seafood restaurant, opened on June 13 at 102 N. 77 Sunshine Strip. Papas & Papas, a restaurant featuring build-your-own potatoes and potato tacos, opened on August 9 at 6704 W. Expressway 83, Suite D108. Main Street Boutique & Bistro moved from San Benito to Harlingen on August 31 inside the El Mercado shopping center at 712 N. 77 Sunshine Strip, Suite 6. Wings and Rings, a national wing restaurant and bar, opened on September 25 at 6710 W Expressway 77/83. Harlingen’s first gourmet donut shop, Sugarz Gourmet Donuts, located at 224 E. Jackson in downtown Harlingen, held its soft opening on November 18. The Moon Rock, Harlingen’s food truck park at 1811 W. Jefferson Ave., saw the arrival of two new trucks this year: a gourmet sandwich truck, Hatter's Sammiches, which opened on August 16, and Teddy's Barbecue of Weslaco, which launched its Harlingen food truck on August 25. UPDATE: Hatter's Sammiches relocated in December to the parking lot of Broken Tap on Ed Carey Drive. A new local bar also opened in Harlingen this year. DRINK UP is a woman-owned bar that serves specialty cocktails, beer, and snacks. It is located at 1226 Morgan Blvd., in the former Feldman’s space. The opening of Aguilar's Meat Market on October 5 was highly anticipated, as it had been in the works for close to three years. This market boasts “the freshest meat in the Valley,” and sells fresh produce, groceries, barbecue supplies, and more. It is located at 4226 S. Expressway 83. Stefano’s Brooklyn Pizza, which burned down in December 2021, has spent the past two years rebuilding their location at 4201 W. Business 83. Their highly awaited reopening is expected to occur before the end of 2023. Our neighbors in Combes and Primera also saw some new businesses, including a Love’s Country Store with a Godfather’s Pizza inside, which opened on April 24 in Combes and a new Dollar Tree at Stuart Place and Wilson, which opened on April 29 for Primera residents. Additional businesses are in the process of coming to Harlingen, possibly in 2024, including: Mr. Gatti’s, which closed because of the pandemic, included Harlingen as an upcoming location on their website. Address and estimated opening date are yet to be announced. A simulated indoor golf course and bar called The Deep End at 8311 Business 83, is in the construction phase. Cajun restaurant and bar, Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux (near Bass Pro in the Cameron Crossing shopping center), is preparing for groundbreaking. Black Bear Diner, a homestyle and old-fashioned comfort food café, is coming to 6706 W. Expressway 83. Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply will occupy the space formerly occupied by Dillard’s department store at Valle Vista Mall. UPDATE: Matt's Cash and Carry, broke ground on December 15 for its newest location in Harlingen, at 2650 N. Expresway 77 I will continue to track these new businesses and others as they are announced, on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ExploreHarlingen .

50 Years of Community: The Heartbeat of Harlingen Community Theatre

50 Years of Community: The Heartbeat of Harlingen Community Theatre

(This article was written by Beth Marie Cantu and appeared in the June 2024 issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine .) “Let’s try that again.” The man at the piano flips back a few pages in his music score. He repeats his instructions to the people on the stage, which is littered with mismatched chairs and reusable water bottles. They all sing the same phrase they’ve been working on for the last quarter of an hour, but this time, there’s something better. Enough to make the man at the piano shout out in joy. Once they’re done, he lets out a loud whoop, and the crowd dissolves into giggles and chatter, but what quiets them down is when the man turns to the audience and calls out: “What do you think, Miss Kathy?” Somewhere in the audience, behind a folding table littered with scripts and stacks of paperwork, Miss Kathy beams like a proud mother. “Beautiful! Did you hear how that filled up the auditorium?” The cast members smile at each other, ready to move onto the rest of the song, but Mike Ensign, the music director, isn’t ready to move on quite yet. “Let’s do that one more time.” The cast groans good-naturedly as he plays their starting notes. It, in fact, was not the last time he’d have them sing that particular part of the song, but they all knew that was the kind of meticulousness that would make their show great. The Harlingen Community Theatre (HCT) embodies the magic of local arts and community unity. The journey of HCT, now celebrating its 50th season, reflects a rich history of resilience and growth. From humble beginnings as the Briggs-Coleman Country Playhouse to its current establishment on Fair Park Boulevard, HCT has overcome challenges like nomadic performances and warehouse spaces without AC, thanks to the unwavering support of the local community. But what truly makes HCT unique is its commitment to nurturing local talent. As a nonprofit community theatre, HCT prides itself on producing four to five Broadway-quality musicals or plays annually, showcasing the diverse talents of the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) who are referred to as their “shining stars.” From children to adults, the cast members are all local performers who bring their passion and dedication to each production. At the heart of HCT's success are passionate individuals like Mike Ensign, a board member and dedicated music director, whose passion for educating and performance fuels the theatre's vibrant productions. “The theatre gave me a home and family when I was missing my own,” he states fondly. Having relocated from Northern Illinois to the Harlingen area to teach at the local schools, Ensign joined the theatre for a production of Godspell in 2014 on a whim, and now he can’t picture his life without it. Kathy Eunice, affectionately known as "Miss Kathy," embodies the soul of HCT, with her enduring love for the theatre spanning decades and touching the lives of countless community members. “I started working with the theatre first back in 1976 when the company was in the Briggs Coleman Schoolhouse,” Miss Kathy reminisces fondly. “I volunteered to work concessions with my friends in LEO Club at Harlingen HS. My stage debut was in the mid-80s production of the King and I.” Miss Kathy, when she is not working as a music teacher at Austin Elementary School, serves as the board chairperson and a frequent mainstage director for the troupe. Even when Miss Kathy isn’t serving as the director for a show, she stays close by to help monitor, give wisdom and words of encouragement, and acts as a surrogate mother, nurse, and confidant to all who happen to step through the doors of HCT. Beyond its mainstage productions, HCT opens its doors for a variety of events, offering its space for rentals to groups such as dance performances, choral concerts, piano and voice recitals, beauty pageants, and even weddings. This inclusive approach not only enriches the cultural landscape of Harlingen but also provides opportunities for diverse artistic expressions. One of the hallmarks of HCT is its commitment to fine arts education through initiatives like the Summer Youth/Teen Theatre Intensive. Led by licensed fine arts educators from the area, this camp offers a holistic theatre experience encompassing set/prop building, acting skills, music training, and stage presence. The culmination of this camp is a performance of a musical, fostering camaraderie among young artists and nurturing the next generation of stage performers and enthusiasts. HCT also encourages people of all ages to join their shows. “We are a learning theatre, and we’ve had everyone from ages 8 to 80 on our stage!” Ensign proudly states. “Whether you have experience or not, we would love for you to be a part of our family. If we can swing it, we try to include everyone we can into each show.” As HCT embarks on its 50th season with productions like "Moana Jr." and "Grease," it invites the community to join in the celebration of art, talent, and togetherness. For HCT, the community isn't just an audience; it's family, the lifeblood that sustains the theatre and keeps its legacy alive. The Harlingen Community Theatre relies entirely on ticket sales and generous donations to fund upcoming shows and sustain its operations, ensuring its continued success and vibrancy. “The (COVID-19) pandemic nearly destroyed us, but thanks to the generosity of our shining stars, we were able to keep our heads afloat, just barely surviving,” states Ensign. “Many local theatres are for profit or have trust funds set up to sustain themselves. We are not quite as fortunate.” “The community impacts our theatre by providing us with our talent base,” adds Miss Kathy. “The community has been a valuable asset over the years. They are family!” After several years of struggle, the HCT family found a light in the darkness with their most recent production of Fiddler on the Roof. The success of the production had local theatre enthusiasts reeling, with 4 out of 6 performances fully sold out. “We had to turn people away at the door, which hasn’t happened since our final production before the shutdown in 2020. It ended just the week before the world stopped moving,” states Alex Pilcher, longtime HCT shining star who typically helps run the front of the house alongside her grandmother, Johnnie Hahs. And as the curtain closes on another successful rehearsal at HCT, the cast slowly trickles out, giving hugs and saying goodbye, despite knowing they’ll be returning the next night. Even though the building is empty, the dedication and passion continue to linger in the air. The shining stars, both new and returning, know that the next day will bring something different, something new, and draws them so much closer together, as a community and a family. To learn more about upcoming shows, tickets, volunteer opportunities, or rental information, reach out to HCT via email at playhousefairpark97@gmail.com or check out their website hctvalleystars.org .

A Four-in-One at Chyann’s

A Four-in-One at Chyann’s

(This article was written by Steven Hughes and edited by Lisa Campos and appeared in the January 2024 issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine .) Chyann’s Specialty Café, located in downtown Harlingen, is Harlingen’s first mother and daughter owned café. Chyann’s reflects their many hats, with the cafe, event center, catering services, and boutique store all in one place.   “We’re unique,” Josie Olivares, co-owner, said over the phone. “We’re not just the one hat.”   Olivares and Kendra Hernandez, her daughter and co-owner who created the menu, developed a space where guests could enjoy waffles decorated with fresh fruit and powdered sugar and also buy a gift.   “It warms me because every time I walk by a table, they say it’s good food, or I see them taking a photo of it. It warms my body just knowing people enjoy what we do,” Hernandez said over the phone. “I love it whenever kids call us the piggy place (due to our pig-themed décor). That’s our nickname.”   Although the two Harlingen natives didn’t have food experience leading up to opening the cafe, they opened their doors as the coronavirus’ grasp on the world slowly weakened in 2021. Hernandez, only 15 years old at the time, took customers’ orders while in high school Zoom lectures.   Meanwhile, her mother was in the kitchen making home-cooked meals. Their menu consists of breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch, sweets, salads, and coffee. Customer favorites include their meatloaf and stuffed chicken. They are also well known for their beautiful charcuterie boards. As the team at Chyann’s Specialty Cafe grew, it garnered a fan base that often asks for their services in and outside their building from Weslaco to Brownsville.   Chyann’s Specialty Cafe offers space for small events like birthday parties, baby and bridal showers, Friendsgiving dinners, and more. They provided catering services for approximately 450 events in 2023.   For more information, visit them at 110 E. Jackson Street in Harlingen or call them at 956-496-2754. They are open Wednesday through Friday, 8 am to 3 pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 9 am to 1 pm.

A Glimpse into Your Day: Timeless Fashion Wedding & Quinceañera Expo

A Glimpse into Your Day: Timeless Fashion Wedding & Quinceañera Expo

(This article was written by Abigail Muniz-Garcia and appeared in the June 2024 issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine .) Vanessa Martinez wants people to feel inspired when they visit the “Timeless Fashion Wedding & Quinceañera Expo” happening on June 2nd in Harlingen. “It’s gonna be a glimpse of your beautiful day,” Martinez said. The event has been in the works since January. Martinez, who is a small business owner herself, hopes that the expo will also help spotlight other small businesses in the Harlingen area. “I’ve met a ton of small businesses in Harlingen that are ready to provide a service and they just haven’t been able to find the exposure yet,” she said. “If we can find a way for (customers) to connect to local businesses, it becomes more personal.” During the event, visitors can expect a runway show every hour on the hour. Martinez said that they will take volunteers on the spot to try on dresses. “The theme that I’m trying to go around is the dresses,” she said. “What makes mine different from the other expos is that the teen girls are modeling (the quinceañera dresses).” The goal is to have at least 25 vendors for the event. There will also be door prizes ranging from $25 to $4,000, which will be provided by the vendors that will take part in the expo. She said that she wants guests to feel at ease when they enter the event. “It’s not invasive; everything is free,” she said. “You’re interviewing these businesses to see if you match with them.” Martinez has been the business owner of Serenity & Grace Bakery & Boutique in Harlingen for four years. While she’s referred to as the “cookie lady” because of her specialty macarons, she sees herself as more of a themed party planner. “That’s my umbrella. I love detailing desserts and that’s my specialty now,” she said. “It really does make me feel special to make (the customer’s) party memorable.” While she hopes that this event is memorable for all the attendants, she hopes to also make it a yearly event. “I’m hoping that if we continue to do this at least once a year, vendors will look forward to it. This will start and encourage other businesses to join and be part of it,” she said. The Timeless Fashion Wedding & Quinceañera Expo will take place on Sunday, June 2, 2024 from 1 pm to 5 pm at La Fontana Event Center located on 2102 W Teege Ave. in Harlingen. It’s free and open to the community.

A Raging Good Time

A Raging Good Time

When I told my 8-year-old daughter about the new rage room in Harlingen, Out-RAGE-Us, she wanted to go immediately. Out-RAGE-Us, "the original STX rage room" opened in Harlingen on July 16, 2021. They started with one rage room on opening day, but quickly expanded to two rage rooms, with a new paint splatter room already in the works. I went to their website to make a reservation. They currently have three options: BYOB Bring Your Own Breakables - 15 minutes for $15 per person Regular Session - 20 minutes for $30 per person Big Bang Session - 45 minutes for $50 per person We chose the Regular Session and paid in full to reserve our spot. (Kids are $5 less so I was refunded $5 after our session.) When we arrived, we signed the waiver (or you can save time by filling it out online). We waited for a few minutes while they were cleaning up the room from the previous appointment. We were taken to the back to get suited up with jumpsuit, goggles, construction hats, and gloves. We were asked to choose two items each to use in the rage room. Choices included hammers, baseball bats, and golf clubs. (Pro tip: the golf clubs worked the best for us, doing the most damage!) Once we got into our rage room, we were given some safety instructions and were asked not to hit the walls directly, although we could throw things against them. We were provided with two crates of breakables (plates, glasses, coffee cups, old radios, etc.). Then the timer began and we went for it! I had never seen my daughter like that! She destroyed everything, lol. And I could tell she was having an excellent time. It's hard to think that little kids have stress, but with the challenges of the pandemic, virtual learning, and lack of socialization during Covid, I couldn't blame her! About halfway through our session, the staff asked if we wanted water to drink. I am glad they did because with the jumpsuit and other items we had to wear, we got hot quickly. We took a brief water break and then continued. We had wanted them to record video of us, but the video was only set up in one of the two rooms. I believe they are working on take-home videos for an added cost. I was able to make a quick video of her destroying an old TV. Overall, we had a blast! It was an awesome way to relieve stress. Where else can you break stuff and not get in trouble? My daughter said she wanted to come back again! If you are sensitive to strobe lighting or loud music, this activity might not be for you. Out-RAGE-Us The Original STX Rage Room 802 E. Harrison Harlingen TX 78550 956-434-8005 They are open 5 pm to 11 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; and 3 pm to 12 midnight on Friday and Saturday (closed on Sunday and Monday). Out-RAGE-Us on Facebook Out-RAGE-Us website

Art Night is Back!

Art Night is Back!

UPDATE: As of June 2021, the event time is 7-10 pm.
One of my favorite community events, Art Night, came back on May 28, 2021. This event is held in downtown Harlingen on the last Friday of the month from 6 pm to 9 pm. Art Night is an opportunity for creatives to showcase their skills, whether it be music, paintings, crafts, or jewelry. For more details, follow Harlingen Art Night on Instagram .

Awesome Alpaca Adventures

Awesome Alpaca Adventures

We discovered the Alpaquita Ranch in Raymondville, Texas in the spring of 2021. It is a one-of-a-kind experience where you can walk an alpaca, feed them, pet them, and pose for pictures with them. Typical alpaca tours at other properties do not allow you to get up close and personal with the alpacas. Alpaquita Ranch only charges $25/person for 1 and a half hours (previously 45 minutes) of this amazing activity! Go to their website ahead of time to reserve your spot. When you arrive, your tour guide will provide some basic information about alpacas. You must sign a waiver before the tour can begin, as the alpacas may spit or kick. You will learn the correct and safe way to walk an alpaca to minimize any kicking/injuries. The staff can take pictures of you interacting with the alpacas if you ask them and will share the photos with you at the end of the tour. My daughter and I have gone four times now (in March, May, and December 2021 and June 2022). We just love it! It is an awesome way for your family or you and your date to have a unique experience together and have fun. Alpaquita Ranch 6501 Israel Cavazos Raymondville, TX Alpaquita Ranch Facebook Page Alpaquita Ranch Reservation System

Birders Flock to Harlingen Each November

Birders Flock to Harlingen Each November

(This article was written by Lisa Campos and appeared in the Explore Harlingen Magazine , November 2023 issue .) The 30th Annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (RGVBF) is a five-day festival that celebrates birding in Harlingen. The Harlingen Convention Center hosts the RGVBF, a non-profit festival, which begins on November 8, 2023, and runs through November 12, 2023. The RGVBF is run by more than 100 volunteers, highlights more than 60 vendors, and brings in approximately $3 million to the local economy annually. “I think a lot of people who live here don’t even realize that we have the second largest bird festival in the entire country right here in Harlingen. The Rio Grande Valley (RGV) is one of the top birding destinations in all of North America. Our festival is an avenue for hundreds of birders from out of state, as well as locals from the RGV, to enjoy and learn about the birds here. We’re always expanding things for our RGV locals to take advantage of, including trips to new places that birders aren’t always allowed, a new fancy Legends of Conservation Gala, and loads of family fun, from our art shows and contests to the live ‘birds of prey’ shows where you can interact with some amazing birds from just feet away,” stated Justin LeClaire, Field Trip Chair of the RGVBF. More than 500 participants from all over the world flock to Harlingen to attend the RGVBF for a chance to see millions of migratory and resident birds. RGVBF activities include the Birder’s Bazaar tradeshow, keynote speakers, workshops, and more than 100 field trips by bus, van, or boat. Field trips are held throughout the RGV, including the following locations: Cactus Creek Ranch in Rio Hondo, TX Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, TX Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Los Fresnos, TX National Butterfly Center in Mission, TX Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, TX Resaca de la Palma State Park in Brownsville, TX Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, TX Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, TX South Padre Island Bird and Nature Center in South Padre Island, TX And dozens more My daughter and I attended the RGVBF for the first time last year in 2022. We were blown away by the size of the festival, number of attendees, and quality of the programming. We took the Parrot Palooza evening field trip and found some red-crowned parrots and green parakeets here in Harlingen. I also took the Masterclass Birding tour led by Jon Dunn, field guide author, at the Frontera Audubon in Weslaco, TX. Registration is $50 for the full event, or you may purchase an individual pass for $10 per day for Saturday, November 11, 2023 or Sunday, November 12, 2023. Attendees must be registered to sign up for field trips, workshops, keynote speakers, or seminars, which are priced separately. Visitors who want to attend the tradeshow or free family/children’s activities such as the Birds of Prey Flight Show or Children’s Nature Nook, do not need to register. The festival team is a nonprofit group, with nearly all its supporters being volunteers. More help is always needed to keep the 2nd biggest bird festival in the United States running well. RGVBF has a variety of potential ways to help in either the planning or execution phases of the festival, including tech work, children’s art, hospitality/housekeeping, and many others. Volunteers are given free access to many festival events! For questions about how you can help or sign up to be a volunteer, please email Sylvia at volunteers@rgvbf.org . The RGVBF starts on Wednesday, November 8, 2023, and ends on Sunday, November 12, 2023. Most of the events (aside from the field trips) occur at the Harlingen Convention Center located at 701 Harlingen Heights Drive in Harlingen. For more information, you can contact Justin LeClaire, RGVBF Field Trip Chair, at fieldtrips@rgvbf.org . Or you can visit their website, www.rgvbf.org .

Blue Sunday: An Advocate for Abused Children in the RGV

Blue Sunday: An Advocate for Abused Children in the RGV

(This article was written by Abigail Muniz-Garcia and appeared in the June 2024 issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine .) Janet Magee remembers a defining moment in her mission to advocate for abused children. While she and her husband awaited their turn in family court about 30 years ago, she witnessed eight siblings being reunited for the first time in months in that court room. Although she didn’t know those children, what happened next is something she won’t forget. The children’s joy turned into sadness and grief when their mother never showed up. Later, Magee found out that over 2,000 children in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) were in the care of Child Protective Services (CPS). “That was our awakening moment… that we had to do something about this,” Magee said. “We wanted to be the hands and feet of Christ. It has evolved the way God meant for it to evolve.” Magee and her husband were in family court that day because of their daughter’s battle with addiction, which meant repeated home visits, interviews, and days at family court because of their own grandchildren. Blue Sunday, a nonprofit organization, was founded after that in 1994. The organization has two goals. The first is to raise awareness among the faith community through their Blue Ribbon Church Program and an event, which happens the last Sunday in April, called National Blue Sunday Day of Prayer for Abused Children. The second goal is to meet the needs of abused children living in the RGV. “The way we operate is that we work side by side with CPS and other agencies,” Magee said. “We have a monthly brown bag lunch. We have lunch together to talk about what the needs (in the Valley) are.” She mentions that the agencies in the area are not in competition with each other but rather come together to help one another help abused children in the RGV. “We work as a really large team of agencies. Even though we are not connected in name, we are connected in heart,” she stated. Blue Sunday has relief projects planned throughout the year. One such project is the Annual Blue Zoo event that brings foster children together with their siblings. This event happens in late summer. This year will be the first time the event will happen since the pandemic put a stall to it several years ago. “We want to fill in the blanks. We want these kids to know that there are people that care and believe in them,” Magee said. During Christmas time, they run a project called Annual Brighter Christmas Campaign for Abused Children which helps provide food, Christmas trees, and of course, gifts to children. “We are a ministry. We are faith based and want to share the love of Christ. Sometimes it’s just standing by these agencies,” Magee said. “Today we helped two families with CPS cases with their groceries,” she said. “We just try to meet the needs.” While the organization works on relief projects such as the ones mentioned throughout the year, Magee says they work daily on ensuring families stay together and children are taken care of. Magee encourages people to visit their website, bluesunday.org . The “Partner with Prevention Professionals” tab on the site offers resources for anyone who is interested in helping or learning more.

Brody Rivers: RGV’s American Idol

Brody Rivers: RGV’s American Idol

(This article was written by Lisa Campos and appeared in the May 2024 issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine .) This feature is a follow up to the “Rio Hondo Musician Makes Idol Debut” article that appeared in the February 2024 issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine . Brody Rivers, lead singer of the country group, Brody Rivers Band of Rio Hondo, auditioned for the national television reality singing competition program, American Idol. Although his audition did not air on ABC, he was given a “yes” vote from each of the celebrity judges to earn a golden ticket to Hollywood. Brody contemplated on his American Idol experience, “American Idol has been one of the greatest door openers for me and to lift off my career. Competing against 60,000 people just to step foot in front of Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Katy Perry. I happened to be in the less than 1% of people that got to audition in front of them.” During Hollywood week, only 60 of the 143 contestants who received the golden ticket appeared on television and Brody was not one of them. Although Brody again received a “yes” from each judge in the Hollywood round of auditions, he was ultimately not selected for the top 24. “I'm more than happy with how far I've come. Being able to say I was there with everyone making it through is more than enough for me. I thank God for giving me this opportunity, and when I say doors have opened, I truly mean they have burst,” Brody reflected. The Brody Rivers Band performs locally at several venues throughout south Texas. You can follow them on social media: Facebook (@thebrodyriversband), Instagram (@thebrodyriversband), TikTok (@brodyrivers), YouTube (@brodyrivers), and his website, www.brodyrivers.com .

Charcuterie for Brunch? Yes, Please!

Charcuterie for Brunch? Yes, Please!

I've got three words for you: breakfast charcuterie board. My daughter and I went to Chyann's Specialty Treats this morning to try their new brunch offering. We ordered the personal breakfast charcuterie board to share. My daughter is picky, so I thought she would only eat the pancakes, but I wanted her to have some options. She ate nearly everything! She loved the eggs, sausage, pancakes, waffles, and fruit. The only thing she didn't try was the bacon, so thank goodness I got to savor the thick-cut bacon by myself! For two adults, I would suggest ordering the shareable board for 2. We also ordered chocolate-covered strawberries (special for Mother's Day) for dessert. We finished everything; it was all so delicious. My daughter rated them "infinity" stars! Chyann's Specialty Treats is a family-owned business. Josie is the owner and she runs it with her daughter, Chyann. Miguel "Chip" was our server, who was very attentive and friendly. The restaurant itself was clean and decorated with a cute pig theme. We're thinking of starting a new mother-daughter tradition of eating brunch here every Saturday morning! Chyann's Specialty Treats 110 E. Jackson (new location as of June 2022) Harlingen TX 78550 956-496-2454 Brunch is served on Saturday (8 am to 1 pm) and Sunday (9 am to 1 pm); also open for breakfast and lunch 8 am to 3 pm on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays) Dining options: dine in, outdoor dining coming soon Chyann's Specialty Treats on Facebook

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