Touched by tragedy, director of community services embraces the plight of Valley’s vulnerable

The Hidalgo County Community Services Agency office is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy of Hidalgo County CSA)

EDINBURGH — Among the walls decorated with images and symbols, the stories of those who struggled engulfed the room filling the silence. With teary eyes, Jaime Longoria looked around his office on Thursday at the photograph of his children and those who inspired him to help those in need.

It was as if, in an instant, he relived 58 years of life.

For Jaime, executive director of the Hidalgo County Community Services Agency, these photos are more than just moments in time, they represent what he believes in: people helping others. He and his staff spend their days helping vulnerable people by providing basic necessities such as food, shelter, water and other forms of assistance.

As a child growing up around the Catholic Church, Jaime was influenced by nuns who fought for social justice and kindness to others. When he entered college, he majored in political science with a minor in economics, but his desire to help others never faded.

He worked with the state in the colonies to help people belonging to vulnerable populations. However, it was during this time that his family fell on their own hard times.

The death of her 6-year-old son, who underwent a heart transplant in 2006, left her family in mourning.

“We were a vulnerable family too,” Jaime said in a heavy voice as he looked at a framed photo of his son’s footprint that had a Winnie the Pooh quote written on it.

Doctors and friends supported Jaime and his family throughout his son’s stay in hospital, giving them someone to lean on during difficult times.

“He’s had a tremendous medical journey, more than you can imagine,” Jaime said. “Through this situation, we have realized that people can be vulnerable at any time.”

He filled his office with photographs of his family as well as images of Wrigley Field and the New York Yankees. Wrigley Field reminds Jaime of the kindness and dedication of his son’s doctors who were from Chicago. He keeps the Yankees photo as a tribute to his father.

Despite the hardships and tragedy he faced, Jaime learned to translate those experiences into helping to reach other families.

Monica Hinojosa, emergency services co-ordinator for the county, and Sheriff’s Deputy Manuel Morales distribute heaters and smoke alarms to those in need at the Hidalgo County Community Services Agency in Edinburgh on Friday. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

THE WORK

Jaime then worked for the Hidalgo County Judge for four years and then moved to the service agency where he has worked for the past seven years.

Now that he reaches 25 years of working to help his community, he looks back on how many lives he has changed and how they have changed him.

The agency serves approximately 80 to 100 people per day. He said every call is a “call of desperation”.

According to Jaime, poverty is the biggest challenge facing the Rio Grande Valley, encompassing a range of issues such as housing, medical care, access to health care and other necessities.

With help from local businesses such as hotels, restaurants, the United Way, the Salvation Army, and other organizations, the agency helps provide clients with proper care and assistance.

Although he’s been through a lot throughout his career, some instances have stuck with him, like the time a woman called the agency asking for help for her dad, who was terminally ill. ‘cancer.

When Jaime and his team arrived at the man’s home, they found him in a dilapidated trailer with grass growing between the floors of the rat-infested living space. He remembers walking into the trailer on a hot summer day in the middle of July and the man boiling water on a hot plate to keep his tracheostomy tube moist.

“We went to visit him and really he didn’t want our help, he thought we were part of the system that was going to give him hope and then let him down like everyone else,” Jaime said, his tone gentle belying the emotional heaviness of the situation. “He literally threw a bottle of alcohol at us, he wanted to get us out of his house.”

After helping him accept their help, Jaime and the agency were able to move the man out of his trailer and into an apartment where he died two weeks after moving in. His daughter called Jaime gratefully and thanked him for allowing her father to die. with dignity and comfort.

Jaime keeps a picture of this man on his phone as a reminder of the situations they want to change.

This is not the only case that is close to his heart.

While working for the state, Jaime received a call from a woman, Rosa Linda Vallejo, who was looking for help providing water services to her neighborhood.

“She said to me, ‘I think I’m going to die before I get the water service,'” Jaime said. “True to her word, she ended up passing away before water was approved in her neighborhood.”

He remembers wanting to tell her as soon as he learned that the water had been approved for his community. When he arrived at her house, Rosa Linda’s daughter told him that she had died.

He keeps a photo of her as a reminder of the importance of working effectively to help vulnerable people. His photo is displayed on his desk next to a photo of his son, a juxtaposition that further highlights Jaime’s dedication to the community.

Although not every story is a success, he continues to strive to improve people’s lives. Constant criticism from those who believe government support systems are only there to help people who don’t deserve it, or those who rip off the system, is what makes it difficult to work as a community servant, he said. he explains.

Richard Terry stands in front of his rural Mercedes home after the roof was repaired by the Hidalgo County Community Services Agency. The roof was damaged during a powerful storm in 2019. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

ACTS ON DOUBT

When people believe that the agency only works for their own benefit and takes advantage of people’s pain, or that they don’t really care about the community, Jaime had to consider whether he could stay with the agency. .

“It’s hard when you hear that kind of criticism… It wears down the staff,” Jaime said.

But when he remembers the people whose lives have been changed because of his work, it motivates him to keep helping vulnerable communities.

In fact, he often visits the people he has helped just to see how they are doing. Watching his clients thrive after all they’ve been through has been a continued source of comfort, knowing he’s made a difference.

Not only did it touch the life of the community, but it also impacted the lives of its staff. He remembers feeling hopeful and happy after one of his team members took it upon himself to help a little boy with leukemia.

The staff member held a fundraiser with the agency to raise money and buy video games for him as well as a Nintendo Switch which was gifted to the boy in a giant shopping cart.

He smiled thinking of his staff and the initiative they take every day to provide assistance. He was especially proud of his team’s dedication during the pandemic in which they wore smocks, shields, gloves and other gear just so they could keep helping others.

One moment in particular marked him throughout the pandemic. In his prime, he remembers getting a call from a woman who was crying and believed she was going to die after she and her family contracted COVID-19.

She called him sobbing for fear of not being able to feed her family. Jaime and her group, although they never met her in person, delivered food outside the family home for two weeks until they recovered.

The pandemic has quadrupled the need for organizations such as the Community Services Agency to help the overwhelming number of people affected by the virus.

“It brought a whole new dimension. They were all people who were living on the brink, they were on the verge of falling into poverty, into vulnerability,” Jaime explained, adding that the pandemic has increased the number of poor people.

Now nearing a post-pandemic period, it is not uncommon for him to receive three to five emergency calls a day.

More recently, in fact, Jaime and his team answered a call from a woman who was having trouble getting a new apartment after being evicted. It was the day before the Monday night storm and he called her to let her know they had a hotel room booked for her and her family.

On the day of the storm, she called him crying, thanking him for his help.

“I remember thinking, ‘Thank God we got her out of the rain,'” Jaime said.

The next day, once the rain had passed, the agency was ready to help those affected by the storm. They have helped 11 people in western Hidalgo County as well as a family in Edinburgh who lost part of their home to the weather.

After the mass shooting deaths of 18 schoolchildren and two teachers at Robb Primary School in Uvalde on Tuesday, Jaime said he spoke to officials there to offer any help the agency could provide.

You can also seek assistance by contacting Jaime or other agency staff at (956) 383-6240. The office is located at 2524 N. Closner Blvd. in Edinburgh.

Norma P. Rex