Tyrant’s Foe: Lourdes Flores Helps Colonia Residents Help Themselves

lourdes-660x475Lourdes Flores didn’t know she wanted to help others until someone helped her. She was born in Reynosa, Mexico, and moved to Mission, Texas, at age 12. When she graduated from high school she couldn’t legally work, so family members suggested she join a new community organization an Irish nun had founded in nearby Las Milpas. Las Milpas is one of many colonias along the border wracked by poverty and lacking basic necessities. At the time, the colonia didn’t have paved roads, public schools, a fire station, doctors or a pharmacy.

Flores, 42, has been with the organization, A Resource In Serving Equality (ARISE), ever since, working to improve conditions in colonias in the Rio Grande Valley. ARISE’s mission is to aid communities by helping residents identify life goals and helping them reach those goals on their own. Its guiding tenet: Don’t do anything for anybody that they can’t do for themselves. The organization’s founder, Sister Gerrie Naughton, recruited Flores early on and encouraged her to share her skills.

“I was discovering I had abilities I didn’t know I had; it made me feel really good,” Flores says. “I saw how much ARISE changed me, and I thought, ‘I can’t keep this for myself; I have to share it with other women.’”

Flores was involved in ARISE’s very first program: English lessons for women in the colonias. When ARISE was founded in 1987, the Immigration Reform and Control Act had granted legal amnesty to some immigrants living in the U.S. To qualify, the women needed to learn English. Flores was one of the few in the community who spoke English, so she started teaching other women. As more women obtained legal residency, they became eligible for driver’s licenses—so ARISE began a program to teach women how to drive.

Today ARISE has four community centers in three colonias near McAllen: Las Milpas, Muñiz and South Tower, each with a different director. Flores helped open the Muñiz center, headed the South Tower branch, and now directs the support center in South Tower.

At each center, the organization offers initiatives focusing on youth and adult leadership, and personal development. It runs three cycles of programs each year and helps about 3,800 families each cycle. ARISE members go door-to-door to ask women about their needs and encourage them to share their talents, often through teaching others.

Three of ARISE’s centers are dedicated solely to community programs, but the support center helps with training for all four centers. It also offers programs of its own: It recently opened a community garden and compost facility to teach the residents of Hidalgo County, one of Texas’ poorest counties, about sustainability, and it provides solar water heaters to South Tower families who cannot afford to have hot water in their homes. … FULL STORY