Update: No after-school program for struggling Texas border community
Gavina Barrera raised four children in her home, including a daughter who still lives there with her own children.
September 23rd, 2011
04:56 PM ET

Update: No after-school program for struggling Texas border community

Priscilla Martinez wishes the children of Las Lomas had an after-school program this fall. But in this Texas border community poverty is the norm, and extras like after-school programs are luxuries.

"We don’t have any funding right now," said Martinez, director of Colonias Unidas, the community center in Las Lomas that usually hosts the after-school program. "We're just hanging on by a string."

Colonias Unidas' primary source of funding comes from revenue from mailboxes the center rents to Las Lomas residents. That money ran out after this year's summer program, which provided the children of Las Lomas with lunch and a place to play four days a week, Martinez said.

CNN visited Las Lomas in July, when the summer program was in full swing. Gavina Barrera, a resident of Las Lomas, showed us around the community, which is known in bureaucrat-speak as a "colonia," or an unincorporated settlement usually lacking water, sewage systems, sanitation or electricity.

In Las Lomas, in unincorporated Starr County about an hour from McAllen, median household income was $22,418 in 2009.

Explore the country by the numbers on CNN.com's census map

Barrera, a naturalized U.S. citizen who moved to Las Lomas in 1984, has seen the colonia grow from a shanty town to a neighborhood with paved roads and drainage systems. It may be substandard to many Americans, but given the progress of the past 20 years, it's a place Barrera is proud to call home.

But with each step forward, it seems another hurdle arises.

Colonias Unidas held an after-school program last year from September to May, she said. From Monday to Thursday, high school students provided homework help to younger children, receiving a stipend as incentive. This year, the money ran out before fall, Martinez said.

In the meantime, residents look forward to the little things, she said. Colonias Unidas holds a monthly "mercadito," where residents can sell handmade crafts or used household items. In October, architecture students from Texas A&M University will build a playground on the community center's grounds.

"That's something we look forward to. It gives motivation to the community, and that's important when you have little in the way of wealth or material possessions." she said. "People live simple lives here, but basically, as long as they're safe and their families are safe, they're happy."

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Filed under: Census • Economy • Texas
soundoff (220 Responses)
  1. Lynn

    What you don't seem to understand is that many of these people are very limited in what they can eat because the cheaper food is often so fattening and full of chemicals. Also, poor diet and nutrition can lead to many weight issues where a person may look obese, but they are very unhealthy from the types of food they eat and lack of exercise due to low energy etc. It is an ignorant statement to say they are fat, therefore they must not be missing meals. My sister is overweight and she hardly eats anything. She has an illness that won't let her lose the weight.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Your sister would be in the minority if she has a physical ailment which is beyond all control.

      But Oh Yeah. We don't realize they must be absolutely starving.
      Because as human beings ourselves, we can't possibly understand how a person gets all the belly fat. Guess what. If they like crappy food, they are going to eat crappy food. It's about making choices in life. Clearly you are not trusting these women to make their own choices, because if they are "poor," they don't have choices. It doesn't make sense. Everybody has a choice. Plenty of people have stated that there are no jobs in that town. That if they want jobs, they need to go where jobs are offered.

      Again, other people are expected to, do what:
      Give them more money? Do you think they'll buy healthy food with the money?
      Or maybe you expect the State of Texas to subsidize a Whole Foods- without all the junk food that you must surely know Whole Foods customers actually do love to buy. "poor" people, of course would not be charged as much. We could easily identify them because they are starving. But they LOOK fat.

      September 24, 2011 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Arrrrgh

      A pack of seeds cost .99 cents. Water and weed. Will produce veggies. Can/jar for winter.

      How do you think poor folks lived before crappy prepackaged food and government handouts (ala 1930s)?

      September 24, 2011 at 2:00 am | Report abuse |
  2. Scottish Mama

    I read the thread and I have read all the post.
    If you read the full post you would have seen these people are happy with their lives and have come along way in 20 years. It may not be any of your definitions of "heaven" but they like it there and they are proud of what they have built.
    A student of TX AandM is building a playground for the children.
    Such negativity and ugly comments from mostly people who have never built anything or been happy in their own lives.
    When you make 13,000. a year, no sewage, barely have running water, out houses, and are happy people. Now what do they have that you do not? Happiness
    To the least of my brothers.
    @ Zozo Seems rich people are judgmental.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      If they are happy, then why is there a story of them whining about no after school programs? I know a lot of communities that would love to have one but there are no stories about them. You don't need money for after school programs for tutoring or anything. People can volunteer. People can pull their resources and buy sports equipment at Goodwill or some thrift store and teach sports. Tutoring can be done after school by teachers. It doesn't look like these two women work (if they do it's not mentioned) so why the need for an after school program for their kids? Why don't they volunteer? Everyone is all about money now days. People don't want to volunteer because it cuts in to "THEIR" time and they want something out of it. If this community is as close as they say it is, then it needs to pull together to do something about it.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • 20 Year Veggie

      Since when is wanting more for your children "whining?" They just want what 90% of every other US community has.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      @ Ryan read it again, they are disappointed because it gave kids lunches and extra help by teenagers. By the end they are not asking for handouts.
      They are following up on a previous story last July and some differences that have occured since CNN has been there.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Don't think these people would ever have to whine about not being able to have more children. They are whining that other people don't have the excess cash to pay for other people's children. Which if the rest of the world expected, none of us would be here because WHO THE HELL WOULD PAY for 90% of other people's kids???? I definitely don't want to do that. They need to pay for their own damn kids. And they can be happy doing it.

      September 24, 2011 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • boskoo

      Those two women are as fat as champion hogs. If they ate less, the money saved could be used on those kids. Wire their jaws shut if necessary, there is no excuse for parents to be that irresponsible.

      September 24, 2011 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  3. Had Enough

    Zoso, "poor" people are usually overweight because inexpensive food is bad for you. It's usually full of fat, calories and filler. "Poor" people can't afford fresh fruits and vegetables. Hence, most "poor" people are "fat.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Louis

    When i was a kid, we didn't have afterschool programs. Both my parents worked. I came home, and played all afternoon with my friends. I'm a civil engineer now, and I feel like I did just fine.

    September 23, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      If we did not set the house on fire or poke someones eye out.lol

      September 23, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • tx

      I agree; I never went to any after school program and always got straight A's. And it shouldn't cost anything to help a kid with their homework. It's called parenting. Unless the parents can't do 3rd grade math either...

      September 23, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • melk

      it's not the same these days...you know that.....u people are such jerks

      September 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      It isn't the same because now people can track their own kids' locations via a cell phone gps AND kids have many more reasons to stay at home. they have the internet, online gaming and game systems.

      It's much easier to keep them home after school.

      September 24, 2011 at 3:18 am | Report abuse |
  5. Scottish Mama

    The only heavy one is the grandmother, the mom just had the baby she is holding. It ususallu takes 2 years to get back to yourself after a child. The children look clean and well cared for. Try that without running water.
    Obese people live in every neighborhood and in the poorer neighborhoods healthy food is not cheap and hard to find.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Cboy

    @lynn–what you ma'am do not understand is that your response is nothing more than more excuses. Many folks in my generation (I am 44) grew up poor and we were skinny and we ate fat greasy fried food and cupcakes and basically anything that we were fed. The difference is we worked and played all the time. We didn't have a couch and fridge on our front porch either, because our Mom would have lost her freakin mind. Again, we were poor, but we were proud enough to take care of the few things that we did have, including our bodies. As far as this disease that your sister has, uh, I would suggest that she watch the Biggest Loser and find some motivation. I do not pretend to be an expert, but I have heard numerous well respected physicians say that there is no such thing as a disease that makes or keeps you fat. Unless, you call being lazy a disease. Most diseases are caused by being fat and over weight. You cannot gain weight unless you eat more calories than you burn. It really is not rocket science. Again, do not get me wrong, people do gain weight because of fluid retention, menstrual cycles, etc, but these are temporary exceptions. I am in the gym 5-6 days a week and I see all body types. The few overweight people that do come into the gym and stay with it, will always be the first to say that it is all in their heads and they finally realized that they made any excuse to not work out or change their diet. They liked the food too much and would do whatever they needed to do to get the food.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Or a thyroid problem. * I only play a doctor on CNN.*

      September 23, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Synapse

      Yeah... shame on them for liking food. Also- if you pay for a gym, you have more $$$ than these people.
      Feeling full is something human beings are genetically programmed to seek. [As we may find out, in the future] human history is rife with periods of famine and the fatter of us were the ones who survived. Get some empathy [that's when you're able to understand the feelings and motivations of others- who don't have all the advantages you may be blessed with]

      September 23, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JustAThought

    You forget folks the USDA provides funds and food to lunch programs during the summer for kids! So do not say the money went for the lunch program!!! Check every town or city I bet at least one school or more plus Community centers had food programs for kids and possible seniors! I know our local elementary did! Plus there was a long list in San Antonio Texas for the food programs.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      @Justa I thought they said the program ran Sept thru may.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. KC_in_CA

    Here's a thought... the high school students keep helping – for free.
    It keeps them off the streets, helps them feel better about themselves, helps them improve their own understanding of the basics.
    It gives the little kids role models, helps them learn the basics, and keeps them off the streets.

    What happened to HELPING your community? Why do the kids need to be paid?

    September 23, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. tx

    Why the #@%^ would you want to raise 4 kids in a place like that?! $100,000/year isn't enough to raise four kids these days, much less $20,000. It breaks my heart when I see families have several children in a house that isn't financially stable enough for even one adult.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Money can't buy you love.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • tx

      Love can't feed a starving child.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      We get starving children from idiots, not lovers.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      The article never said they were starving.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Said nothing about love.

      September 24, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      I guess I equate happiness, last line, with love.
      Where you equated the program ending to food stamps and birth control. no where to be found.

      September 24, 2011 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
  10. melk

    you're going to hell

    September 23, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Chris

    Nah. In most states, the norm is for 200/month in food stamps per able bodied adult. More for kids. Don't tell me that a person can't feed themselves a healthy diet on that much money. I do, and I pay for it my damn self. In fact, I don't spend NEAR that amount on food and I maintain a VERY healthy or perhaps kind of pudgy 150.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Where up in the article does it say these people recieve food stamps? Maybe they live cheaper and are more resourceful than you..

      September 24, 2011 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  12. Rationality

    I'd just like to say to the world: STOP HAVING KIDS, please, we're living in an ear where condoms, pills, and many other methods to avoid getting pregnant or having kids, exist. most of them are cheap, available and easy to use. We're living in a very overpopulated world, where our resources are becoming extinct, besides, why have kids who are not planned?, it's such an insult to them, almost a crime, I don't feel bad saying this, because, it's very clear and obvious that a lot of children are probably not planned, that is not the way we should be bringing up families in this era, otherwise, you're going to be poor and those kids are going to suffer as well.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Ra- but what about our treasured cultural diversity? what would happen to it if all the idiots of the world stopped having kids? What would we do about all the many housing projects and section 8 programs, you know, the "job creators" out there? What would we all do if we didn't have our food stamp applications printed in spanish instead of english? I mean, that in itself is such a beacon of human understanding. No, I say spawn! Spawn as you have never spawned before! Then one day, when the people pay taxes and work 40+ hrs per week are all gone, you will all starve to death as you probably ought to have done in the first place.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      @Rationality- They use less resources than you.
      @Chris you don't have any kids right? What would we do without the rich and politicians? Live pleasantly without them trying to herd everyone. Your pompas @ss snuck up to your mouth.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Well the rich and the politicians are a whole 'nother matter, and of course I have plenty to say to them, with my pompous ass. Because I'm not an idiot and I would gladly work two jobs to take care of my kids if I had to. Yep. Kids who don't need the latest ipod or cell phone. We are talking they get what they need and they learn what they need to become useful human beings who take care of themselves. Probably more pompous butts who will have to pay for our Texas friends' trips to WalMart three times a week.

      September 24, 2011 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Yes please do not bring up politics, we would probably disagree on that also. Sorry you were a little pompas.

      September 24, 2011 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Yes, in your way, you are sorry. And you are, of course, pompous too. You think you know more about poor people than I do, just because I don't ask the government for anything beyond infrastructure but I'm paying for much more. You think I must be arrogant because I don't feel sorry for people who don't understand the responsibility they owe to the human beings they create.

      So you are pompous in your way, for which I have zero sympathy, and I am pompous in my way.

      I work hard. I take care of me and mine. I donate to my preferred charities. I pay taxes. I vote. And of course I have something to say about people who don't try because they expect me to pick up their slack. Yes, very pompous. And I deserve it, given the performance of our subjects here.

      September 24, 2011 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      I take care of mine also, I do the charity work, I vote, pay taxes, and have compassion for others.

      September 24, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      @Chris you just called these people subjects. Have you been crowned King Pompas?

      September 24, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Oh good, in that case I'd like to nominate YOU to go down there and serve others. Start an after school program so that single mom can work 8 hours a day and get not only her child care paid by the gov, but also get saints like you to take care of those treasures of hers for an extra couple of hours for, um, transport time. Problem solved. thanks, Scottish Mama! Maybe our examples of Texas residents up there will see what a great example you set, and want to be just like you someday. I'm sure we'll read all about it very soon.

      September 24, 2011 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Um, YOU crowned me, of course. Sire.

      September 24, 2011 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      @Chris still being the boss of your subjects? I am one of those people that would do that. But I do that in my own state. I do it for my community. I do it for my whole family. And when people want someone to get something done or help they come to me. Actually doing it anyomously sometimes has been my MO. It does have an address behind them.

      September 24, 2011 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Really? Announcing your saintly deeds over here, but still "anonymous?" Well, either way, I'm positive King Pompas I will show King Pompas II a thing or two when an "anonymous" good samaritan relieves them of the heavy burden of taking care of their own offspring. As I said, you are SUCH a fine example for them to emulate. Please do not deprive this poor community of your giving spirit. They deserve you.

      September 24, 2011 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
  13. Zoso

    More excuses for these people....So a box of microwaveable chicken nuggets and fries is cheaper then a bag of apples and a salad? Right...people need some personal responsibility in their lives, these people don't wanna work, they want handouts, and as long as they keep getting them they won't ever change....Last time I checked exercise was free. If they are so poor, how can they afford to have kids? Can't feed themselves, so let's have kids? Again, no responsibility, just live off other people....I bet if you offered her a job at a livable wage she would turn it down...easier to be a lazy slob...

    September 23, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Scottish Mama

    @Chris inner city and I would suspect here, there aren't any stores that sell fresh vegetables.
    Hence, Michele Obamas garden. Gardens are not cheap to grow unless you know how to save seeds.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Scottish Mama

    @Zozo Birth control is not cheap. Have you heard of midwives?
    You seem a little obsessed with the new mom and the grandma. So you have a weight problem or were you an obese kid?

    September 23, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |

      "@Zozo Birth control is not cheap. ".... ever heard of pulling it out? , it's free!

      September 24, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
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