More than 30 Edinburg Housing Authority (EHA) student residents attended the Rice University Alternative Spring Break (ASB) camp at the Sam Risica Community Center during spring break.
EHA is a government assisted housing agency directly supervised and funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
A partnership between EHA and Rice University created the opportunity for ASB to return for the second year.
ASB is a program from Rice University Center for Civic Leadership that allows undergraduate Rice university students to learn about social issues, engage in communities throughout the United States and connect with locals on a deeper level.
The student-led camp engaged EHA residents in a variety of educational activities throughout the week.
Residents created a paper-based microscope by Foldscope, competed in math Olympics and did some science experiments with food.
However, the ongoing and highlight project of the week was getting the chance to built Kano computers.
EHA and the Kano computer company crossed path at a member’s conference last year for the ConnectHome initiative.
Only two agencies in the state of Texas are a part of the ConnectHome initiative, EHA and Housing Authority of the City of Brownsville.
The ConnectHome initiative partners up with stakeholders and agencies throughout the nation to help end the digital divide in various communities.
"Being a part of the ConnectHome initiative opens new doors of opportunity for us to continue pushing education and help end the digital divide," said Mr. Rodolfo “Rudy” Ramirez, executive director at EHA.
Pushing these efforts will be the focus of the agency for the next couple of months to help highlight the impact technology or programs such as ASB have on the communities.
One of the people aware of the positive impact ASB has had at EHA is Rice University student Smeet Madhani.
Madhani was a freshman last spring break when he and a group of students traveled to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) to be counselors at ASB for the first time.
Returning this year as an ASB site leader, Madhani now had the responsibility to lead and make sure the 11 new students fully engaged in this cultural and learning experience.
Understanding they were only here for five days, Smeet knew he had to tackle and overcome the challenges the week would pose.
However, being fully aware that they were limited in time, Madhani knew much could still be learned.
“You cannot change a lot in a week, but you can learn a lot in a week,” he said.
One of the 11 Rice students joining Smeet this year at ASB was first-time ASB participant and counselor Gabriel Gomide.
Gomide midweek along with the other counselors took part in a College Workshop Panel to talk about the college application process, the importance of going to college, and other college readiness topics.
Gabriel's story comes to show that no matter where you come from attending a university is possible.
Gomide moved from Brazil to the RGV and graduated from Sharyland High School in 2015. He now attends Rice University and is pursuing a degree in Biochemistry. During his week at ASB, he hopes to have inspired the students to develop a love for learning.
Gomide plans to return next year to continue to encourage EHA residents to attend college and find enjoyment in learning.
“I'm gonna miss the kids. It’s just been a really great time. Hopefully, some of us will be coming back soon" he said.
The counselor's focus at the camp is to teach, engage and build relationships with the residents.
However, once done with their camp activities the counselors would visit community stakeholders to further learn about social issues and the RGV.
Proyecto Azteca, American Civil Liberties Union, B3 Institute, Sacred Heart South Texas Refugee Center and the Alamo Community Resource Center are the organizations they visited to learn about and discuss topics of importance to the border.
Counselor Jessy Feng, a sophomore at Rice and this year's ASB site co-leader had never been to Texas before attending Rice.
Media mainly shaped her perspective of Texas and the border, but meeting with local public figures helped her gain new perspectives.
"It just made the entire image of the valley and the border more humanistic," Feng said. “The community partners we met are passionate, and they know their communities."
Co-site leader Feng described the trip as inspiring, and she hopes she was able to have an impact on the students as much as they had on her.
“I hope that we have at least gotten them more excited about school and learning," she said. "We hope that we can inspire them to continue doing well in school and that higher education is a possibility."
The ASB counselors ended the week with a certificate ceremony to acknowledge the student's commitment to the camp.
Each student received Rice University memorabilia and a certificate of achievement.
To show gratitude for the counselor's hard work the agency also presented them with EHA souvenirs and personal thank you cards signed by all staff.
Rice University also presented EHA with a painted wooden canvas as a token of appreciation for being the host of ASB for the second year in a row.
Being fully aware of the disadvantages living in housing poses, EHA is always looking for educational partnerships and opportunities to encourage and equip the residents.
Partnerships between EHA and other entities such as Rice University helps to promote the vision and mission of the agency, which is to help residents cycle out of housing and to live self-sufficient lives.