This article originally appeared in the Friday June 28, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
The National Civic League voted the city of Mission as one of ten All-America City Award winners last weekend in Denver, Colorado. A delegation from Mission, including civic leaders and local residents, represented the city during the trip and presented several aspects of the city that highlight innovative practices happening in the area.
The award celebrates and recognizes neighborhoods, villages, towns, cities, counties, tribes and regions that engage residents in innovative, inclusive and effective efforts to tackle critical challenges. The 2019 focus for the All-America City Award is efforts focused on inclusive engagement practices that create healthy communities for all.
Mission began the application process in April, and submitted information detailing the work being done in the city including economic development, health initiatives, and the building of stronger neighborhoods.
Cristina Garza, the Director of Social Impact at the Mission Economic Development Corporation, was part of the delegation that went to Colorado. During the final 10-minute presentation judged by the National Civic League Garza portrayed Ruby the Grapefruit, a Mission mascot owned by the Chamber of Commerce reserved only for special events and occasions.
“The moment that grapefruit rolled into the rehearsal room and I saw it, I knew that we were destined to be together,” Garza said, noting that when she removed Ruby’s cowboy hat to speak during the competition, the crowd started cheering. “I hope it’s not the last time I am Ruby, I love it. People were taking photos with me afterwards, especially the kids.”
Leading up to the competition, the delegation diligently rehearsed their choreographed skit for two weeks, sacrificing time and energy to represent Mission well.
“There was obviously a lot of choreographing to do, a lot of speeches to be memorized,” Garza said. “This really speaks to how committed our delegation was to making this a success.”
That Thursday night, the delegation heard about the loss of Mission Police Corporal Jose “Speedy” Espericueta, who was killed in the line of duty in Mission that evening.
Garza said it changed the mood of the trip overall and led to the group being even more determined to bring home the win for Mission.
“A lot of the folks that were part of the delegation are also high-ranking city employees, and I know they were very personally distressed about not being able to be in Mission during the weekend,” Garza said. “We knew that now more than ever, it was more important for people to understand the value of our city and the strength of our community.”
The finalists in Colorado all held a moment of silence for Espericueta during the event, highlighting the camaraderie that formed throughout the workshops, presentations and mingling with finalist cities across the country. Garza said they were able to learn a lot of new information about how other parts of the country run, and were in turn able to teach others about positive programs happening in Mission.
Garza said that the award was well deserved, and that Mission is moving innovative practices forward not only in the Rio Grande Valley, but the country.
“We’re coming up with economic development practices that are being replicated in other towns that no one else in the country is doing, especially when it comes to our commitment to computer science education, entrepreneurship and gender equity,” Garza said. “Furthermore, the city has programs that benefit people with disabilities such as tennis for the blind, what Mission Pawsible has done in terms of becoming almost a no-kill shelter is also astounding as well as the Food Pantry putting forward the Blessing Boxes.”
Garza added that in a short few years, Mission has completely turned around and is now the leader in innovation in the RGV. She called it “a new beginning for us,” after working hard for the last few years to change the way people in the area see their community.
“We want to ensure that people don’t wake up thinking ‘ugh, the Valley is a place that doesn’t have opportunity,’ or ‘ugh, I can’t wait to get out of here,’” Garza said. “The reality is that Mission is a great place to be – no pun intended (in reference to a slogan on the city website)- and now getting this award just solidifies that.”
“Our programs truly address our community needs,” Garza added. “We’re not just putting empty words out there – rather our actions and our programs are reflective of our values as a community.”
Leaders in Mission want to ensure that children born in the city have the resources to achieve financial mobility. Mission was the last city announced as a winner of the All-America City Award, and Garza said the delegation was completely overwhelmed at that point.
“As the awards kept getting handed out, the more nervous I started getting,” Garza said. “But Pilar Gonzalez was next to me saying ‘absolutely not, I know we have this in the bag.’ I started worrying for a second, but once they did [announce Mission], it was like electricity going through all of our bodies. People were crying, people were jumping up and down, and honestly it didn’t register with me until we got up on that stage, but it could not have been a more exciting moment.”