(HARLINGEN) – Texas State Technical College Registered Nursing student Michael Ortiz swapped his nursing tools for gardening tools during National Make a Difference Day, an annual community service event which is held the fourth Saturday in October.
On this day, thousands across the United States volunteer in their local communities and TSTC is no different.
Ortiz was one of more than 100 student leaders who gathered to plant more than 200 trees along the expressway at the corner of Lincoln Ave. and Frontage Rd. in Harlingen.
“As a nursing club we feel it is important to give back to our community,” said Ortiz. “This is our biggest project every year. We take pride in Harlingen and our surrounding communities and we want to give people something they can enjoy when they drive past this intersection and help make a difference.”
TSTC Student Life Coordinator Belinda Palomino said students at TSTC have participated in National Make a Difference Day for more than a decade and she is proud to see that every year the anticipation and participation for the event continues to increase.
In addition to giving back to their communities, Palomino said doing community service teaches students teamwork, team building, adaptability, critical thinking and problem solving.
“By participating in National Make a Difference Day and other community service projects throughout the year, they get to learn soft skills, professional skills, they may otherwise not learn in a classroom,” she said.
Which is also why TSTC Director of Student Services Griselda Sanchez and Human Resources Senior Specialist Lupe Deloera from TSTC in Sweetwater decided to travel seven hours south for National Make a Difference Day with their Student Government Association officers Javier Rocha, vice president; Joshlyn Tovar, secretary; Elizabeth Guevara, treasurer; and Brett Paniagua, senator.
“This was a great experience for all of us,” said Sanchez. “I’m so proud of the work everyone did and the difference they have made in the community. We will be taking what we learned back to Sweetwater so that we can begin implementing programs like this in our community. It’s been a great learning experience.”
Although the students will do a similar community service project in Sweetwater and will work to beautify the TSTC campus with plants and flowers, they wanted to experience the large-scale event hosted by TSTC in Harlingen.
“We’ve always heard this is a huge event for TSTC in Harlingen and we were excited to join them this year. And although planting trees is tiring, we’re proud to know we’ve made a difference,” said Rocha. “This particular group has really been helpful in growing our SGA in Sweetwater and it’s been great sharing ideas and advice.”
Palomino said the success of this year’s event is credited to the partnership and help from Keep Harlingen Beautiful and the City of Harlingen.
“They donate shirts and provide shovels, supplies and their time,” said Palomino. “TSTC and our students have a great working relationship with them and our partnership is strong.”
Executive Director of Keep Harlingen Beautiful Melissa Boykin said she is amazed at the number of volunteers that participated in National Make a Difference Day.
“TSTC always comes through for us,” said Boykin. “The work they do all year long has a profound impact on our community. They are our biggest recyclers, they beautify our community and enhance Harlingen’s image. We love our TSTC.”
For Harlingen and TSTC, National Make a Difference Day allows them to get one step close to completing the beautification process along the entire expressway in Harlingen. It will take several more years to finish.
TSTC’s volunteer hours during National Make a Difference Day were valued at $14,814, a hefty cost savings for the city.
For more information on TSTC and the programs it offers, visit tstc.edu.