Harlingen – A new community outreach center, with the aim of rebuilding troubled youth, is on the fast track to completion as it sets to bring a handful of organizations under one roof.
The Bridge, as the center is called, [now called Harlingen Outreach Center] is a partnership between the city of Harlingen and the Cameron County Juvenile Justice Department, which will bring many nonprofit organizations together at the former Harlingen police station on Commerce Street, Tommy Ramirez, chief executive officer of the Darrell B. Hester Juvenile Justice Center, said.
Ramirez said services to be offered at the Harlingen Outreach Center will include: Valley Aids Council, Criminon and Narconon, who will aid boys and girls with drug abuse and health related problems, the Harlingen school district for dropout recovery, The Gulf Coast Program to aid in GED certification, spiritual and general counseling, family services and Texas Workforce Solutions for possible job placement.
Ramirez said the Harlingen Outreach Center would be ready to serve the community as early as April, well ahead of its 2012 schedule.
But the story of the Harlingen Outreach Center’s inception goes back to 2010, when Ramirez got involved with the Gang Eradication Unit, where he saw the growing need of boys and girls engaging in social deviance looking for a different way of life.
Ramirez and former Police Chief Danny Castillo went before the City Commission in 2010 to propose the idea of the new outreach center, and ask for the old police station as its headquarters.
“It was one of the biggest projects I’ve ever undertaken. The (monumental task) of it scared me,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez, however, is no stranger to rebuilding troubled youth. He has helped increase the success rate at the Juvenile Justice Center in San Benito from 26 percent to 53 percent.
Already, the Harlingen Outreach Center’s mission statement is being put to use, as young boot camp cadets were hard at work Feb. 9 cleaning and organizing the 22,000-square-foot former police station.
Two of them, a 17-year-old and a 16-year-old, said the Harlingen Outreach Center will help the community and help kids stay clean and out of trouble.
Ramirez said the Harlingen Outreach Center has been received with much support from the community and already $115,000 has been raised for the center, which has a goal of $200,000.
One big supporter of the Bridge is Dr. Juan Villarreal, at Harlingen Family Dentistry, who has helped raise $25,000 for the outreach center, Gail Thomason, retired teacher and close friend of Villarreal, said.
“Money should go to help rebuild people instead of it going to (build) more jails.” Thomason said. “The Bridge is the village coming together for the good of all.”
Ramirez is confidant that the Harlingen Outreach Center will be a huge success and a blueprint for other communities to follow.
“We don’t just train and educate people, we rebuild them from the ground up. (The Harlingen Outreach Center) is where needs meet opportunity.”
To make donations, contact The Bridge at 956-412-0191.