PENITAS — Alicia Ramirez and her family have been living in a bright pink house provided by the Buckner Family Hope Center for less than two months.
Before that, the family of eight lived in a single-bedroom mobile home, where they slept together on a king-sized bed each night.
“It was small for our family,” Ramirez said in Spanish. “It was just a room and the restroom — that’s all. It had a refrigerator, a stove and a table. It didn’t have insulation and it was just the wood.”
Now, her family lives comfortably in a three-bedroom home with a living room, kitchen, restroom and laundry room.
She said she can still remember the day when they received their home.
“It was a huge blessing,” she said. “Who is going to give you a house? We couldn’t make it, and we have a big family, so it was hard.”
The family lives on El Conejo Road. Along Mile 7 on the neighboring streets, numerous colorful Buckner homes can be seen. They’re within walking distance of the Buckner Family Hope Center, at 39614 Mile 7 Road.
The homes are given to families with children who attend the Buckner Family Hope Center and obtain a certain amount of Buckner points, which are used as currency. Points can be redeemed at the Buckner Market, where families can opt to get clothing, toiletries and food. They are accumulated as parents attend classes about leadership, coupon collecting, hand crafts, bow making, financial responsibility and fatherhood. Throughout the year, 897 families are served.
The center is one of 21 organizations benefiting from an AIM Media Texas Charities campaign to raise funds for the hungry, homeless and those in need of basic essentials in the Rio Grande Valley.
AIM Media Texas is the parent company of the Valley Morning Star, The Monitor in McAllen, The Brownsville Herald and the Mid-Valley Town Crier.
Ramirez said she saw a great change in herself when she started going to the center.
“I used to be one of the people who would get money and go directly to the store,” she said. “I’m not like that anymore. Now, I try to make sure that if I’m going to buy something, I get it in the least amount of payments as possible or else I would pay for it cash.”
She said the financial responsibility class helped her and her husband learn how to administer their money and make it last. Her husband, Juan Obregon, said the center helped him learn about the different options that he could explore.
“They show you how to value yourself and how to get ahead instead of just depending on a certain job,” Obregon said. “They show you how to make your own business if you have ideas.”
Ramirez said her life outside of the center has changed drastically because of the help they got.
“At first, I wouldn’t go out, and I would just be at home with the kids,” the 32-year-old said. “I started getting more comfortable and making more friends. They helped me with the programs that they have.”
Ramirez said she believes the center has had a great impact on her neighborhood.
“I think that here, in the neighborhood, we see a lot of people who are very humble and they give you the ability to learn to do something,” the Peñitas native said. “You can initiate something; you can start bringing yourself up little by little. Something will come out of it.”
Norma Aleman said she started going to the Buckner Family Hope Center four months ago when Ramirez finally convinced her to visit the center.
“I’ve been living on this property for four years,” Aleman said in Spanish. “Several times, my neighbors who went to Buckner would tell me that they would help and stuff but I never went. They would always comment on things and then Alicia told me about it again. So since she was a good friend of mine, I said I would go.”
Currently, Aleman is living in a single-bedroom mobile home with her husband and five children. She and her husband sleep on a pull-out sofa-bed in the living room while her three daughters sleep in the bedroom and her sons sleep in a storage space big enough to fit two mattresses.
Though her family is in line to receive a new home, she says the center has helped her in many more ways than that.
“Buckner gets the husband, the wife and the children,” the 30-year-old said. “It slowly starts changing the lives of people around the community. They help us with everything.”
The Peñitas native said she took the bow-making class and learned to make bows. She is now a volunteer assistant instructor for the class and sells them at the flea market for a bit of extra income.
“I have learned that if I earn a dollar on one thing, it’s a quantity that at the end of the day would add up,” she said. “That’s very good because sometimes we don’t even have enough money for gas or for whatever we need.”
She said she tries to do as much as she can with what her family has.
“I always say that God has everything under control and in its own time,” Aleman said. “Talking about the house, what else can I ask for?”