UTRGV hosts summit to create bonds with nonprofits

EDINBURG — In a first for the area, Rio Grande Valley’s businesses, nonprofits and university officials met for a one-day summit Tuesday to learn how to better partner to create impact.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley hosted the first RGV Nonprofit Business Summit at the Region One Education Service Center titled “Build, Connect and Promote.” Nearly 200 stakeholders met to learn about better ways to work together and try to tackle area issues, and their day began with a few words by Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott.

“Texans, we are generous by nature,” Abbott said. “I hope to help inspire more Texans like you to answer the call to serve, to connect Texans with opportunities, to volunteer and give back in their own communities.”

The idea is to provide a space where everyone can learn about the same ideas and create partnerships that can impact different areas of need in the Valley, from health to small business growth to education. Veronica Gonzales, UTRGV’s vice president for governmental and community relations, said the hope is to better understand how the university can partner to improve conditions in the Valley.

“The university exists for the entire Rio Grande Valley, and we know that we are much stronger when we work together with partners,” Gonzales said.

“The goal of this conference is to connect all of our nonprofits together with the university to discuss ways to build on what the nonprofits are already.”

As part of these efforts, the university recently opened an online portal called Engagement Zone, in partnership with United Way, where students can search by needs or agencies to find volunteer opportunities in the area, such as helping with the immigrant influx or becoming a marketing or education assistant.

“They actually get a transcript that’s printed out for them that shows their community service hours,” Gonzales said. “And it’s a great way to make sure that our students also understand the importance of giving back.”

The collaboration can work as a trade of services in which the students volunteer their time to the nonprofit, which in turn provides the student with experience at an organization that attempts to fill a need in the community.

The focus in not only on students, but also on faculty, said Cristina Trejo, assistant vice president for community engagement and assessment at UTRGV. Trejo’s department was involved in planning the summit, which had been months in the making.

“We want faculty to have opportunities to participate in research that’s relevant to our local community,” Trejo said.

“So with these partnerships with nonprofit organizations, then faculty are able to establish those kinds of relationships while addressing some of the most critical needs in our community.”

Trejo also works with the new division for community relations at the university, which focuses on connecting the university with the community in meaningful ways, she said, and oversees the nonprofit research center. This summit involves the new division’s main goal to help facilitate alliances, network and leverage resources to create more impact.

The summit is one of three being held in the Valley, El Paso and Lubbock through the One Star Foundation, which is one of the sponsors. The three summits will culminate with a state-wide meet in 2017 to bring together what was discussed in the regional summits, Trejo said. The hope is to also continue to bring this on an annual basis.