Youths carry torch for worthy causes

HARLINGEN — They breathed heavily beneath their sweat-soaked shirts, young runners carrying the torch for a cause.

“We raised money by cooking cupcakes and selling them where we live,” said Freddie Aguirre, 15, president of the LeMoyne Gardens Torch Club.

“We also sold popcorn and nachos and cheese,” added Yessica Mendoza, 13.

Freddie, Yessica and several other Torch Club members had just finished the second annual Run with the Heroes RGV Run/Walk led by the Harlingen Police Department. Money raised benefitted Special Olympics, the Family Crisis Center and the local Boys and Girls Club.

The Torch Club, a small-group leadership and service organization which is part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, had raised the money for the registration fees by selling the snacks at their concession stand. They open the concession each Tuesday and Thursday at the club in LeMoyne Gardens. They make about $30 each day, but over time they raise enough to make a difference.

“They are always looking for something to do in the community,” said Hilda Gathright, director of the LeMoyne Gardens unit of the Boys and Girls Club.

There are 10 students in the Torch Club.

“We enjoy it,” said Zena Nazar, 13. “We know we are giving back.”

The Torch Club members have been working hard for their community. They’ve donated money to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, to a cancer patient in LeMoyne Gardens, and a wounded firefighter. They made news last spring when they donated $300 to a Harlingen police officer wounded in a raid.

But now they want to do more.

“Giving a check and money is helping them, but this is the 21st century and we need to get involved,” said Zena, a Memorial Middle School eighth grader. She’s treasurer of the student council and the Torch Club.

She and other Torch Club members had gathered in the wellness room at the Boys and Girls Club to brainstorm some ideas for the direction they were taking. It was a “Brave New World” they were entering, that of active participation. Certainly they’ve been active in their efforts to help people, but this was taking it to a whole new level.

The Run for the Heroes was a start. They’d paid their registration fees with club money which would be donated to worthy causes, and then they’d participated in the run.

What else?

“You know, like going to hospitals and giving out teddy bears?” suggested Zena.

And nursing homes, rehabilitation centers …

Suddenly, they began discussing all sorts of issues they could address in their activities.

“How about doing stuff for cancer and diabetes?” said Nicolas Nazar, 14. “There are a lot of obese people in the Valley.”

Meeting to discuss matters is a regular activity for these kids.

“We talk about our day, we talk about how we’re doing in school,” said Zena. They afterwards tend to matters of fundraising and charitable causes. There are plenty of those to go around.

“We go pick up trash, we cut some people’s lawns,” said Nicolas Nazar, an eighth grader at Memorial Middle School like his sister Zena.

Meanwhile, the fundraising continues at the Boys and Girls Club in LeMoyne Gardens. Last Tuesday, they opened the concession stand, hoping to catch the crowds at the volleyball game. But, alas, the opposing team had forfeited so there would be no game. Nevertheless, Yessica busied herself around the stove, checking her cupcakes frequently.

Gathright said they planned to turn plastic crates into seats by placing boards over the openings. Cushions would be attached to the boards, and they could also be removed and used for storage. They would be sold at a fall festival outside the Boys and Girls Club.

The cupcakes were now out of the oven. Yessica and Freddie spread icing and colorful sprinkles on top, creating a warm sweet confection dear to the senses.

A few customers did make purchases at the concession and the Torch Club members were happy. They seem perpetually happy and optimistic with how much or how little they make at any given time. The important thing is to keep moving, keep pushing forward.

The concession stand hours over, they quickly wrapped things up and headed out the door. The next stop was the National Night Out at Lon C. Hill Park where they would help out with the inflatables.

It was all in a day’s work for these kids.

How did this happen?

HARLINGEN — Gerald Gathright remembers when the LeMoyne Gardens Torch Club caught him off guard.

The students asked Gathright, chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Harlingen, if they could donate the money they’d raised to worthy causes.

“Typically these students use it for the Torch Club,” he said. “They wanted to use it to help other people.”

What do you mean? he asked.

“We want to learn about different things going on in the community,” they told him.

They learned about diabetes and wrote a check for the American Diabetes Association. Their next cause was purchasing shoes for childhood cancer patients.

The other surprise awaiting him came when he learned how much money they had to spend.

“They’d raised $6,000,” he said.

Soon, the suggestions, fundraisers and charitable activities rolled in.

“They wanted to know if they could sell cupcakes at basketball games here at LeMoyne Gardens,” he said. “I said yeah, go ahead.”

That was several years ago, and that legacy is as strong as ever.

Making a difference in kids who make a difference

HARLINGEN — Zena Nazar was having a bad day.

She’d just gotten her report card, and she was devastated by her grades: three 100s, a 98, 97, 95 — and an 89 in language arts.


“I told them if they got all As I would give them $50,” said Hilda Gathright, director of the LeMoyne Gardens Boys and Girls Club.

Oh, so that’s why Zena was grieving over the kind of report card many kids — and their parents — dream about.

Oh well, what matters is they have an extra incentive to work hard in school. Gathright says she only accepts the very best into the Torch Club.

“What I do, I kind of look around and I ask them to bring in their report cards,” Gathright said. “They have to maintain good grades.”

The Torch Club has made a big difference in the students’ lives.

“I was really quiet,” said Leily Contreras, 15, who has been in the Torch Club for several years.

She’s more vocal and outgoing now, she said.

“I always want to help people,” she said. “It’s great for me, helping people who are from the same community.”