Tuesday, January 17, 2023

By Karen Villarreal

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Rakes and shovels in hand, Jay Sanchez, a senior majoring in computer software engineering at UTRGV, brought members of his fraternity to volunteer at Restlawn Cemetery in Edinburg on Monday morning in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had a vision of a “beloved community.”

Sanchez, president of UTRGV’s Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter, said members of TKE volunteer often – at the food bank, animal shelters, adopt-a-beach cleanups, maintaining a section along a highway, and wherever else they see an opportunity. However, the cemetery cleanup on this year’s National Day of Service held a special place for Sanchez, as his sister is laid to rest in the adjoining Hillcrest Memorial Park.

“It’s thoughtful that the university is giving this to the loved ones of those who have passed,” said Sanchez, who grew up in Edinburg. “It’s something we can do for the families who can’t come out here to visit and clean the tombstones. They can know they’re resting in a nice space.”

The Restlawn Cemetery site cleanup, organized by the Juneteenth Committee, brought more than 50 volunteers from UTRGV, Village in the Valley (ViVa), and the City of Edinburg Library and Cultural Arts. Restlawn, which sits about 200 feet from Hillcrest Memorial Park and the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery, is believed to be the only graveyard in Hidalgo County dedicated for African American burials, according to a Texas Historical Marker onsite.

Volunteers contributed to maintaining the dignity of the space by repainting benches and wooden crosses, cleaning gravestones, and tidying and mulching flower beds. Among the volunteers were Little Miss McAllen and Ms. South Texas Rose ’22 – Bella Carreon and Trinidad Montes – in pageant sashes and tiaras.

UTRGV students lend a helping hand and sort food donations at the Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville on Monday, Jan.16, as part of MLK Day of Service activities across the Rio Grande Valley.
UTRGV students lend a helping hand and sort food donations at the Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville on Monday, Jan.16, as part of MLK Day of Service activities across the Rio Grande Valley. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

“We give back when we can – however we can – for the community,” said Montes.

On this nationally recognized “day on – not a day off," the TKE brothers were among more than 100 UTRGV students, staff, and faculty who gave their time to four social causes across the Rio Grande Valley. UTRGV volunteers also volunteered at Loaves and Fishes in Harlingen, Salvation Army in McAllen, and the Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville.

Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday as a National Day of Service in 1994.

UTRGV held its first MLK Day of Service in 2015, with hundreds of volunteers working together on over 40 local projects to strengthen the community and empower individuals. This built on the activities of legacy institutions UT Brownsville – which hosted MLK Day volunteer activities since 2000 – and UTPA, which held its first service day in 2011.



The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.