Students get real world training & help McAllen residents

10/4/2002 12:00 AM

Students in a TEEX heavy equipment operator’s training course got some real-world experience while helping their neighbors in McAllen.

It all began as a self-help project in a colonias area of the city, where the residents wanted to hook up to city sewer lines, but those lines did not reach their community. So Amigo Park I and Amigo Park II organized a citizen group, Vecinos Unidos, in January to pursue efforts to get city sewer lines run down three streets, so that 47 homes could connect to city sewer facilities. The cost of the project was prohibitive, so the group organized raffles and other fund-raising activities, and also sought help from a variety of groups.

Now, thanks to assistance from TEEX, Hidalgo County STEP and the city of McAllen, the residents will soon have access to city sewer facilities for the first time.

C.D. Rodriguez of TEEX, who teaches the heavy equipment operator’s training course, met with Eric Ellman with STEP (Small Towns Environment Program), a group that helps residents solve community problems by building infrastructure at a fraction of the cost by using self-help.

“I met with Eric and he asked, ‘How would you like to give your class real world experience?’” Rodriguez recalls.

That’s exactly what the students have been getting. They have been digging trenches and installing 8-inch sewer pipe along three streets. And their work is scrutinized not only by their instructor, but by a city inspector as well.

The first week was a learning experience for everybody,” says Rodriguez. The seven students in the class ran the machinery, dug the trenches and leveled the ground with lasers. “With the residents’ help, we cut sewer pipes, put them together and made adjustments. It was fun after we got the nuts and bolts of it down. The first class laid 900 feet of 8-inch sewer line and a second class with 11 students finished the majority of the work.

“The two classes combined have put in about 1,800 feet of 8-inch sewer main pipe,” Rodriguez added. “It’s meant a great deal for the students to get hands-on, realistic training where they can see an end product. Some students even volunteered to help the residents on the weekend, on their own time.”

“They are doing a great job,” says Ellman, a field director with STEP, which has sponsored 400 self-help water and sewer projects in 18 states. “The TEEX class leaves the cleanest job site I’ve ever seen. They even sweep the street every day when they finish.”

“This is as real as it gets,” Rodriguez said. “They can’t leave a trench open—that’s real world. They are getting good excavation safety training, and they’re enjoying it. The community is helping. Four or five residents have dug holes and cut the pipe, and the residents have been providing meals for all of us.”

Plus, the community residents have shown their gratitude by presenting each TEEX student with a certificate of appreciation.

Delicia Rich, secretary of Vecinos Unidos, said, “It’s been a blessing that C.D. (Rodriguez) and his students have been working with us. Without their help, it would have taken us a long time to accomplish this. C.D. deserves a medal for what he has done.”

“Without citizens banding together and the help of volunteers, a project like this would likely not have been done for years and years,” Ellman added.

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