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Lending a hand at the border

Ava Ponder spends time assisting immigrants

Children+at+the+Rio+Grande+Valley+branch+of+Catholic+Charities+play+a+game+of+soccer.+Senior+Ava+Ponder+helped+to+set+up+the+new+soccer+equipment+during+her+trip.+photo+courtesy+of+Ponder
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Lending a hand at the border

Children at the Rio Grande Valley branch of Catholic Charities play a game of soccer. Senior Ava Ponder helped to set up the new soccer equipment during her trip. photo courtesy of Ponder

Children at the Rio Grande Valley branch of Catholic Charities play a game of soccer. Senior Ava Ponder helped to set up the new soccer equipment during her trip. photo courtesy of Ponder

Children at the Rio Grande Valley branch of Catholic Charities play a game of soccer. Senior Ava Ponder helped to set up the new soccer equipment during her trip. photo courtesy of Ponder

Children at the Rio Grande Valley branch of Catholic Charities play a game of soccer. Senior Ava Ponder helped to set up the new soccer equipment during her trip. photo courtesy of Ponder

Malena Heineman, Staff Writer

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With almost 397,000 people apprehended while crossing the southern border into the U.S. in 2018 according to the U.S Customs and Border Protection agency, many charities have been set up at the border to aid the released immigrants and help them land on their feet as they start new lives in the U.S.

Over 2018 winter break, senior Ava Ponder volunteered through the Rio Grande Valley branch of the Catholic Charities organization (CCRGV) to aid the thousands of immigrants coming over the Mexico-U.S. border. The headquarters of the operation is located in McAllen, Texas, a border town directly between the two countries.

“[The CCRGV] is basically a charity run by nuns, and it was a really positive environment and experience working there,” Ponder said. “Help is needed so much there that you can just walk in and sign up, and they’ll put you to work with no questions asked.”

The organization is headed by Sister Norma Pimentel, who received an endorsement from Pope Francis in 2015.

“Catholic Charities responds to families in crisis,” Sister Pimentel wrote on the official website of the CCRGV. “We believe that human beings who have no food, no security, and no access to showers are people in crisis. We will continue responding to the needs of these families in crisis as long as there is a need.”

The charity’s purpose is to help immigrants who were released from border detention centers, providing them with a place to sleep and eat for one to two days, depending on their needs. They also provide the residing immigrants with other necessities such as a bag full of toiletries and basic cleaning products, and other resources such as lawyers as soon as they walk into the respite center.

“They have access to a room set up full of lawyers to help them arrange their bus rides and call their families and get settled,” Ponder said. “They are also given soup, because they are usually so hungry that their stomachs can’t handle much more than soup. There are kids everywhere, and it’s very sweet because they are all so happy that they’ve arrived here.”

Each volunteer is assigned a specific job in order to maximize the facility’s efficiency. Ponder and her family kept track of the supply closet and made sure that the “toy room” for the small children staying there was organized.

“I was down there for a couple of days, with my dad and my sister, and I organized their main supply closet which holds everything that people donate all over the world to aid the border crisis,” Ponder said.

Additionally, Ponder said volunteers were also allowed to do things that helped to establish connections with the people, especially the kids, staying at the charity center.

“We also went out and got a new soccer ball and soccer goals, and we set that up in this field in the back,” Ponder said. “Some of the young boys went out to unwrap the soccer ball, and they loved it so much. They had actually been kicking around a deflated basketball, so they had already been kind of playing soccer, but they were so excited about the new ball that we ended up playing soccer with them for the rest of the day. It was a really nice way to bridge the gap culturally.”

These moments of simple humanity were common in Ponder’s experience down in McAllen. To her, they were representative of a much bigger issue of the treatment of immigrants over the border in this country.

“Everyone has an opinion on the border; everyone has an opinion on what they think immigration reform should be like and how open the border should be, but very few people know the truth,” Ponder said. “Because a lot people think that rapists and drug dealers, and stuff Trump has been saying are the ones coming to America. But when I went and volunteered at the border, I saw just mothers and fathers and children just looking for safety; it’s super simple.”

In order to create more awareness for the situation at the border and the help needed, Ponder put a video on her social media about the time she spent volunteering and the people she met.

“In posting that video I was trying to show people that I don’t care what your opinion is on the border, but I want it to based on the truth,” Ponder said. “And the truth is that it’s just families trying to come to America. I think it’s just really important to proclaim the truth when you get the chance to see it, and I got to see it, so I wanted to be able to share it.”

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