By the end of 2012, the Nueva Luz Foundation was conceptualized. Mr. Lopez and Dr. Villanueva concluded that a charitable foundation was integral in bringing attention to and educating the community on PTSD and traumas, as well as providing services. Community interest grew, as well as support. Such supported included several key community members. Congressman Ruben Hinojosa and his staff, Norma Benavides and Salomon Torres assisted with a strategic planning meeting, Attorney Pam Alexander assisted with the Foundation’s application, and Senator John Cornyn assisted with a letter of support for the application.
June 12, 2013, Nueva Luz Foundation was granted its 501(c)3 designation. The following years were utilized to plan, continue focus groups and conduct needs assessments. In 2015, Mr. Lopez and Dr. Villanueva wrote the Foundation’s first grants and were awarded two. Since then, the concentration has been on researching and further developing programs, assuring we offer state of the art and science-based services.
Our Early Programs (2013 - 2018)
The Nueva Luz Foundation was awarded its first two grants from the Office of the Governor of Texas. The Trauma Informed Focused Therapy or TIFT Program, for children who suffered traumas within families, and the Readjustment Care Model or RCM Program for children who suffered traumas. This program ran from 2015 to 2017 with great success, results shown below.
- We launched the first “First Responders: Understanding the Impact” workshop, a four-hour training to recognize the signs of chronic stress, trauma, and PTSD. This initial workshop was attended by 86 first responders. We also held our first Self-Care and Wellness Summit the same year, attended by 210 first responders.
- Gilbert B. Lopez was given the Public Citizen of the Year award from the local branch of the National Association of Social Workers for his outstanding work in offering services to the community, his courageous actions and outstanding leadership in the social work community.
- To address these needs we offered the follow trainings as well as
consultation services: Children & Trauma: A Basic Overview, Understanding the Effects of Trauma on Memory and Behaviors, Self-Care and Compassion Fatigue, and the Hidalgo County Judicial Summit. We taught mindfulness, trauma informed self-regulation, and breathing techniques.
We expanded our services for first responders with special attention to first responders who are also veterans. We conducted the following trainings:
- February 2017 – The First Responder’s First Responder
- March 2017 – De-Escalation Training for First Responders: Understanding the Impact
- March 2017 – Disaster Stress and Trauma: Understanding the Impact
- April-May 2017 – The Cooperative Incident Preparedness Training
- April-May 2017 – Behavioral Health Preparedness Training
- May 2017 – First Responders: Understanding the Impact
- July 2017 – Trauma and Wellness Self Care Summit
- We continued our programs for children and families in Raymondville ISD, outlying areas of Willacy County, Weslaco, and San Benito with the assistance of volunteer students from UTRGV and OLLU.
- We launched our Prevention and Early Intervention program for first responders with special care for veterans who are first responders. We began to offer critical incident debriefings for police, sheriffs’ department, firefighters, and EMT/EMS personnel. This program is operating to today.
- Nueva Luz was awarded two more grants from the Office of the Governor. First, the Empowerment and Assertiveness Program addressed the topics of truancy and delinquency through a prevention and intervention program targeting youth and their families who had suffered traumas. This program targeted youth at high risk through adverse childhood experience, traumas, food insecurity, poverty, and traumas in the family. We targeted youth from Raymondville, San Benito, Weslaco, and McAllen-Edinburg areas. Second, the Trauma Informed Restoration Training: Improving Judicial Response and Court Services for Victims aimed to increase the knowledge of trauma and their effects for the judiciary. These programs lasted from 2017 through 2018 with great success in our service numbers.
Recent Programs (2018-Present)
- We offered a training to the Hidalgo County Clerk office on Trauma, Vicarious Trauma and Wellness, and maintained contact with the judiciary on their needs. The children and family program was expanded in Raymondville to add a specialty program for the youth in the Alternative Program. The students had a 99% pass rate, and the four homeless youth were reunited with extended family and also completed high school.
- We offered a training on stress, trauma and its effect on nutrition, at the request of a special project in collaboration with the Diocese of Brownsville.
- From 2018 to today, we continue to offer the services for first responders. In March of 2018, we were asked to repeat our training, De-Escalation Training for First Responders: A Trauma Informed Approach and had 206 attendees.
- The agency undergoes a re-structure as the executive director fell into a severe illness. He was paramount to the program planning and vision of the agency. As we re-structured, we chose to postpone launching new services, but continued offering our established programs to the RGV community and move forward with the commitments we had made for 2019 in the areas of first responder programs, children and family programs. We moved forward with the peer facilitator training program which consists of training first responders to help out their peers in a crisis situation and it includes a post-training mentorship and support service.
- Our executive director Gilbert Lopez had these words to explain why peer facilitation would become a priority in our first responder services:
- Nueva Luz launches the peer facilitator program in collaboration with Mission Heroes and our Board of Directors member Retired Chief Rene Lopez. We trained three Mission Fire Department personnel in the Preemptive Education for Emergency Responder Facilitator Training. In this pilot program we developed a 40-hour peer facilitator training program for prevention and early intervention. One of the trained facilitators is a chaplain. Prior to this training, the Foundation was being called for each and every critical incident in Mission, Texas. However, after our training, we have been called on only three incidents. All three were officer deaths which affected the departments. Our peer facilitators have met the needs and one, the chaplain, continues to offer services in Mission. One of the facilitators moved out of state and the other is no longer a fire fighter.
- We begin a collaboration with South Texas Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans Association (STAIVA) to launch our services for veterans and their spouses. We held a training for our staff and theirs to become certified.
- Our children and family programs expands to Monte Alto and Mercedes. We made a commitment to serve the more rural communities.
- In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit worldwide. Nueva Luz Foundation announces its commitment to the community and as such, will not cease in-person services as we are an essential service provider. We took precautions and began a rigorous cleaning and sanitizing protocol before and after each client. But, virtual appointments were available to anyone who preferred it. This decision was paramount as some trauma survivors and their families had no other option for face-to face specialty trauma services. Due to our diligence, no one in our office succumbed to COVID-19.
- Throughout the pandemic our agency was also instrumental to the educational endeavors of social work students. We maintained our professional internships for social work student of UTRGV, OLLU, Simmons University, and Walden University in the Rio Grande Valley.
- In November, Nueva Luz joins with STAIVA to lead several peer support groups for veterans and their spouses, presented a training for veterans and their spouses on PTSD and trauma, and also gave our turkey dinner for veterans for Thanksgiving. In addition, we began to look the feedback from our pilot for peer facilitation and fine-tuned the curriculum.
- The Trauma Informed Peer Facilitator training begins for La Grulla Police and volunteer Fire Department and the Mission Police Department. They complete the 40-hour course which included training in motivational interviewing, techniques for debriefing peers, psychophysiology of trauma, and heart rate variability training. La Grulla graduated three officers and Mission graduated 10 officers, which included a rigorous post-test.
- Nueva Luz continues offering children and family programs in Mercedes and Monte Alto through each city’s community centers. These children and families are helped to deal with aftermath of COVID-19 in which a large number of families lost a parent. There is a triggering of past traumas, and poverty levels increased.
- As a part of the Monte Alto project, Nueva Luz donated backpacks for 50 children with supplies to help them prepare for school. Our parent’s groups increases in frequency from once a month to weekly support and trainings.
- Nueva Luz collaborates with Hope farm in their veteran’s initiative. Hope farms trains veterans to have sustainable farms. They identified a need to assist the veterans and their families with trauma symptoms and suicidal ideation. We provide the supportive services for the veterans and their families.
- The Nueva Luz Foundation launches a pilot project utilizing heart rate variability training for first responders, veterans, and children. We added this modality after careful review of evidenced based modalities. We have met with significant success. First responders experience a change in symptoms within 4-6 sessions, veterans between 8-20 sessions and children between 6-8 sessions with their parent included in the intervention.
- The Nueva Luz Foundation partners with Texas A&M Kingsville to offer Stress and Trauma orientation training to families and conduct intake and needs assessment in collaboration with the US Army Behavioral Health Unit. This was part of the Colonia Health Project in Banquete, Texas.
- Nueva Luz begins participating in the community-based “Trunk or Treat” for the children in Weslaco in a partnership with the South Texas Juvenile Diabetes Association.
- Nueva Luz holds trainings on the effects of trauma and mental health effect of COVID for the nurses of Knapp Hospital as part of their November trainings. The trainings were well received, and the nurses expressed improved understanding and gratefulness for the coping skills taught.