Each year, the Governor's Community Achievement Awards (GCAA) celebrate ten Texas communities for their achievements in litter prevention, beautification, public awareness, and other focus areas. Categorized by population, these ten cities share a prize of $2 million in landscaping projects.
The Rio Grande Valley, often referred to simply as "the Valley," is one of the fastest growing regions in the country. One of the largest and most engaged communities in the Valley is McAllen. At its recent Don't mess with Texas Trash-Off event, more than a thousand volunteers rode city buses to pre-selected locations, where they worked in small teams to find and remove as much trash and debris as possible. Local emergency officials patrolled the citywide event to ensure that volunteers were hydrated and safe. Program Coordinator Chris Lash monitored and photographed the event from a police lookout tower.
McAllen's community events continue to grow. From the Trash-Off to the annual Arbor Day Celebration, people come from beyond McAllen to get involved. The Arbor Day event started small, but it is now recognized across the Valley. "It's a 5K, a 10K, a bike ride, a tree planting… each year, we add something else," Lash said. Last year, the city distributed 840 seedlings to attendees and planted 30 new trees along the city's walking trail. Volunteers planted dozens more trees throughout the year, painted houses for elderly and low-income residents and collected 231 tons of litter at 30 cleanup events. "We've got everyone showing up now. The hospitals, local grocery stores, the banks, everybody is sending volunteers," Lash said. All of these efforts show community enthusiasm. "The Governor's Community Achievement Award is symbolic of the hard work that this community has done, the dedication of our volunteers and all the things that we can do when we collaborate and come together," Lash said.
Once a rural agricultural city, McAllen is now recognized as one of the "100 Best Places to Live" by U.S. News and World Report. Because of the community's level of organization, cleanups have reduced litter drastically, indicated by a low litter index score of 1.23 in 2016. "I can't do it alone, none of us can. It takes a lot of us coming together," Lash said. There is a sense of excitement as McAllen officials look forward to accepting the Governor's Community Achievement Award. With such dedicated city leaders and a growing army of volunteers, the possibility for a litter-free McAllen is more real than ever before.