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Rural Enterprise Community closes last chapter of 10-year book

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Sunnyside City Councilwoman and member of the REC board, Bengie Aguilar, said she feels the effects of REC will continue to be felt for years to come. Tuesday night, REC held its final meeting. Under federal regulation, all REC boards across the country are set to be dissolved by Dec. 31, marking the end of the 10-year initiative.

A decade of hard work and dedication came to a close last night (Tuesday), as members of the Lower Yakima Valley Rural Enterprise Community (REC) gathered for their final report to the community.

For the past 10 years REC has helped create jobs, improve area infrastructure and provide housing opportunities for low income families. The group has been involved with a number of projects in the communities of Sunnyside and Grandview, through either directly contributing funds or helping to leverage funds through the REC designation.

REC is part of a nation-wide federal project that was started more than 10 years ago to help empower low income, rural communities. When Grandview and Sunnyside first received their REC designation, the REC board was presented with $2.9 million that was supposed to help leverage more funds to help the two communities. According to Kim Tully with Yakima County, as of Tuesday night the local REC board had designated all of its funding with the exception of $1,600 that will be used to cover closing costs and the final audit.

Geri Horvath with the United States Department of Agriculture noted that over the past 10 years the REC board has been able to turn that original $2.9 million into $83.6 million, helping to leverage money for a variety of projects in the Lower Yakima Valley.

But despite the financial success the REC board has seen over the past decade, Horvath said she doesn't feel that it marks the largest contribution the organization has made to the Valley.

"It's the impact on the community that really stands out in my mind," Horvath said.

She noted that instead of numbers she started looking at the different services and projects REC has brought to the Valley.

She pointed to the jobs that have been created thanks to the REC designation, highlighting infrastructure improvements REC helped make possible at the Grandview wastewater treatment plant. The improvements helped keep industry alive and well in Grandview, therefore preserving nearly 600 jobs. Horvath said the local job market isn't the only area the effect of REC can be felt. She noted that REC was involved with the needs study that was done in regards to the Sunnyside Community Center.

"There was some forethought in that," Horvath said, noting that the first spark for that project started with REC.

Horvath said REC has also helped people realize the dream of home ownership. She said through the Self Help Housing program, which REC was involved in, there are 28 families who are living in their own homes. Horvath said over the past 10 years, REC has helped create 150 new housing units for low to moderate income families in the Valley. In terms of housing, Horvath said REC also played an integral part in the creation of the Bienstar transitional center.

"That's a direct result of the work of REC," she said.

Very recently, Horvath said the REC designation helped the City of Grandview purchase a new pumper truck for the fire department.

"It's really a better place to live, a better quality of life, for the people in the Lower Valley [thanks to REC]," she said.

REC Board Chair Joan Souders, who has been involved with the group for the past eight years, also opted to look beyond the numbers Tuesday night. She said for her, REC has been about people and helping to make life better in the Sunnyside, Grandview area. She also added that although REC was marking the end of its 10-year existence last night, she feels the effect of the organization will continue to be felt in the Valley for years to come.

She told a story of a 17-year-old boy who had a brush with the law several years ago and was assigned to take part in the Kids First program, which was created with help from REC. Souders said the young man rode his bike to Kids First every day, making no qualms when asked by the younger children why he didn't drive. She said he pointed out that he had gotten his driver's license taken away because he had been drinking and driving.

"His story was much louder than anything an adult could say," she said.

She added that now that young man is a father of two, working at the Wal-Mart distribution center, which REC helped contribute funds toward, where he is earning a living wage.

"The work of the REC has changed lives and the impact of the REC will go on," she said.

During the slide show presentation, master of ceremonies Gerardo Ruelas touched on other projects REC has been involved in over the years. He said REC helped fund a new playground in Grandview's Dykstra Park, helped leverage funds for the creation of a daycare facility at the Grandview campus of Yakima Valley Community College, and helped get many youth programs started in the area, such as the Youth Coalition. He added that REC helped provide funds for the construction of Valley Commons, a housing complex in Sunnyside, provided a mini-grant to Horizons, which helped them build a new facility in Sunnyside, and helped leverage funds for the construction of the Sunnyside Law and Justice Center. According to Ruelas, REC also helped fund a feasibility study for the SunnyView skate park and helped provide infrastructure improvements to Grandview Port property.

Grandview Mayor Mike Bren used Tuesday night as an opportunity to thank REC for everything they have helped make possible in the local community.

"In Grandview we have some projects that are REC funded that I think will be around for awhile," he said.

Bengie Aguilar, a member of the REC board and a City of Sunnyside Council member, agreed with Bren, noting that she feels the effect of REC will live on.

She also commended all of the people who have been involved with REC over the years. Aguilar said it has been nice to see people come together to change the lives of people in the Lower Valley.

Tina Cohen with the Washington State Department of Community Trade and Economic Development also took time to thank the people who have worked on the REC initiative over the past decade. She added that although the formal REC group was coming to a close, the work of the initiative is something that will continue.

"I know in the next 10 years we'll still be talking about the successes of the whole community," she said.

Yakima County Commissioner Jesse Palacios, who was a part of the group that helped bring the REC designation to the Lower Valley, said one of the best things that ever happened through REC was the bringing together of people on the board. He noted that it brought the communities of Sunnyside and Grandview together.

"We were no longer looking at it as Grandview or as Sunnyside, we were thinking of it as a community," Palacios said.

Steve Hill with Yakima County said it has been exciting to work with the board itself over the past several years. He added that without the board REC wouldn't be where it is today.

"I'm only sorry that we are coming to the end of the initiative," Hill said.

And to mark the end of the initiative, Souders rapped her gavel one last time. Although it was technically the last meeting of the board, Souders noted that REC will live on.

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