Every year, the Valley becomes the second home to over 100,000 Winter Texans who spend their falls and winters here.
And every year, one local woman is in charge of making sure these honorary Valley citizens feel at home.
Kristi Collier, a McAllen native, is the creator of the organization Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley, which she says specializes in serving the Winter Texan population.
“Here in South Texas, we have close to 300 RV parks and retirement communities and it’s estimated we have over 100,000 Winter Texans coming to our area each year,” Collier explained. “We are the go-to source for information on what’s going on in the Valley. It’s very much like a chamber of commerce for Winter Texans.”
Collier’s website — welcomehomergv.com — compiles information ranging from a list of activities for all retirees across the Valley and an events calendar to a “robust” mobile app.
“It’s about providing Winter Texans with the services they are looking for,” Collier said. “Each of our communities does a good job of promoting their respective cities for Winter Texans, but there isn’t an organization that works with the entire Valley to promote it all for Winter Texans and understand their needs and what’s important to them.”
This need to help Winter Texans is one that Collier has been nurturing since she was a child, the McAllen native recalled.
“I grew up here, so I’ve never known life without Winter Texans,” Collier said. “I remember as a kid going to the annual Texas Citrus Fiesta and seeing Winter Texans there and loved everything about it. When I grew up, I wanted to be a Winter Texan because who wouldn’t want to be here in the sunshine doing so many different activities instead of being stuck at home in the snow?”
Welcome Home RGV was birthed as an opportunity for Collier to promote a different small business to the Winter Texan market.
“But there wasn’t one thing that would promote it to all the RV parks in the area, so I had to go to each RV park individually to promote it,” Coller recalled. “Eventually, another good friend also wanted to promote their business with me and it’s grown since then.”
In 2008, Welcome Home RGV was born. It included an annual magazine for Winter Texans that eventually turned into a weekly magazine published during the traditional Winter Texan season.
“As I was going through all the RV parks to promote my small business, Winter Texans would always ask me, ‘where do you go for this?’ They wanted a local opinion on where to go and what to do, so I thought ‘why not be that go to source of information?’” Collier said. “Welcome Home RGV sprung from there.”
Welcome Home RGV also features the annual Winter Texan Expo & Health Fair, an event for Winter Texans and the senior community in South Texas held every January at the McAllen Convention Center.
During the previous Winter Texan season, Welcome Home RGV also conducted a traveling tour.
“We took Welcome Home RGV on the road and hosted six events over a 10-day period across Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota to promote the area and bring people together to encourage them to invite friends who are interested in learning about the area,” Collier said, adding that she hopes the tour continues next year.
Collier wants her company to not only welcome Winter Texans, but function as a sign of appreciation for all they do for the Valley.
“Winter Texans bring an estimated $700 million to our local economy every year, so it’s important we recognize them not just for the financial gain the Valley sees but for what they also do,” Collier said. “They participate in a large amount of volunteer work through the school districts, organizations, hosting food drives … they do a lot of community service and that’s something that’s been measured in the past. Whenever they volunteer and spend money in the area, the Valley sees that positive side effect.
“Winter Texans come from such diverse backgrounds and it’s so fun and refreshing to listen to their stories and where they come from,” she added. “It’s fascinating to me, quite frankly, and I love every minute of what we do. Helping new people navigate a new area feels good and providing that service to our local community does that — it’s a win-win for everyone. It’s heartwarming to see and hear what they do and how we can help. It’s a lot of fun.”