Imagine you are walking through old downtown McAllen and you see a young homeless man sleeping on a bench. If you wanted to help him, where would you start?
One Valley man has found a way to reach out to people like him.
Former teacher and coach of 12 years Juan Salazar formed a Christian community outreach group in September 2018 called Stay Sharp. He and his volunteers donate their time, money, and resources to help the local homeless community, at-risk youth, prisoners, individuals on parole and other disadvantaged community members.
Aside from mentoring and spending time with those in need, Salazar and his volunteers make it a point to show God’s love through their actions as well.
On Saturday mornings, you can find Stay Sharp volunteers walking around downtown McAllen, handing out homemade breakfast tacos and coffee to the homeless community. “They’ll actually sit and talk with us about their struggles and it really gives us the opportunity to get to know them and minister to them,” Salazar said.
The group’s mission statement is “giving hope to individuals, families, and communities through education, mentorship, and outreach services.” Salazar explained that aside from the religious aspect, the heart of what his group does is perform community service and provide mentorship for those in need. “It is faith based, but we don’t want to scare people away with the church and religious language. So [what we do is] basically just loving on people … getting them to see that they have something valuable within them to offer the world,” he said.
The name “Stay Sharp” holds a special meaning for Salazar.
He explained that his brother had gotten caught up with the wrong crowd, went through tough experiences, and ended up taking his own life in prison. “But he gets to live through us teaching others and sharing his story,” Salazar said. “There are always a lot of negative outside forces trying to mold us, but our job is to stay sharp in our values and convictions. We have to stay on guard, on top of our game, so that’s where the name originated.”
Salazar’s passion has long been helping at-risk youth, and he has gotten to spend more time with these young people at Stay Sharp’s community center in downtown McAllen. Located at 2001 W. Houston Ave., the building has served as a safe place where community members in need can go to fellowship with one another, do activities like weight training, conduct, and participate in bible study and church services.
The building is currently open to the public 5 to 8 p.m.on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Bible study for men and women is held from 3 to 5 p.m Saturdays and bible-based church service in both Spanish and English is held 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sundays.
“We have about 250 people using the center right now,” Salazar said. “We would like to be able to extend our hours soon.”
Aside from helping those on the “outside,” the other half of Salazar’s heart lies with prison outreach for adults, and juveniles alike. “We’re trying to get into the juvenile state jails … we want to come up with a program that would help these individuals in prison,” he said. “What I encountered when I visited the prison was that there’s a lot of sentencing that’s just way overboard [for the crime committed], so in this program, we would like to act as advocates for law to help rehabilitate these kids, where they can have accountability.”
Salazar said he would like to create a parole system in which the parolees could report to the center and meet with mentors or substance abuse counselors as well as be provided with job interview and job placement assistance to make sure they have the necessary tools to keep moving forward in the right direction.
In addition to other avenues of support, Salazar recognizes that learning is an important building block.
“I want to help empower these people, and one way is through education,” Salazar stated. “Knowledge is key. I’d like to be able to offer a GED course soon.”
One of guiding principles Stay Sharp operates on is accountability. Salazar quoted Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” as an example of how Stay Sharp members support each other. “That verse is really how we try to operate. I can’t help someone if I’m not also being held accountable, so we all try to be that accountability partner for one another,” he explained.
Looking to the future, Salazar expressed that the outreach group relies on community support to keep making a difference.
“We couldn’t be doing all that we are in the community without the time, resources and love that our volunteers give,” Salazar said. “I’m humbled and blessed by their support.”
For any community members interested in donating, the community center is currently accepting donations of boxing equipment, large mirrors, canned food, cold weather clothing, and monetary donations to help sponsor Stay Sharp’s outreach efforts.
“Our purpose has always been about giving back and we have already been able to see those positive actions have positive repercussions,” Salazar said. “I can only imagine what the future holds.”
If you would like to help Stay Sharp Community Outreach by making a monetary, time or resource donation, contact Juan Salazar at (956)467-3043 or at email@example.com. Learn more about Stay Sharp and ways you can make a difference at onepowermotivation.com.