Tucson’s New ‘Neighbors’: The El Rio Vecinos Raise Money for Children’s Dental Program With Their First Massive Event

June 17, 2014

by James J. Jefferies

These two ladies have made it their life's work providing care to children at El Rio Community Health Center.

Lili Bustamante and Andrea Guice are committed to providing the best possible dental care to children at El Rio Community Health Center.

Much has been made of Tucson’s growing national profile, from major media outlets framing it as a southwestern twin of Portland (in light of the new restaurants, DIY spirit and art/music scene thriving Downtown) to having a population that now nears one million when surrounding Pima County is included. Despite the swelling ranks of those who call the Old Pueblo home, it is, at the end of the day, a tightly-knit community of neighbors. Think of the last time you went out, and just how many people you knew that you bumped into. It sometimes feels as if there’s two degrees of separation here, tops.

As such, we have a great history of giving, and caring for those in need within our own community. One need not look further for evidence of this than the tradition of excellence in health care (and support for low-income and uninsured families) at El Rio Community Health Center.

For more than 40 years, El Rio has provided high quality comprehensive medical, dental, and preventative health care services to hundreds of thousands of Tucsonans who otherwise might have gone without, from their network which has grown to six health services locations in 2014.

Out of the 80,000 patients seen yearly at El Rio, 30,000 of those are children. El Rio also operates the state’s largest nonprofit dental clinic, which is an area of health care regarded as a very tough business in the nonprofit arena given the expense of that kind of care.

As this chart shows, good oral health really begins at childhood, and the oral health assessments and fluoride treatments provided at El Rio to thousands of children yearly can help them lead healthier, pain-free lives.

As this chart shows, good oral health really begins early in childhood, and the assessments and fluoride treatments provided at El Rio to thousands of children yearly can help them lead much healthier lives.

Tucsonans aren’t the only ones that have noticed the organization’s terrific work, either. El Rio has drawn praise for their award-winning approach to treatment of diabetes, and also carries certification from two of the most prominent health care quality organizations in the United States, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, and Joint Commission Accreditation.

Any healthy community needs to begin cultivating leadership and local talent while the iron is hot, though, and this is why Dan Chambers, a member of the El Rio Health Center Foundation Board of Directors, founded the El Rio Vecinos in late 2012. (Vecinos is Spanish for neighbors.)

The group is a network of young professionals, aged 25-39, committed to supporting the mission of the El Rio Health Center Foundation by assisting the Foundation’s Executive Director and Board of Directors in fundraising for the El Rio Community Health Center. The members, 40 in total, hail from an outstandingly varied array of prominent local businesses, national and transnational corporations, and nonprofit organizations.

That’s a mouthful for sure, but what does it mean to be a member of the El Rio Vecinos? “I got approached to be a part of this Vecinos group, and really, it’s about being passionate about giving back to the community,” said Belinda Rivera, a Vecinos member who has been active in local causes for the last five years while pursuing her career with software giant Intuit. “The reason why I volunteered to be part of this group is that I’ve been to the Center, my family gets care here, and I know where the proceeds are going.”

Belinda Rivera and Anthony Schaefer are the chair and co-chair of the Black Tie Block Party event, and they're dueling toothbrushes in one of the children's dental clinic offices. 30,000 children are seen at El Rio Community Health Center yearly.

Belinda Rivera and Anthony Schaefer are the chair and co-chair of the Black Tie Block Party, and they’re having a toothbrush duel in one of the children’s dental clinic offices.

Anthony Schaefer, a residential real estate agent for Long Realty Company, also joined the Vecinos for similar reasons. “I was born and raised in Tucson, so El Rio’s presence locally has always been pretty obvious to me,” said Schaefer. “I have great sympathy for anyone struggling with health problems, and of the minimal health issues I’ve had, tooth pain has been the biggest one, so getting behind an effort like this (on behalf of the children’s dental program) is just something I’m all for.”

Rivera and Schaefer have been spending an extraordinary amount of time planning as chair and co-chair, respectively, of the El Rio Vecinos’ first fundraiser/social gala, the Black Tie Block Party. Yes, you read that correctly, the title of the event is crafted to communicate both the “formal – or not” nature of this exciting shindig that intends to capture the fun-loving nature of both the city of Tucson, and the Vecinos themselves.

The Black Tie Block Party will be held on September 27th at the Manning House, and has been planned in a way that specifically jettisons what can be an overly staid environment at charity events, all in the name of generating proceeds to benefit the El Rio children’s dental program. The event is title-sponsored by Avilla. Tickets are $50, with $75 VIP tickets available.

Look out, world! The El Rio Vecinos are out to change it for the better, bow-ties and all!

Look out, world! The El Rio Vecinos are out to change it for the better, bow-ties and all, with the Black Tie Block Party!

“Some people really like to get dressed up for events (in Tucson), and some don’t,” said Rivera. “Since we are a younger professional group, we wanted to give a more casual vibe. Our slogan is, ‘Leave the tux at home, but wear your favorite bow-tie.’”

This approach definitely seems in tune with the emerging aesthetic present in Downtown Tucson, and a young group of professionals intent on exhibiting style in their own way, but not necessarily feeling an obligation to honor old formal dress codes.

The event itself will feature live music by the Sound Bites, a unique ‘Live Art’ demonstration that will feature local artists finishing new works as event-goers watch, and there will also be a raffle. “Tucson just has this fun and funky vibe,” said Rivera, “and we’re intent on making the event give off that same energy.”

The raffle itself is an element of the event which the Vecinos are still very much in need of donations for, so if you’re an individual or attached to an organization that would like to get involved, now is the time to get in touch with the Vecinos to offer that gift. It would be great to see a competitive prize drive arise among donating companies and individuals here in Tucson!

El Charro Cafe's restaurants are also a partner in the upcoming Black Tie Block Party event, and the Downtown location is host to the next gathering of the El Rio Vecinos on June 20th from 5pm-7pm!

El Charro Cafe restaurants are also a partner in the upcoming Black Tie Block Party event.

The El Rio Vecinos meet a few times monthly to engage in social activities, plan group business, or get into subcommittees for work on specific events like the Black Tie Block Party. If you’d like to meet them and discover firsthand what being a member is all about, their next scheduled outing will be at El Charro Cafe’s Downtown location at 311 N. Court Ave on June 20th from 5 to 7pm.

“Tucson is a really small town, and if you can rally a bunch of people who actually care about improving things, you can make a huge difference,” said Schaefer. We couldn’t agree more. For more about the El Rio Vecinos, or to purchase tickets for the Black Tie Block Party, please check out their webpage here. Tickets for this event are expected be to a brisk sell, so if you’d like to party with some of Tucson’s sharpest young talent, all while supporting an incredibly worthy cause, this is your chance to do so.

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