By Roberto Hugo González
At the Embassy Suites Convention Center, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 68th annual Man and Woman of the Year banquet unfolded, celebrating outstanding community members during the prestigious Man and Woman of the Year awards. The evening’s peak was a heartfelt tribute to the Woman of the Year, Lorena Castillo. A special video, displaying her significant community impact, captivated everyone.
Chris Ardis, among the first to offer a testimonial in the video, expressed admiration and honor in being friends with Lorena, lauding her as an exemplary choice for McAllen’s Woman of the Year. Ardis highlighted Lorena’s kindness, humor, and social nature, and appreciated her significant contributions to the city.
The video then featured Texas State Representative Oscar Longoria, who congratulated Lorena on receiving the 68th annual Woman of the Year award from the McAllen Chamber. He expressed gratitude for her contributions to the community and her role as an inspiring figure, particularly for his daughters and the wider South Texas region.
Belén Guerrero, Lorena’s godmother, expressed immense pride in Lorena’s achievements. She congratulated Lorena, acknowledging the honor bestowed upon her and emphasizing the pride the entire Castillo family felt. Guerrero also expressed her gratitude and love, cherishing Lorena’s presence in their lives.
The presentation culminated in a warm round of applause as Castillo graciously accepted the 2023 Woman of the Year award.
In her speech, Castillo expressed deep gratitude and amazement, “The video was unexpectedly touching. It’s an honor to be here tonight, and I’m immensely grateful for this recognition. Congratulations are also due to Larry Fallek and Bill Stocker for their respective awards. My sincere appreciation goes to the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, its board, and staff for this splendid event. My life’s equilibrium is maintained by my wonderful friends and colleagues at Negrete and Castillo, including my partner Augustin Negrete and Juan, Elsa, and Carlota. My family’s support, especially from my husband George and stepson Nathan, is my strength.”
Former McAllen mayor Jim Darling, who has known Lorena since high school, shared his thoughts about her in the video, saying that he considers Lorena and a few other students from his law office as his own children, though not biologically. He expressed his admiration for their success, which exceeded his own expectations.
Karen Valdez also spoke highly of Lorena, describing her as an inspiration and a role model both in the community and within her family. She emphasized Lorena’s exemplary influence on her nieces and nephews, highlighting her mentorship qualities.
Elva Cerda, the director of the McAllen Heritage Center, praised Lorena for her exceptional kindness and loving nature.
Lorena added, “I know my volunteer activities can be demanding and take time away from our family, but your understanding and support are invaluable. Thank you, and I love you. Being a native of McAllen, this city holds a special place in my heart. From my days at Seguin Elementary, Lincoln Junior High, and McAllen High School, I’ve always admired how teachers go the extra mile for their students. I fondly recall my first-grade teacher, who, despite being strict, showed incredible kindness by delivering my report card and treats to my home when I had chickenpox. That act of kindness characterizes service and has stayed with me ever since.”
Continuing her acceptance speech, Lorena focused on the significance of community service. “Community service, a voluntary effort to benefit the community, has been a source of immense satisfaction and happiness for me. The dedication of those who volunteer their time is truly admirable. Early in my career, my first and second bosses, Jim Darling and Richard Cortez, demonstrated their commitment to our community, profoundly influencing my perspective.
Many of you here tonight share this dedication to service. For me, giving back to this beloved community is a source of great joy. Collaborating for the common good is crucial for the success of our local nonprofit organizations.”
She then discussed her involvement with various boards. “I’ve been fortunate to serve on boards like Affordable Homes of South Texas, the Junior League of McAllen, and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties. These organizations, focused on children, have allowed me to witness the joy of families receiving the keys to their new homes and the impactful work of the Junior League in supporting children through various programs. When it comes to helping children, the members of the Junior League are always ready to step up.”
Lorena highlighted the critical role of the Children’s Advocacy Center. “For children in Hidalgo and Starr counties who have faced abuse or witnessed violence, the Children’s Advocacy Center is the light of hope. It provides a safe space for these young survivors while coordinating with law enforcement and investigators to bring perpetrators to justice and offer crucial support to our precious young victims, our survivors. Every board I have been a part of does incredible things for our community.”
She concluded her speech with a reflection on her love for McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley. “My affection for McAllen and the entire Rio Grande Valley runs deep. The opportunities provided by institutions like UTRGV and South Texas College pave the way for success. The growth and prosperity of the RGV stem from the dedication of its people. We are all called to serve and uplift our community, starting with simple acts of kindness, gratitude, and laughter. Thank you once again for this incredible honor. May God bless each one of you.”
The evening ended with a standing ovation, a profound respect and admiration Lorena Castillo has garnered through her years of dedicated service to the McAllen community.
Written by Roberto Hugo González, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner & The 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Award recipient.