AEP Texas Now: Free to serve and serving for free

AEP Texas Now: Free to serve and serving for free

By Frank Espinoza

 

 

 

July 23, 2007Ask anyone to name the most famous modern civil rights leader and they’ll probably mention Martin Luther King. Next, ask what a Juneteenth Celebration is and they may or may not have a clue. But Isaac Arausa, an ARP Texas graphics technician in Abilene, has dedicated more than two decades of his life trying to change that and he’s done so in the most unusual way.It all began in 1992 when Arauza was serving as an active member of the Jaycee’s civic group in his hometown Abilene and was approached by Tyree Jones, a local friend who had a simple idea – start an annual Juneteenth Celebration in their community.{{more}}Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration in the United States that recognizes the end of slavery and dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers landed at Galveston, TX, with news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free. Amazingly, the news came more than two year after President Lincoln had made his Emancipation Proclamation, which became official Jan. 1, 1863.“I have to admit, I had never heard of it myself,” said Arauza. “But Tyree was a good friend who needed help and I agreed to pitch to.”According to Arauza, Jones knew he liked community involvement, and also like to cook some mean Texas-style barbeque. So the two men put their heads together and organized what would be the first known Juneteenth Celebration in Abilene.“Just like many things, we started off small and established some Arauza and his wife, Kim, who also volunteers at the event.very simple goals,” said Arauza. “We wanted to raise awareness of Juneteenth, but also wanted it to be free for everyone.”So armed with their barbeque pits and a whole bunch of enthusiasm, they headed for Stevenson Community Park.“All we would do was offer folks some free barbeque and tell them what we were celebrating,” he said. “That would usually start a conversation and we went from there.”He said they only fed about 25 people the first year or as he put it, “we only cooked a couple of briskets.” But year after year, they continued. Within several years, other organizations like the city’s park and recreation department wanted to get involved.Today, 25 years later, about 4000 people attend the event and Arauza and Jones cook more than 95 briskets – enough to feed about 3000 people. And thanks to the efforts of about 20 other volunteers, the even now offers a variety of activities like free swimming, games for all ages, horseback riding and live gospel music.For their tireless efforts, the Abilene Annual Juneteenth Celebration Committee this year honored the two by establishing the Isaac Arauza and Tyree Jones Volunteer of the Year Award.When asked how he felt about being recognized, Arauza said he felt honored, but added that he was just doing what come natural to him.“Being active in our community runs in the family,” he said humbly. “But this goes to prove that one doesn’t need special skills to make a difference. All I did was barbeque and lend a helping hand – but I loved it.”If you like to volunteer in your community, visit AEP Texas Volunteers to see how you man qualify for a grant worth up to $250 dollars.