Edinburg resident Ralph West may have found a home for his long awaited program meant to assist children "in the trenches" at Valley schools.

West announced recently that his Critical Thinking Institute may finally end up in financially troubled Edcouch after some school officials tentatively agreed the use of an abandoned school to house the program.

"The whole project was based on one thing, which is to serve, that is people and their needs and this is what it's about" West said. "Even though there is no public money here at the moment, I am very confident that once this project begins to evolve, finances won't be a problem."

West was given a word of mouth agreement by Edcouch-Elsa school's vice president Tony Barco at a special meeting held Saturday, Jan. 24. Edcouch Mayor Jose Guzman, and former Edinburg schools Superintendent J.L. Salinas were also in attendance. Barco tentatively agreed to house CTI in the vacated Santiago-Garcia Elementary School in Edcouch. The school suffered extensive damage as a result of Hurricane Dolly last summer, officials say.

"My project is designed for a community of this caliber," West said. "We are custom designed for this environment, the people here need something to get in tune with what is going on all over the country."

West has prepared an ambitious budget for the project. He is currently seeking to fund the program for $1 million to be tentatively raised from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others which he has not yet disclosed.

CTI is a non-profit program looking to keep at-risk kids in school, while teaching them lifetime skills in an after-school multipurpose facility. The CTI curriculum includes a program that teaches "building a participant's self esteem, basics of responsibility, effective conflict resolution, and peer pressure".

The idea started in 2002 with the philosophy that children be taught and assisted in developing their skills, knowledge, and attitude to prepare them in a world of technological changes, according to West.

The original intent was to set up the program in the old library facility on Cano Street in Edinburg before it was designated by the city as "Casa Cultura," a proposed future hub for art and culture in the city.

The plan was to partly convert it into a gallery with art from multi-cultural backgrounds as well as an in-house teaching facility for students.

Edcouch leaders say West's program will be a success despite the city's, and especially school district's, recent financial troubles.

Edcouch-Elsa ISD has laid off more than 200 employees, about 20 percent of district staff, in the wake of a $5.6 million debt.

Mayor Guzman confirmed that the city doesn't have the financial means to support the facility, but said the program might be assisted through Hidalgo Urban County funds "in a small way."

"We cannot really take the lead as far as funding, in small amounts maybe, but he (West) said he will go out for grants," Guzman said. "I'm pretty sure he will come up with the money."

"It's an incentive for the younger generation, and for future generations that would involve their way of thinking as a concept," Guzman said. "We are trying to get the community involved, there are key people involved, this is a community project and it will be a success."

West is a 1968 graduate of Edinburg High School and football standout, veteran, and longtime educator in the area. The West family has roots dating back to the pioneer families of Edinburg.