The McAllen Chamber of Commerce has announced their 2010 Top Five Small Businesses. Each one is so unique it’s easy to understand why they were chosen. Not only have their businesses had consistent growth but the people behind them have used their life lessons to mold themselves into the successful business people they have become.

Dr. Fred Farias, III, 20/20 Vision Care, is proud of being a local boy, proud that he has been a part of the growth of McAllen.

Leading the canned food drives at Jackson Elementary, being a cub scout with Mike Fossum, McAllen’s own astronaut, being a member of the Boys and Girls club all helped shape Dr. Farias as he grew up in the Valley.

When he began seeing an optometrist he thought to himself, “I think I might want to do that.” After his undergraduate work he went to the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis where he saw snow for the first time in a whole different part of the country.

“They had built a beautiful new medical complex for the optometry program,” said Dr. Farias. “It was a great experience because I knew I wanted to come back to McAllen and the Valley.”

Opening his own practice upon his return with an optical store, his strategy was to have unique products which couldn’t be found in the Valley. He succeeded. With clients from across the Valley and from Mexico, a good portion of his business, he’s watched his business steadily grow over the years.

Appointed by the governor to the Texas State Board of Optometry from 2001 to 2007 was also a big honor as well as being recognized in 1998 as the Texas Young Optometrist of the Year.

“Our philosophy is that we want to take care of people like we’d want to be taken care of ourselves.

Eli Ochoa, ERO Architects, discovered in the second grade his life’s mission.

“My dad would visit the local contractor who was drawing up plans for a house,” said Eli. “I was fascinated by the work he did and how he drew. I’d walk to the construction site where they were building the house and hangout until dad picked me up after his work. I remember specifically watching the men work on the house and said, ‘That’s what I want to do when I grow up.’ From that time on I was focused and knew I would become an architect.”

Adding “structural engineer” to his title was from falling in love with his engineering classes while becoming an architect.

“There’s very few of us in the state that have both licenses,” Eli said with pride.

Finding his niche in educational architecture he started ERO Architects to follow his passion of helping students become the best they can be with the help of the building surrounding them - using color, textures, materials and design.

Doing educational work after college instilled the desire of the work but it was after his family’s many years on the school board that gave him the insight into how he could better design educational buildings.

“I really like that work,” he said. “It’s very gratifying. We’re wanting to design schools that are going to be conducive to learning.”

Matt Foerster, Express Employment Professionals, has always been a caring kind of guy. But it was that airplane crash (he wasn’t hurt) when he was 15 years old that instilled a deep philosophy in him.

“Looking at the picture of the plane every day reminds me of how short life can be and how not to get sidetracked from doing the right thing,” Matt said.

When he joined Express he loved their slogan - “to help as many people as possible find good jobs by helping as many clients as possible find good people.”

“That’s what drives my life every day — because I love helping people,” he said. “I love getting them through issues, talking them through things, working with people. I love everything about people.” And he loves the Valley.

“Working down here afforded me the ability to buy a business and be a self-driver for myself and my family. That’s one of the things I think people don’t realize. You may not start off high but your promotibility and your viability long term is really good if you’re a hard worker and you see the opportunity to take a job as your own,” said Matt.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of great mentors and great people in the community to help me along. The chamber’s been a great asset to us and has helped us just to help us. No attachments. It’s just what they do. It’s fantastic.”

Dr. Raul Peña, Peña Eye Institute, has made it part of his life’s work to help others. Since he was 6 years old he knew he wanted to be a doctor. The decision to make the eye his calling was made as he watched a lady bring her dad into the doctor during his rotation in ophthomology, guiding him because he couldn’t see. Then Dr. Peña watched as the cataract was removed and a seeming miracle occurred — the man could see again!

“The next day we couldn’t keep up with him. It was a new lease on life. Now he could drive, now he could work. Now he could do everything he wanted to do. It was at that moment I decided to go into ophthomology,” Dr. Peña said, thoughtful at the memory of that day.

What has shaped him as a man was the accident he was in while attending medical school in Monterrey. Swerving to avoid hitting a man who was waving a handkerchief at him, his truck hit the curb, went over the railing and down three stories of an embankment, across boulders.

“It felt like I was in slow motion. I hit a boulder, hit another, rolled once and landed right side up. I’m not sure how but I didn’t even get a scratch,” he said, that fateful day playing across his face. “When I was climbing back up to the top, across the boulders, there was a kid looking over and asked me, ‘Where’s the dead guy?’”

“Ever since then I’ve tried to find out why God kept me here. I’m just living on borrowed time.”

Today, removing cataracts, performing IntraLASIK (the official IntraLASIK surgeon for the Dallas Cowboys) and all number of procedures, Dr. Peña does his favorite thing — helping others have a better quality of life.

Edna Posada, Spa La Posada, is the lone businesswoman in the line up. Today, with three locations, through hard work, she remembers from whence she came.

“I grew up in very humble surroundings,” said the oldest of five children. “At one point we had a two-bedroom trailer and lived next to a canal. One week the three girls would sleep on the bed and the next week we’d sleep on the floor in the living room.

“When we first moved out there was no water. In the very beginning, until they actually got water out there, my mother would take us to the canal bank, hold up a sheet, and with buckets the girls would take a shower on one side of the sheet and the boys on the other side. That’s where I came from.”

Learning responsibility early, she also had a grandmother who left a deep impression.

“I had this incredible grandmother who did it all — raised four kids and two of her sister’s. She did it without education and kept her faith, never complained about anything. For me that was really a great inspiration.”

With a degree in computer programing, she followed a job possibility which led her into cosmetics. Finding she was good with women and cosmetics she started with Merle Norman when she was 27 and created her own successful multi-location business slowly but surely which she juggles with the help of a great staff.

“I love what I do. There’s never a dull moment,” she said laughing.

The Chamber has a knack of awarding their Top 5 Small Business to winners all the way around.