Area Foundation Collaborative Grants Focus On SA’s West Side Cultural Preservation & Growing Inequities

By Kiko Martinez

SAN ANTONIO — The John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation, a charitable fund of the San Antonio Area Foundation, recently bestowed grants to local nonprofits whose work have a direct impact in uplifting our community’s most undeserved neighborhoods through programs in cultural preservation, housing, technology and career advancement.

The 2021 collaborative grantees are the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center ($50,000), Family Service Association ($50,000), Prosper West ($50,000) and Texas A&M – San Antonio ($100,000). 

“Our intent in providing these grants is to do our part in preserving the deep and rich cultural heritage of San Antonio’s West Side while addressing its growing inequities,” said Patricia Mejia, Vice President of Community Engagement and Impact at the Area Foundation. 

“These organizations and their respective projects build off existing community assets and help provide much needed resources to improve housing stock, bridge the digital divide and offer residents more and better career options,” Mejia added.

With its grant, the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center will continue its restoration project, Rinconcito de Esperanza, a community center dedicated to West Side history, culture, environment and inclusive economic development. In Phase 2, Esperanza plans to expand on the nearly 27,000-square-foot Rinconcito with the repurposing of a longtime neighborhood icehouse into a museum, the creation of an outdoor multipurpose event space and the restoration of several other facilities.

“The Westside is in danger of losing its historic and cultural identity, diminished by a wave of gentrification,” said Graciela Sanchez, Executive Director at Esperanza. “We know that the Westside will benefit from the influx of new investment and new residents only if it can honor its cultural heritage and strengthen its community identity.”

The Family Service Association will use its collaborative grant to help 50 low-income adults develop more career skills through training opportunities. Family Services ensures that over 85 percent of its enrollees into the program will complete training, receive their certification and find a job.

“Family Service recognizes that not everyone is going to attend college, but they need opportunity for a sustainable career path which these trainings will provide,” said Family Service Association President and CEO Mary E. Garr.

At Prosper West, the nonprofit organization focusing on affordable housing hopes to make an impact in its community by kickstarting a program called Casa Bella, which will serve some of the most impoverished and economically distressed neighborhoods in San Antonio. During Phase 1, Prosper West will acquire neglected, abandoned and vacant residential properties on the West Side and rehabilitate them into quality housing.

“Casa Bella’s focus on the Prosper West service area ensures that a historic, yet often-neglected part of San Antonio with some of the highest concentrations of low-income residents, will receive sorely needed neighborhood revitalization while maintaining affordability in the area over the term of the project,” said Prosper West President CEO Ramiro “Ram” Gonzales.

Texas A&M – San Antonio plans to use its grant to connect underserved communities to broadband internet services through its new Connected Beyond the Classroom Help Desk project. This effort includes providing technical support to students and their families. According to a report from the Federal Reserve, one in four San Antonio households does not have internet access.

“The lack of broadband access is a principal vulnerability that inhibits the development of resilient cities and towns responsive to the public health, educational, and economic needs of all citizens,” said John Sanchez, Executive Director of Advancement at Texas A&M – San Antonio. “Students without internet access at home are at a great disadvantage for achieving school performance standards, developing college readiness skills, and qualifying for high-paying career opportunities. Access to broadband internet is essential in education.”

Interested in learning more about our John L. Santikos Collaborative Grants? These noncompetitive awards are delineated to fulfill the mission of Mr. Santikos’ directive to effect real change in our community – equity being front and center in the decision-making process.

Francisco “Kiko” Martinez is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and part of the San Antonio Area Foundation Marketing & Communication Department’s new Storytelling Ambassador contributor network.