The return of students to school this month provides a somber reminder that our community still has a long way to go toward achieving equitable educational attainment. 

According to 2023 data from education advocacy organization Raise Your Hand Texas, 61 percent of students going back to school this year are economically disadvantaged. Texas ranks in the bottom 10 states in the country in per-pupil spending – about $4,000 below the national average.

In San Antonio, organizations like Communities in Schools of San Antonio (CIS-SA) and Empower House are stepping in to help bridge that gap. CIS-SA ensures students have the tools they need to learn and encourages them to stay in school. Empower House provides educational opportunities and youth programming with a focus on restorative justice.

Both nonprofits have proven track records supporting youth in our community – efforts recognized by the San Antonio Area Foundation with grant funding supporting their work and mission.

“Getting ready to start school can be a huge burden on families with limited financial resources, but thanks to organizations like Communities in School and Empower House, these families find the support they need,” said Patricia Mejia, Vice President for Community Engagement and Impact at the Area Foundation. 

“We are grateful to partner with these organizations to ensure young students have what they need to thrive and know our collective regional prosperity is dependent on closing opportunity gaps for those who need it most,” Mejia added.

CIS-SA works with approximately 160 schools across 13 school districts in San Antonio. The organization’s annual Stuff the Bus School Supply Drive provides free school supplies to thousands of underserved students and families during the school year. 

“Stuff the Bus is the biggest school supply drive in San Antonio,” said Megan Coldewey, Marketing and Communications Manager at CIS-SA. “This provides school supplies to students for the entire year. We know that a pencil doesn’t last forever.”

Along with school supplies, CIS-SA also accepts monetary donations during the year to purchase other items students need such as uniforms, coats, shoes, hygiene products and blankets.

“This summer, we had over 150 community partners help raise funds or collect school supplies,” said Coldewey. “We also had a Stuff the Bus Day with H-E-B where we invited people shopping to buy school supplies and donate them.”

At Empower House (formerly Martinez Street Women’s Center), Executive Director Jenny Castro said, “empowerment is at the heart of what we do.” This includes the organization’s Empower Youth development programs with services in mentorships, skill building and leadership opportunities.

“During the school year, we offer daily after-school programing to middle and high school students,” she noted.  “The enrichment activities we provide are trying to broaden our participants’ horizons and expose them to experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.”

These diverse activities range the gamut from social and emotional learning to academic support like reading and math tutoring.

“We really build into our program opportunities for kids to reflect on their own experience,” said Castro. “Here at Empower House, they find a sense of belonging. That’s the kind of environment we seek to create.”

Supporting nonprofits focused on helping students is crucial for the Area Foundation, reflective of its vision to close opportunity gaps for those who need it most. In fact, Youth Success is one of four principal grantmaking impact areas. Want to learn more about impact areas and donate? Just click here.

Francisco “Kiko” Martinez is a contributor to the San Antonio Area Foundation Marketing & Communications Department’s Storytelling Ambassador Network.