Monuments & Music: Area Foundation Helps Connect SA Youth To Community And Well-Being

By Travis Poling

SAN ANTONIO – Young San Antonians are benefiting from the arts in the creation of meaningful monuments and musical training with counseling as part of two programs funded by recent Artist Fellowship grants from the San Antonio Area Foundation.

At the Centers for Applied Science and Technology (CAST), the grant funds the “Monuments” project to connect contemporary art to contemporary issues in the community. The CAST program consists of five schools working with three area school districts in a project-based learning environment.

“Through the project, students will identify the gifts within their communities and define opportunities to drive positive change,” said CAST Executive Director Jeanne Russell. “Traditionally, monuments honor the past. Through this initiative, our youth will lead the way in creating a monument that looks forward into the future.”

The project also involves extending an invitation to the larger community to participate with CAST students.

“Youth voices are traditionally left out,” Russell said. “Through our ‘Monument’ project, not only will we bring them in, but prioritize and highlight their voices in a way where they can make an impact in their community.”

At The Ecumenical Center, the Art Fellowship grant will expand its holistic approach to well-being, which includes mind, body and spirit. Working with East Central Independent School District, The Ecumenical Center will bring local musicians into the mental health and healing process for district students.

Through its Center for Young Minds group, organization leaders discovered that high school students didn’t want to find stress, depression and anxiety relief through older adults, but connect instead with people closer to their own age. The “Health and Harmony” program grew from that premise to pair students with musicians – recent college graduates who also are trained as peer support specialists.

“As the musician teaches the high school participants to play an instrument, they also form an important emotional and social bond,” said Mary Beth Fisk, CEO and Executive Director of The Ecumenical Center. That, in turn, offers them a caring adult musician who is trained to listen and provide feedback and additional mental health help as necessary.

East Central ISD counselors and the music director “were especially thrilled that the power of healing through the arts has been recognized by the San Antonio Area Foundation,” Fisk said. “This allows some of our very talented local musicians to contribute to the mental health and healing of the ECISD students, especially in light of the stress that virtual learning has placed upon the students during COVID.”

The Area Foundation was awarded a $2.1 million grant by national funder Blue Meridian to boost the work of youth-centered nonprofits in our community. Learn more about this program here as well as click here for more information on our main grantmaking impact areas, including Youth Success. 

Travis Poling is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and member of the San Antonio Area Foundation Marketing and Communications Department’s new Storytelling Ambassador contributor network.