Family Service Association received a stunning surprise from Bexar County on Friday morning, as Commissioner Paul Elizondo announced that the county has set aside $1.5 million to help the agency complete their purchase of the former H.K. Williams Elementary School. Family Service has rented the facility, where they host The Neighborhood Place, for almost ten years, and recently embarked on a $5 million capital campaign to purchase and renovate the building from Edgewood Independent School District.
With the help of major philanthropic organizations and charitable foundations, Family Service had raised $3.2 million before the county’s contribution. The press conference at The Neighborhood Place was intended to announce that Family Service had achieved the funding needed to complete the building purchase, but the County stepped in to fill in the renovation funding gap.
Chef Johnny Hernandez of Grupo La Gloria, and Kim Lubel, president and CEO of CST Brands, chaired a Legacy Campaign bringing in partners like the Harvey E. Najim Family Foundation, the Kronkosky Foundation, The Mays Family Foundation, and the Greehy Family Foundation to name only a few. Business contributors included the H-E-B Foundation, Valero Energy Foundation, Guido Brothers Construction and many more.
Elizondo applauded the efforts of the capital campaign, calling the Neighborhood Place “a shining example of what a community can do when people of the right mind and the right heart work together.”
He then announced the county’s surprise contribution.
Nancy Hard, president and CEO of Family Service, looked surprised and took a moment to collect herself after Elizondo’s announcement. The contribution will allow Family Service to begin needed renovation on the building that will extend resources to more Westside families.
Family Service took up residency at The Neighborhood Place in response to a local child abuse epidemic that came to light in 2005 and 2006. The human services agency, founded in 1903, wanted to address the root causes of this abuse, implanting themselves in the community to understand the challenges and situations that led to child abuse.
“Instead of running away, we put a stake in the ground and asked how we could help,” Hard said
Their approach is holistic, offering physical and mental health, financial, family, and educational services for every age and ability. The Neighborhood Place targets the three of the poorest zip codes in San Antonio- 78207, 78228, and 78237, where almost 29% of the population lives below the poverty line with an average per capita income of $15,597. Nearly one-third of the adult residents have not completed high school, and almost 18% are disabled.
Systemic brokenness and cycles of poverty often result in unsafe environments for children, and this area is no exception. The community served by The Neighborhood Place accounts for 20% of the child abuse cases in San Antonio.
With the help of on-site and off-site partners, The Neighborhood Place has served nearly 600,000 San Antonians from their target area and beyond since they opened their doors in 2007.
“They have demonstrated great stewardship over the years,” Hernandez said.
Elizondo reflected on years of service on the Westside, and his sadness at the institutional dysfunction that has plagued low-income districts.
“I’m sad that the school boards, especially on the West(side) and Southside are so dysfunctional that the state has to step in,” Elizondo said.
Corrupt and ineffective school leadership has left a significant crack in a foundational part of family wellbeing, along with other service gaps for low-income families. Elizondo stressed the importance of serving the whole family in order to help the children.
“(Family Service) has stepped in and filled a tremendous void,” said Elizondo.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), who represents much of the Westside, remembered a time when banks advised her against investment on the Westside, saying services would go unappreciated.
“I think those days are over,” said Gonzales.
*Top Image: Chef Johnny Hernandez embraces Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) following the announcement of a 1.5 million dollar contribution from Bexar County announced by Commissioner Paul Elizondo (left) (Precinct 2). Photo by Scott Ball.