Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
A live blues band with a wailing harmonica set the tone at Haven for Hope’s seventh anniversary barbecue that took place at its Transformational Campus on Tuesday. Adults relaxed in the shade of tents as children bustled around laughing and dancing to the music.
Just before beelining to the cafeteria, members stopped to listen to Haven for Hope CEO Kenny Wilson give thanks to everyone who has contributed to the organization's success. Wilson then turned the microphone over to Haven's Outreach Manager Ron Brown, who delivered a short, appreciation-filled sermon, as his three daughters watched close by.
Sponsored by NuStar Energy, the barbecue was prepared by a team of the company’s employees who traveled from across Texas to cook nearly 3,000 pounds of brisket, chicken, sausage, and ribs for the Haven community.
NuStar is Haven for Hope’s single largest donor, raising $35 million over 11 years through its NuHope Dinner & Golf Classic, with all funds going toward homeless prevention in Bexar County.
Working with 93 partner agencies, Haven for Hope’s 22-acre campus west of downtown San Antonio has provided shelter and services to homeless individuals and families in Bexar County since 2010.
Bill Greehey, chairman of the board at Haven for Hope, told the Rivard Report, “Haven for Hope would have never started without NuStar and the help they gave me in starting it.”
Greehey, a former CEO at Valero, began conceptualizing a plan for Haven for Hope after seeing a television program addressing homelessness in San Antonio.
“What I saw was that we were only sheltering the homeless," Greehey said. "We weren’t addressing the root cause.”
From there, he began working with then-Mayor Phil Hardberger to build a program with a multifaceted approach to homelessness — the end result being Haven for Hope.
At any given time, more than 1,400 people are utilizing Haven’s Transformational Campus, and 700-900 people per night may cycle in and out of Prospects Courtyard for safe sleeping. More than 2,600 individuals have graduated and moved into permanent housing, according to reports, with another 4,500 individuals considered chronically homeless moved into other supportive housing, including in-house treatment programs or higher levels of care.
Overall, Bexar County has seen a 4% decrease in homelessness since 2015, and a 15% decrease since the Haven campus opened in 2010.
April Leija, 36, is a San Antonio native who found herself at Haven for Hope after a drug relapse. She has been staying on campus for the last two months and will soon participate in the drug rehabilitation program with the goal of reuniting with her children.
“What I hope to get out of here is to recuperate from my relapse and to get a home – to find a home that no one will take away and be able to get the help that I need,” Leija said.
Leija told the Rivard Report that the annual barbecue is a blessing. "A lot of people here are not from San Antonio – they are away from home."
NuStar employees ensured that all Haven members felt at home as they served food, cleared plates, and kept cold drinks and treats stocked for the children.
Greehey told the Rivard Report that NuStar employees truly care about giving back to the community. "They are proud that these people have come to Haven for Hope to make a better life," he said.
Starting on Sunday, NuStar employees from district offices throughout Texas came to Haven for Hope, equipped with personal barbecue pits, to prepare for the barbecue.
Angelica Alvarez attended with five of her six grandchildren – all of whom she has custody of. They have been staying at Haven for Hope for three weeks since losing their housing.
Alvarez said that it is important that her grandchildren continue to have fun.
Alvarez's 7-year-old granddaughter, Angelina, said that her favorite part of the celebration was getting to have ice cream and temporary tattoos, while her brother, 12-year-old Jesus, said that he liked that "everyone [is] here, everyone is having fun, and the food is really good."
Greehey said the intention of any special event on campus is for members to feel appreciated and cared for.
"Look at how happy they are," he said. "What this [event] says is, 'We care for you – look at what we are all willing to do for you.'"