I live in the philanthropic world. During the past few years, I’ve come to find that the landscape is rather desolate. Skies are overcast and it rains too much, but we keep building dams praying our good intentions will be enough for at least a little while.

Then, sometimes, hope springs from the flood in the form of unexpected help.

It’s an intriguing idea. Ten people, $1,000 dollars, one deserving project a month. No strings attached, no prerequisites and no criteria aside from answering the simple question: “How does your project make your city more awesome?”

San Anto Cultural Arts, a local public and visual art nonprofit, received the Awesome Foundation grant from the San Antonio chapter of the organization in November 2012. John Medina, San Anto’s Public Art Program Manager, applied for the grant twice before, but struck gold with his sculptural bike rack submission.

San Anto youth participants unveil the tastey treat– an 11 foot tall paleta bike rack. Photo by Melanie Robsinson.

After brainstorming with local artist Casey Cooper and the San Anto youth participants, they knew they wanted a functional bike rack for the youth to lock up their main modes of transportation safely.

John Medina speaks on the paleta making process at the bike rack unveiling ceremony at San Anto Cultural Arts. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

“We make a point to have our murals reflect the communities in which they are located.” Medina said. “We wanted the bike rack to be a reflection of our community as well.”

What better to reflect the bicycle culture in the westside than a giant paleta? It conjures images of the paleta man, riding around on his bike, ringing his bell and selling ice cream bars. The unveiling of the structure took place at the San Anto headquarters yesterday, March 30. Friends and supporters gathered to celebrate the paleta’s arrival, enjoy ice cream and bask in the awesomeness.

The Awesome Foundation is a philanthropic effort founded in Boston in 2009 with the intention to give ten normal individuals a chance to pool their money and make a difference. According to their website, “a micro-genius grant for flashes of micro-brilliance.” Not a certified nonprofit, the organization is built on the idea of giving without limitation.

Jeff Mulholland, one of the founding members of the Awesome SA chapter noted that he was tired of excuses and wanted to act.

Paleta goodness in the heat of March. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

“It feels like San Antonio is a city that loses its creative reputation to other cities,” Mulholland said. “Rather than complain, we wanted to make it the best city it could be.”

Awesome SA is quickly making moves in the community. Conceived in May of 2012, the group first met in August of the same year and the first grant was awarded in October. Previous recipients of the award include a solar-powered food truck, a thrift store fashion show, a community chalk board and even a mobile pet adoption center.

Francesca Caballero is another member of Awesome SA who donates her time and funds to this philanthropic effort.

“I love the fact that we can give money to anyone. I know that it is very difficult to fund individuals and groups who don’t have a 501(c)(3).” Caballero said. “I thought it would be a great way to engage and encourage people who have good ideas and want to do something to enhance the community, but who don’t have the time or financial means to become a non-profit.”

How does it work? Apply online by answering a few questions. About five finalists are selected and reviewed by the ten-member organization. Majority wins. Simple as that.

San Anto Cultural Arts organizers and community members gather for a group photo in front of their new paleta bike rack. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Some favorite submissions that didn’t win? Caballero remembers a 17-year-old student who wanted to do a block party similar to First Friday for high school age youth to show teenagers who might be thinking about leaving for college, that San Antonio is cool (despite what everyone may tell you). Mulholland continues to encourage a recent idea to provide free bike repairs and possibly whole bikes to those in need – Popo’s We-Cycle.

“In the end, we really want all of the ideas to happen,” says Caballero. “We are limited by our budget so we can only select one, but we try to provide feedback that will help all of our applicants be successful.”

Melanie Robinson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Concentration in Professional Writing and a minor in Anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in December 2011. Her current Marketing position at the local nonprofit organization ARTS San Antonio has afforded her the opportunity to further explore her love of the arts. She now spends her nights among local musicians, artists and poets – finding beauty in self-expression. You can contact Melanie through her Facebook.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com

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