New Work in San Antonio

 

 

Since the Foundation’s earliest days in the 1930s, the Butt family’s mission has included working shoulder-to-shoulder with other organizations that contribute to the health of vulnerable children and families. Our legacy includes ground-breaking work to address tuberculosis, illiteracy, and mental illness. In 2016 and 2017, we reflected on this past work and looked ahead to discern the needs that exist in our region and how those needs intersect with the Foundation’s mission, capacity, skills, and talents. With our work in the Canyon approaching capacity—we regularly speak of “going deeper, not broader” in our core work there—we knew taking a long-term strategic approach to “our work outside the Canyon” was paramount.

In 2017, following a year of pre-planning and research, the Foundation began testing and measuring three pilots in San Antonio—a mental health initiative led by Angela Aadahl, a capacity-building learning cohort led by Perri Rosheger, and a public storytelling effort led by Patton Dodd and Alice Rhee. Each pilot is working to further the Foundation’s mission in three different but overlapping domains that benefit children and families.

SAN ANTONIO MENTAL HEALTH INITIATIVE

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports fifty percent of all cases of mental illness begin by age 14; 75 percent start by age 24. Prevention and early detection are crucial, so it’s vital that teenagers and young adults have the resources they need to address these challenges. So where do they go for help? Scholars such as Duke Divinity School’s Warren Kinghorn suggest that churches are on the front lines of mental illness. Yet faith leaders often describe themselves as under-equipped to detect mental health challenges early, as well as lacking the knowledge, skills, and resources to respond appropriately.

In 2017, the Foundation began working with the UTSA Department of Sociology to study pastors and congregations in San Antonio to learn about the relationship between knowledge and practices of church leaders and members surrounding mental health.

The Congregations and Health Study has received institutional review board approval, the research instruments are completed, and the program is commencing with a pilot congregation in San Antonio.

Toward the same end, the Foundation has begun a new, citywide Youth Worker Mental Wellness Collaboration among six San Antonio organizations: Clarity Child Guidance Center, Ecumenical Center, P16Plus, Excel Beyond the Bell, Communities in Schools, and Bexar County Health Collaborative. Each has broad access to youth workers—pastors, coaches, youth ministers, program directors, etc.—and some organizations also have mental health expertise.

Angela said that her focus has been on “facilitating a series of meetings with these partners to address ‘Mental health challenges are pervasive among young people, and often go untreated.’ ” The group is still developing its pilot, but the Foundation is already working toward a neighborhood-based program with training and mentoring for youth workers that would launch in the fall of 2018. “It is amazing what can happen when you get a great group of dedicated people working together,” she said.

The Foundation also began a partnership last year with Grace Alliance, a Waco-based social services organization focused on “making mental health recovery accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime.” They are an evidence-based program, facilitating support groups in churches and online, with over 150 active groups worldwide, including almost 20 in San Antonio. We invested in strategic planning for their organization and will continue to champion their efforts in Texas.

San Antonio Capacity-Building

The Foundation’s capacity-building effort stemmed from an in-depth study of current social service literature and conversations with regional and national leaders in this approach to philanthropy. Capacity building increases an organization’s effectiveness through facilitated, trust- and peer-based learning, as well as multi-year funding. Perri explained that the project’s goal is the strengthening of organizations that are on the front lines of some of the most pressing needs in the San Antonio community.

“Two to three years from now,” she said, “we want to look back and see that family- and youth-focused nonprofits in San Antonio are better equipped to deliver on their missions and that they are using each other’s resources to impact significant issues we care about in the community.”

Starting in September 2017, the Foundation began convening a facilitated peer-learning cohort of 15 leaders from five organizations, including San Antonio’s Good Samaritan Center, P16 Plus Council of Greater Bexar County, Rise Recovery, Say Sí, and the San Antonio Christian Hope Resource Center. Each of these organizations is provided with an outside assessment using the Impact Capacity Assessment Tool (iCAT). The assessment through a context lens leads to the completion of a custom two- to three-year capacity-building plan for each organization. During the cohort year, the organizational leaders meet on five occasions, and HEBFF provides a small amount of operating support to each organization. Once the leaders complete the cohort program, they will continue to plug into peer learning and capacity-building opportunities for two more years.

“The capacity-building supports from HEBFF have been game changing,” said the executive director of P16Plus, Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, who has worked in the youth development field for nearly 20 years. He continued, “Like so many other nonprofit leaders, we are used to jumping through hoops to secure the supports we need to live our mission. This process has been the exact opposite experience. Through hands-on coaching, national guidance, and powerful general operating supports, HEBFF has given us a powerful boost to think, act, and dream at the next levels of excellence.”

We are testing our approach along the way and seeking feedback from the cohort after each gathering. We also have enlisted the support of experts in the field and an advisory council to ask hard questions as we progress through the 24-month pilot. Our council includes:

  • Don Crocker, Senior Fellow at The Support Center in New York
  • Liz Sack, Executive Director at Cricket Island Foundation
  • Phil Li, President and CEO of Robert Sterling Clark Foundation
  • Esther Larson, Director of Affiliate Development at Hope for New York
  • Sandi Paloma-Gonzalez, Director of Capacity Building at San Antonio Area Foundation
  • Meg Loomis, Capacity Building Strategist for Methodist Healthcare Ministries in San Antonio
  • Ellie Coplin, an Evaluation Officer for St. David’s Foundation in Austin

Jon Hinojosa, artistic and creative director of Say Sí, said, “Convening with experts in the field and working collaboratively as a group has provided great insight … We are now sharing information, resources, and opportunities to grow as a field of practice. That, to me will be the lasting impact—collectively strengthening our organizations, each other, and most importantly, the community we serve.”

We’ve been encouraged by the feedback we’ve received from the cohort so far and are excited to keep building this project. Rosheger recently kicked off the process of selecting a second learning cohort, which will begin this fall.

PUBLIC STORYTELLING

The third 2017 pilot was a foray into public storytelling through a nonprofit newsroom we called Folo Media. Led by two seasoned journalists on our staff, Patton Dodd and Alice Rhee, Folo spent the year taking a close look at the conditions and experiences of some of the most vulnerable families and children in San Antonio.

“Our aim was to use careful, powerful reporting to introduce people in San Antonio to their neighbors throughout the city,” said Dodd. “That’s challenging to do in a city that’s as segregated culturally and economically as San Antonio is—in fact, several national studies have ranked the city as the most economically segregated in all of the United States.”

That means that while children in some parts of San Antonio have every opportunity to thrive, children in huge swaths of the city struggle against very limited opportunities to do a lot of the basic things that make for a strong future: enjoy access to good physical and mental health care, join a cohesive faith community, and more. Yet many of us rarely encounter those children or enter their neighborhoods—even though they are very much our neighbors, especially as Jesus defined “neighbor” in the story of the Good Samaritan.

Through Folo, we learned a lot last year about the potential for storytelling to raise awareness and create a response to some of the most important challenges of our time. The project gained significant momentum, but we were going to need to scale up significantly in order to execute the level of storytelling we think this issue deserves. Early in 2018, we put the project on a hiatus in order to reassess how best to approach this work. The team is reorganizing their efforts while drawing on models of other organizations across the nation that use public storytelling and events to catalyze more opportunities for families and children in need.

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