UTSA students, partnering schools named Team Up Challenge Champions

Fedra Chapa and Tessa Benavides

UTSA students Fedra Chapa (left) and Tessa Benavides

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(April 24, 2013) -- Service projects conducted by Lowell Middle School and Rhodes Middle School under the mentorship of UTSA students Fedra Chapa and Tessa Benavides, respectively, recently were named Silver & Black Give Back Team Up Challenge Champions. The two initiatives will receive an additional $20,000 from the Silver & Black Give Back foundation to continue their community service.

Last fall, Chapa and Benavides, who are students in the Master of Public Administration Degree program in the UTSA College of Public Policy, were among five UTSA students named Spurs Team Up Challenge Scholars. The Team Up Challenge outreach program matches Texas college students with K-12 schools pursuing community service projects in arts and culture, education, the environment, health and wellness, or uniformed services. Each project received $2,500 of seed funding to begin their projects.

Since October, Chapa has mentored students in the science club at Lowell Middle School pursuing beautification and healthy living projects. Chapa and the science club worked to create a green space for the Lowell Middle School community using logs, seeds and plants bought with the seed funding from Silver & Black Give Back.

In March, the students completed their first major vegetable giveaway for their healthy living initiative. They distributed 20 large bags of fresh produce from their garden to families in their school's immediate neighborhood. The club recently started a community compost bin outside the school grounds and invited the community to contribute compostable materials.

"I was so excited to know we won, and I knew the kids were excited, too," said Chapa. "They worked so hard. They could have been doing many other things, but they chose to do this project with their after-school time for the good of all their community."

Chapa said the middle school students have already begun drafting plans for the additional funding. They are considering the creation of a pathway through their garden lined with different fruit trees and vegetables, the building of a greenhouse and the cultivation of a butterfly garden near the school's community garden.

Benavides and the Rhodes Middle School National Junior Honors Society (NJHS) partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio and Carvajal Early Childhood Center to establish a reading and mentorship program. Since last October, the eighth graders at Rhodes have traveled to Carvajal to read and mentor identified at-risk children every Friday.

Benavides helped acquire sponsors including H-E-B, which donated several books to the program, and helped plan the educational logistics. The books read by the NJHS students are designed to complement educational strategies crafted by the program and the Carvajal teachers. Additionally, the NJHS hosted book fairs for the children at Carvajal and at their own middle school.

"I really give this program and this group of kids a lot of credit," said Benavides. "I've seen the reading program flourish because they had a really solid foundation to build upon. I think it's wonderful that Silver & Black Give Back and the Team Up Initiative saw the effort these kids are making. They're recognizing a program that has footholds to make a significant impact on all the kids involved."

The NHJS at Rhodes will continue the program through 2013-2014. They will expand the scope of their efforts with the additional funding they received by creating a summer reading program at the Boys & Girls Club.