AUGUST 21, 2020 — In the year since its inception was announced, UTSA’s Westside Community Center has made great strides in fostering meaningful relationships with residents and business owners in its San Antonio neighborhood in an effort to spark educational excellence, economic opportunity and vital research partnerships in the community.
“We are learning so much from our West Side community, which is culturally rich in resources and achievements, and is a true asset for this city,” said Elvira Leal, assistant vice president for community relations at UTSA.
The Downtown Campus and the historic near West Side share a ZIP code, 78207, where residents are largely low-income and Hispanic. Citywide partnerships are necessary to tackle the community’s concerns over housing, poverty, low educational attainment and lack of internet access. The Westside Community Center was created in August 2019 to bring city stakeholders together and serve as a hub for community-based research, while additionally providing educational and cultural services and career development and training opportunities.
Its creation also aligned with President Taylor Eighmy’s vision to expand the Downtown Campus over the next decade and his commitment to be informed and influenced by the West Side’s historical and cultural context. “Our goal is to balance our growth with the preservation of community assets, such as the heritage, artistic legacies, social movements and the working-class landscape that shape San Antonio’s West Side,” Leal explained.
After settling on its location at 1310 Guadalupe St. in September 2019, the center fulfilled many needs for both the university and the local community. It served as home base for a workshop in which UTSA students went door to door for housing research and outreach in an effort to prevent the displacement of homeowners from San Antonio’s traditional neighborhoods.
It’s where focus group interviews were held for a report on Bexar County’s “opportunity youth”—young people who are neither working nor in school—that was authored by demography professor Rogelio Sáenz, education professor Sofia Bahena, Westside Community Partnerships director Roger Enriquez, and doctoral fellow Joshua Anzaldúa.
Beyond research, the center launched the first Westside Community Scholarship Fund, hosted the Celebrate History ReinVOKed exhibition featuring rare memorabilia from Lanier High School, and served as a venue for small group meetings and sessions on public art feedback, housing information and social work training. The center was fully furnished in February, shortly before its doors closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the doors are still closed, the planning continues. In partnership with the César E. Chávez Legacy and Education Foundation, the center will launch a series of activities for the recognition of the city’s 25th anniversary of the César E. Chávez & Dolores Huerta March. The center will be virtually hosting the keynote address by San Antonio activist and educator Rosie Castro M.A. ’01 at 11:30 a.m. on September 30. The event will launch a call to action for video submissions from UTSA students, faculty, staff and alumni that will be compiled for a virtual march in March 2021.
Despite pandemic-affected constraints, UTSA’s efforts to serve the West Side aren’t slowing down. On the same week that the ribbon was cut to open the center in 2019, UTSA announced the Westside Community Partnerships Initiative to shape educational, economic and cultural programs and services for individuals living and working in West Side ZIP codes.
As part of this initiative, task forces were formed to positively impact the community in areas such as creating pathways to economic prosperity and educational excellence. Since last fall small-business advising and training was held at UTSA and the Guadalupe Center for historically underutilized businesses, government contracting, exporting, minorities, women and veteran firms. Furthermore, the UTSA Small Business Development Center advised 70 neighborhood businesses, created 27 jobs and started six new businesses in the community, providing more than $1.5 million in capital infusion.
Meanwhile, the College of Education and Human Development engaged in community conversations with Lanier High School, Tafolla Middle School, J.T. Brackenridge Elementary School, and the San Antonio ISD about educational offerings. The task force identified potential educational activities and wrap-around services that COEHD could offer through the center.
“We look forward to beginning our work together with the community, while also providing our students with community-based experiences,” said Belinda Bustos Flores, a member of the Pathways to Educational Excellence task force and associate dean of professional preparation and partnerships at UTSA.
The Westside Community Center is hoping to open soon for visits by groups no larger than 10 people. For now, however, the best way to connect with the center is to contact Leal by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or during her weekly virtual “walk-in hour” at 2 p.m. each Tuesday on Zoom.
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