Students, faculty and staff volunteer to tackle food, housing insecurity and digital divide.
The impact of COVID-19 is bringing a newfound appreciation for partnerships, both new and existing. While collaboration is a core value demonstrated throughout the year, the pandemic and the 2020 holiday season saw the A&M-San Antonio community dedicate their talents, expertise and service to tackle some of the most pressing issues in the community from food and housing insecurities to financial literacy to helping families impacted by the pandemic to be able to celebrate the holiday season.
Their contributions across a spectrum of volunteer projects had a positive impact during a year that was overwhelming for many. Connecting with and supporting the community has always been at the core of A&M-San Antonio, according to Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson, president of A&M-San Antonio. “This year especially, the time spent in service by A&M-San Antonio students, faculty, staff and alumni continues to strengthen our bond with our city and county, while helping to set the stage for our community to emerge even stronger after the pandemic.”
Community Engagement is at the heart of the A&M-San Antonio student experience, according to Dr. Edwin Blanton, executive director of the Mays Center for Experiential Learning and Community Engagement. Here are several highlights for 2020.
- A&M-San Antonio students spent over 3,000 hours volunteering throughout San Antonio and Bexar County to tackle community issues including food and housing insecurity and financial literacy. One such is Juan Carlos Gonzalez, a senior studying business who volunteered at least weekly at the San Antonio Food Bank since the pandemic started. Gonzalez was recognized by the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County for his work with a Community Champion Spirit of SA Award.
- More than 20 students volunteered to help build houses with Habitat for Humanity.
- Financial literacy was also a priority, with programs such as GEAR UP and Junior Achievement providing in-person financial education for 75 K-12 students and their parents.
- A&M-San Antonio employees donated gifts to 29 families this year through San Antonio’s Adopt-A-Family program. In addition, A&M-San Antonio Military Affairs Department spearheaded our Toys for Tots collection efforts, ensuring that over 85 children would have a toy this holiday season.
- Earlier this summer, Texas A&M-San Antonio also helped address the need for COVID-19 testing in the area, donating over 100 testing kits provided by A&M System, to CentroMed to address a lack of testing supplies. In November, through the collective impact of the ASPIRE network, the university helped lead a groundbreaking school COVID-19 testing initiative supported by Community Labs LLC to provide cost-effective testing. The testing launched in November and will potentially impact 68,000 students and more than 10,000 staff in south Bexar County across the seven school districts.
- COVID-19’s emergence and a shift to online learning highlighted a digital divide in South Bexar County. A&M-San Antonio, in conjunction with the City of San Antonio and a grant from USAA, helped to address the problem. The Digital Inclusion Project will support 50 neighborhoods and eight independent school districts with digital inclusion strategies and will be supported by a $750,000 grant from USAA.
- Several traditional events were reimaged this year providing families across the city the opportunity to attend safe, socially-distanced family friendly celebrations, including Trunk or Treat and Lights of Esperanza “The Drive-in Edition,” the annual holiday kick off. Hundreds of families attended these events and for a brief moment, were able to enjoy a sense of holiday cheer during these trying times, according to Teniente-Matson.
- The university delivered holiday packages to students who attend A&M-San Antonio through the Bexar County Foster Youth Initiatives at a drive-through event on campus. The packages contained gifts donated from local businesses. Students from Antonion College Preparatory High School, Holy Spirit Catholic School, and the International School of the Americas also donated food packages to the students. A&M-San Antonio supports over 60 students who are part of the Fostering Assistance, Transitions, and Education program.