Four years ago, as part of our Folo Media news initiative, we met Marcus Jordan, a Good Samaritan Community Services employee who works with youth on San Antonio’s West Side.
In one of the programs at Good Sam, as it’s called in the neighborhood, employees serve as mentors to students. Jordan was mentor to the Perez kids—Harvey, Johnny, and Bianca—all teenagers at the time, who grew up at Good Sam. They were part of a program called the Youth Advisory Committee in which students like the Perez siblings choose their own projects. It could be “volunteering at an animal shelter, cleaning up a park near public housing and adopting a beach,” we wrote in 2017.
“It is about showing the youth that they have a voice,” Jordan said.
Good Sam offers an array of services for people of all ages who live on San Antonio’s West Side. This year the nonprofit has had to cut its budget by roughly 5%. “But it hasn’t been so much that it will impact its mission too much this year,” said Simon Salas, Good Sam’s executive director.
Like most community outreach centers on the West Side last year, Good Sam was tested at the start of the pandemic like it never had been before. While new-norm practices like remote learning offered the 70-year-old organization on Saltillo Street another tool to reach the neighborhood, they also exposed the digital divide that plagues San Antonio’s poorest ZIP codes, like 78207 where Good Sam primarily operates.
Under normal circumstances, Good Sam provides a holistic array of programming, serving all ages from toddlers to senior citizens, with the intent of bridging the inequality gap facing the city’s West Side. It began as a ministry of the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in 1951, and now reaches more than 4,700 people and 1,800 families in South Texas.
“When you talk about what Good Sam does, our big focus both internally and with our clients [is] we’re focussed on building relationships,” said Salas.
For its younger clients, Good Sam’s early childhood programs, including Head Start, have continued in person for about a year. Those programs serve small infants and preschool-aged kids as they approach kindergarten.
For older kids and teens, Good Sam offers literacy programs, peer-based learning, college counseling, financial aid guidance and outdoor camp activities. GED and other educational programs, ESL and citizenship classes are available to other members of the family.
Last summer, Salas said Good Sam’s funding partners made it possible to use some of the funds they already had been given and apply them toward pandemic-related emergency needs: baby food, hygiene supplies and cash gift cards for its clients in need.
“Slowly and pretty consistently, the support from volunteers and donors really took off on its own,” Salas remembers. “The emergency grants that were made available by various organizations—United Way, San Antonio Area Foundation, individual foundations—were instrumental for helping us maintain continuity of service.”
A member of Cohort 2 repairs homes in impoverished San Antonio.
A member of Cohort 2 provides grief counseling to children who lost a parent.
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The center has adjusted its operations on the fly during the pandemic.