Everyone in San Antonio knows about flash floods—“Turn Around, Don’t Drown” signs are familiar on certain roads. But in the West Side, a neighborhood established by Mexican Americans who were restricted from more resourced neighborhoods north of downtown, floods were far more commonplace.
“I remember as kids getting pulled out of the [family] station wagon [that almost got swept away],” Mata said. “We were at the time like five or six, I think. But yeah, we didn’t know that was not normal.”
Mata says when you grow up experiencing poverty, “you accept it, normalize it, and blame yourself for it.” What seems normal at the time becomes absurd when you reflect back on it as an adult.
Mata speaks softly and with a kind of wisdom that comes from navigating barriers early in life.....
Mata is retired from two careers—one in federal law enforcement, and another as a lietenant [sic] commander in the Navy Reserves. Nowadays, she spends a lot of her time with COPS/Metro, a community organizing coalition that gathers people from churches, schools, businesses and unions to represent the needs of families and children. Over the last year, Mata and her COPS/Metro partners have spurred the City of San Antonio to create and invest in a workforce training program designed to support people seeking higher-paying jobs.
The coalition’s first fight, all those decades ago? Demanding that the city fix the West Side’s drainage issues.
Mata’s story is coming full circle....
[Photo Credit: Echoes]
Sr. Tere Maya "says people planting community gardens and pastors feeding people during the pandemic, as well as those working for COPS/Metro Alliance or the Interfaith Welcome Coalition in San Antonio, have their own stories of hope.”
COPS/Metro Assembly Draws 600 Leaders Online for Accountability Session with Candidates for City Office
[Excerpt from San Antonio Express-News]
More than 600 San Antonio community members tuned in to a virtual accountability session where city politicians and candidates addressed police reform, workforce development, education and February’s power outages.
Communities Organized for Public Service and the Metro Alliance, or COPS/Metro, hosted the session Sunday in the runup for the city election May 1. Early voting starts Monday.
Back in 1992, she was an organizer for COPS/Metro Alliance when the powerful community organization designed and persuaded the City to financially back Project Quest, which early on and to this day has been recognized as one of the most successful job training programs in the country. In 2011, when Project Quest was plagued with controversy from failings due not to corruption but to incompetence, Sister Pearl was brought in to turn it around. She did and ran the organization for six years.
Now the City of San Antonio is embarking on SA: Ready to Work, a program approved by the voters last November that will spend $154 million over five or six years in an effort to train the city’s working poor for good-paying jobs that the city is now generating.
[Photo Credit: Nick Wagner/San Antonio Report]
A successful partnering of West Side parishes with COPS/Metro Alliance to study Pope Francis' recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (On Fraternity and Social Friendship), owes it all to Zoom-and the savvy leaders invovled.
It began with an informal discussion on the encyclical between Father John Rajarjo, CICM, Pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Father Bill Kraus, OFM, Cap., Pastor of Our Lady of the Angles and Mayra Juarez-Denis, an organizer for COPS/Metro. Their intent was to offer a study program on Fratelli Tutti to parishioners, but instead of clergy leading the gatherings, parishioners would be enabled to teach it themselves.
"One of the things we do at COPS/Metro," notes Juarez-Denis, "is identify talent in the parishes so they develop their leadership, which will benefit not only themselves, but their families and parish life and the community."
Such a study program would expand the parish sense of community as well as lead them to reflect together on an underlying theme of Fratelli Tutti: Who is My Neighbor?
"Fratelli Tutti is a great document, not just for the Church but for the world," says Father Kraus. "It talks about how we understand and approach the common good. If we are going to work for the common good, locally, nationally, internationally, Pope Francis says we have to base it on the fact that we are brothers and sisters."
Parish 'Fratelli Tutti' Study Groups Go Virtual, Today's Catholic
Food For Thought host Father Jim Schellenberg talks with leaders Sonia Hernandez and Father Mike DeGerolami about COPS/Metro's track record in San Antonio.
Leaders from the Southside Independent School District and COPS/Metro announced their new working relationship at a Dec. 3 physically distanced press conference.
Together they plan a listening tour, including monthly gatherings where district officials can get direct input from learners, their families and other residents about local educational needs.
There also would be what COPS/Metro calls “civic academies” as part of the collaboration.
Estela Sanchez, a COPS/Metro organizer and SISD mother, said she looks forward to partnering with the district to empower other parents, getting them and neighbors more involved in school-community initiatives.
Another COPS/Metro member and SISD mom, Montserrat Amador, said the importance of education can’t be stressed enough.
“Just a year ago, I was not allowed to enter the school premises for not having an American ID. Today, I am where the decisions are made and I will work with the district’s administration and Superintendent Ramirez to improve the quality of education of my children,” Amador said.
She added, “We don’t have to conform with the minimum. Our children from the South Side deserve the same education as children in the North (Side) of San Antonio.”
[Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo]
“That’s one heck of a bloated bureaucracy from the get-go,” said Sonia Rodriguez, a COPS/Metro leader who worked on Nirenberg’s Ready to Work campaign.
The city’s ideas drew fire from Rodriguez and others at COPS/Metro — a local grassroots advocacy group that actively promoted Nirenberg’s plan to use sales tax dollars over the next four years to prepare San Antonio workers for higher-paying jobs. The organization founded Project Quest, a workforce development program, more than 25 years ago.
COPS/Metro officials knew the city would have to create some apparatus to run the program, they said during an Express-News editorial board meeting Thursday — but not one as large as what the city is putting forward.
San Antonio already has organizations with experience in providing workforce development and “wraparound services” such as academic remediation, child care services and job placement, COPS/Metro leaders said. Therefore, there’s no need to build a brand new organization or look outside of the city for expertise.
“We’re saying that the city has resources available without going out to hire someone from the outside,” said Sister Jane Ann Slater, another COPS/Metro leader.
Instead, COPS/Metro officials said, the city should work with Alamo Colleges, Project Quest and existing organizations to bolster workforce development efforts. They have the skills to bring in applicants, educate and train them but need help in getting the graduates into jobs.
“This is the right time for residents and organizations to provide feedback on the administration of SA Ready to Work, and we value COPS/Metro’s input as we work toward the program’s summer 2021 implementation,” Nirenberg said.
COPS/Metro was a key player in pushing the workforce proposal.
For example, COPS/Metro targeted “low propensity” voters — typically younger, newly registered or infrequent voters — in 25 voting precincts to turn out for the measure.
'Bloated Bureaucracy': San Antonio Organizers Blast City Efforts to Enact Nirenberg's Workforce Plan, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
Beatrice Gallego has spent her life advocating for the communities that San Antonio city leaders often neglect. As a parent volunteer, a devoted parishioner at St. James Catholic church, and the second President of the Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), Gallego has fought for Westside neighborhoods to get the resources they deserve.
Beatrice was born in San Antonio on October 21, 1934. Her parents were Andres Saldívar and Josefa Cuellar. She was the youngest of seven children. As a child she wanted to be a nun, but that changed when she met her future husband. On August 28, 1955 she married Gilbert Gallego, a hardware salesman. They live in the Palm Heights neighborhood at 902 W. Winnipeg and raised three children. Beatrice became active in her community very early, serving as a PTA leader, a Head Start volunteer and working at the St. James Catholic church on Theo Avenue.
In 1974, an organization that would eventually be named the Citizens Organized for Public Service (COPS) began to form in San Antonio, led by community organizer Ernesto Cortes, a Westside native who had been trained at Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation in Chicago, and Father Edmundo Rodriguez of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. Cortes was looking for natural community leaders, and he heard about Gallego. He had to make seventeen phone calls before Gallego would meet with him....
In 1977 she became the second president of COPS, and led several successful efforts....
[Photo Credit: Museo del Westside]
Ayala: Museo's Virtual Show in San Antonio Expands Definition of Activism and its History in San Antonio, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
Beatrice Gallego- Community Activist and COPS President, Museo del Westside
COPS/Metro Leverages 77% Support for 'SA Ready to Work,' Calls for Full Accountability in Implementation
On Nov. 3, 77 percent of San Antonio voters approved Proposition B, Ready to Work SA, and 73 percent approved Proposition A, Pre-K for SA. These outcomes clearly indicate San Antonio’s desire to invest in its most important resource, its people.
COPS/Metro and our sister organizations in the Industrial Areas Foundation, or IAF, made it possible for both to be on the ballot by authoring the state’s Better Jobs Act in 2001. This law allows cities to invest sales tax dollars in early childhood education and job training. Passing Ready to Work SA is the latest in a series of victories in COPS/Metro’s decades-long strategy to invest in human development. Others include the creation of Project QUEST, Palo Alto College and the San Antonio Education Partnership.
COPS/Metro created a program that blossomed into a nationally recognized model because of its extraordinary results for its participants. We named it Project QUEST.
The wraparound services, tutoring and counseling provided for every single participant produced remarkable results. On average, 90 percent of Project QUEST participants graduate and are placed in higher paying jobs with benefits.
COPS/Metro’s leaders delivered more than 50,000 voters in support of Ready to Work SA because we believe in investing in people. This commitment has propelled the city of San Antonio into a national leadership role for COVID-19 recovery.
[Photo Credit: Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News]
Commentary: Accountability Key to Workforce Program, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]