UTSA and Silver & Black Give Back team up to build community with special projects

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Top photo: Spurs center DeJuan Blair and guard Patty Mills with Lowell Science Club members
Center photo: Blair with Lowell students
Bottom photo: Wide view of the Lowell community garden

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(March 19, 2013) -- Recently, Lowell Middle School students distributed 20 bags of fresh produce to families in their school's immediate neighborhood. The fruits and vegetables came from a garden built and maintained by the Lowell Science Club with funding from Silver & Black Give Back.

To facilitate community projects, five UTSA students were named Spurs Team Up Challenge Scholars. The 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.

UTSA graduate student Fedra Chapa mentored the students, whose project is one of 27 community initiatives funded through the Silver and Black Give Back Team Up Challenge.

"Lowell is an inner-city school with few past gardening endeavors, and we want to engage the school in teaching them all about gardening and the many positive attributes about it," said Chapa. "With this new, awesome garden, we are making a statement about how cool it is to garden and to be self-sustainable. Our science club wants to educate their student body and their community about healthy eating and a healthier lifestyle through gardening organically and locally."

UTSA student Tessa Benavides is working with the National Junior Honors Society at Rhodes Middle School to establish a reading and mentorship program for at-risk children in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio and the Carvajal Early Childhood Center.

At Burch Intermediate, Team Up scholar Laura Covarrubias is helping middle school students develop an after-school program that offers clubs and organizations that meet a few times each week to prepare performances, shows and exhibitions.

Chapa, Benavides and Covarrubias are all pursuing master's degrees in public administration in the UTSA College of Public Policy.

With the support of the Spurs' Silver & Black Give Back organization, UTSA doctoral student Mario Burns (counselor education and supervision) and undergraduate Leslie Garza (criminal justice) also are helping local children with outdoor community service projects. Garza is helping the science club revive two courtyards at Briscoe Middle School. Additionally, they are working with a landscape architect to design two outdoor classrooms and an outdoor laboratory on the campus. Burns is working with Sam Houston High School's Young Leaders Program to create a junkyard art garden they call the "Junk Yarten." They hope the garden will encourage visitors to recycle and reuse neighborhood materials in new ways.

"The Spurs Team Up Challenge has provided a wonderful opportunity for our students to share their energy and ideas with the community," said Francine Romero, associate dean of the UTSA College of Public Policy and a faculty sponsor for UTSA;s Team Up Challenge Scholars. "The addition of the scholars component to the challenge greatly benefits our UTSA students by giving them a meaningful service-learning opportunity and valuable experience in helping to guide a project to completion. We are so pleased to be a partner."

Later this spring, Silver & Black Give Back will evaluate each project completed through the Team Up Challenge. Finalists will be given additional seed funding to continue their service.