In a city as big as San Antonio, there are many community focal points--places that draw people together. Some are neighborhood centers, some are churches, some are schools. Down on Mission Road, there's Blessed Sacrament Academy (BSA), a ministry of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament. From their Southside home, this ministry has positively impacted the lives of individuals and families in San Antonio for generations.
The Sisters first opened their school at 1135 Mission Road in 1926 for students in grades 7-12. Then, as Sister Odilia Korenek, the undeniable force in charge of BSA says, "things changed." Throughout the years, demographics of the area changed and the population became affected by socio-economical problems. The nuns responded by refocusing their programs to serve the needs of an increasingly vulnerable population.
"We didn't have much money," said Sister Odilia. "But that never stopped us before." The high school was refocused in 1988 to include a Child Care Center and computer and sewing classes for adults. In 1991, the Sisters repurposed the building again to open the BSA Second Chance High School. In '95 the name changed to Second Chance Charter High School. A year later, Por Vida Academy Charter High School began occupying the space.
Today, the campus supports what may seem like a hodgepodge of programs--all with the common thread of bringing hope. The programs occupying the campus provide opportunities that assist individuals and families to become successful and self-sufficient.
The Child Development Center, now in its own building, gives vulnerable single-parent homes and families the opportunity to have a job knowing their children are being well cared for. The children are taught learning skills and nurtured by staff and the Foster Grandparent program.
Por Vida Academy continues as the last-stop school for those who have dropped out or been pushed out of every other available program; or whose next residence might be juvenile detention or jail. Por Vida gives these kids their best last chance to develop the skills, talents and attitudes they need to get a job, enter the military or attend college.
Parents’ Academy ably and unselfishly educates and supports heads of households in their most important task of providing for and teaching children. Many times, this give a family the chance to break generational patterns of abuse and/or neglect.
The Jewish Family Service, occupying a building behind the Convent, makes available counseling for small children all the way up to seniors. They provide social services families need to manage the many challenges and pitfalls of life. There fees are based on a sliding-scale as to make them available for everyone.
One of the most innovative and successful programs assisting with the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders is the Bexar County Ropes Challenge. This program brings a life-changing ropes course which shifts understanding, attitudes and behaviors harmful to a teen’s development into maturity.
Brand new on the campus is a large, modern cafeteria built for Por Vida and general campus use. Sister Odilia, some might say miraculously, brought together funding from the City of San Antonio, Valero, Bill Greehey, Koch Foundation, the SA Archdiocese, Myra Pryor Trust, USAA, friends and alumnae to build a place for the students to gather and have their meals. "For these students to have such a beautiful, new building helps them understand their value as human beings and students worthy of inviting surroundings and a quality education," Sister Odilia said. "They are worth all the effort to have a nice place to come to every day for meal and assemblies."
Among the ribbon cutters was Founder and President Emeritus of The RK Group Rosemary Kowalski, an alumna and steadfast supporter of BSA. Looking out on a crowd of Por Vida students, dignitaries and other attendees, Kowalski gave a speech that could only be categorized as "Puro San Antonio." "Before you say anything, let me explain how I can speak all San Antonio languages," she said. "I was born on the Southside; opened my first business on the Westside; my business in now located on the Eastside; and I live on the Northside." Everything Kowalski said after that was accepted with enthusiasm.
Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. My theory is that in San Antonio we are separated by no more than two degrees. I believe you would find that Sister Odilia and her other nonprofit partners have positively affected the lives of every other person in San Antonio, whether you know it or not. Learn more about BSA
Oh, and the nuns were all taking pictures with their iPhones.
In the picture: Francisco Morales PVA student, Judy Manglberger Valero Energy, Peter Zanoni Assistant City Manager, Sr. Stephana Marbach General Superior, Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, Rosemary Kowalski The RK Group, President Emeritus, Julie Bedell Bill Greehey Family Foundation, Martin Martinez PVA Student
This picture is courtesy of Carol Sowa from Today’s CatholicSan Antonio activist and nonprofit veteran Laura Carter believes in enabling the community to work from the heart, not just the wallet. During her time at the San Antonio Area Foundation, Laura implemented new technology, managing website design and social media and content for all published materials. She is currently Communications Director at Providence Catholic School helping young women become Leaders, Learners, Women of Faith and Justice