2019 All-America City Finalist – San Antonio, TX

Application Summary for the All-America City Awards:

San Antonio is the seventh most populous city in the country, with a vibrant and diverse population. Despite its size and diversity, San Antonio struggles with economic and educational inequality, making intentional engagement of all parts of the community essential.

Through a community-wide strategic planning process called SA2020, individuals, businesses, government, and nonprofit organizations created ambitious goals focused on equitable opportunities for all. The Office of Equity also ensures that all policies, practices, plans and services result in equitable outcomes and opportunities for all communities. Lastly, Metro Health (the City of San Antonio’s public health department) has used place- based engagement with individuals and families living in poverty to improve health status, increase community member engagement, and promote health initiatives for childhood obesity, youth violence, and infant mortality.

Three project examples showing how this community leverages civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues:


1.) End Stigma End HIV Alliance

In 2016, San Antonio was shocked to learn it was home to the largest molecular cluster of rapid HIV transmission in the country, comprised mostly of Latino gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) under 30 years of age.

The community united, bringing together people living with HIV (PLWH) alongside leadership of every AIDS Service Organization, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, the Center for Healthcare Services, and the Bexar County Ryan White Administrative Agency to form the End Stigma End HIV Alliance (ESEHA).

Responding to community calls for peer support, 12 members of ESEHA who are living with HIV and trained as peer mentors formed the Peer Mentor Initiative Working Group. They have assessed community capacity for mentorship through existing support groups, developed guidance for the role of peers and a platform for engagement, and created a framework for referrals.

ESEHA also supports an ongoing effort to engage youth in the fight to end the HIV epidemic. Health Justice Youth Council (HJYC) members do outreach and health education with youth organizations and community college students and host advocacy events to raise awareness about sexual health.

To address health care associated stigma, ESEHA is undertaking a storytelling project that will combine empowerment of impacted communities with direct outreach to health care institutions. Stories will be gathered from Black and Latino MSM, transgender individuals, and Black women living with HIV to share their experiences with health care associated stigma.


2.) Immigration Services and Faith Based Initiatives

San Antonio has introduced two new initiatives to engage two stakeholder groups and populations in the community. The Faith Based Initiative (FBI) seeks to build relationships and collaboration between the faith community, government agencies, non-profit organizations and community groups towards improving the lives of families and communities in need. The Immigration Community Liaison is committed to strengthening coordination and connection to services for the immigrant community.

FBI is composed of more than 100 volunteers who together identified community concerns from a faith perspective, with interfaith congregational leaders and community members actively participating. Interfaith working groups steer action teams that have created resourcing centers in congregations, placed reading buddies from congregations in schools, held a maternal health summit focusing on African American maternal health disparities, and executed Mental Health 101 classes in congregations.

The city’s Immigration Services works with local stakeholder groups, nonprofit, and interfaith organizations to establish a network to coordinate and connect the immigrant community to needed services. The city funds legal services for residents with U.S. citizen family members who are at risk of deportation. Residents can contact community legal service providers to apply for free legal representation when they are facing deportation.

Stakeholders also developed a resource directory to provide information about organizations that offer services and support to immigrant and refugee families in the areas of education, employment, housing, health, and legal services.

These two initiatives have also collaborated to create the Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC)—a faith-based collective that seeks to address the changing needs of at-risk immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.


3.) SA Speak UP

Evaluation of demographic data from budget survey respondents found that the respondents did not reflect the population by race, gender, or region. To increase the engagement in survey responses from low-income communities of color, The Department of Government and Public Affairs (GPA) in collaboration with the City of San Antonio’s Office of Innovation began the SA Speak Up campaign. The campaign began by distributing the annual budget survey in a grassroots style, both online and at existing community-wide events. This approach allowed GPA to go to where residents are to gather input from the community rather than asking residents to come to them. The campaign expanded this “go to where the people are” approach by providing audience-driven Spanish language and family-friendly events in geographic areas of disparities, targeting younger minorities in other geographic areas, mailing surveys, and administering the survey collection at more community-based venues.

This increased focus on equity and evaluation of current vehicles for public engagement found that trust and accountability in local government needed improvement. So, after the fourth-annual SA Speak Up campaign, requests were made to adopt principles and minimum standards to guide all public participation efforts. City council approved a resolution that commits to ten guiding principles of public participation. GPA also recommended expanding SA Speak Up to serve as the umbrella for all public engagement efforts. The city manager also signed an administrative directive that sets minimum standards for public participation for all city departments seeking input from residents.

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