Late last year, leaders at the St. James Parish church on San Antonio's South Side decided to take to the streets to find out the issues that were affecting the populace. The results of their research were presented at a community meeting on Monday, May 2. The answers they received ranged from those at the forefront of the nation's issues to those as small as a church group.
Two middle school students, 7th grader Francisco Lugo and 8th grader Martha Reyna, spoke of improving their education and not having many after-school activities other school districts provide.
Lugo said he dreams of becoming a doctor, but that he has spoken to former SAISD high school graduates who feel they were less than prepared for college after graduation.
"I don't want to go to a high school that can't equip me," Lugo said.
One of the stories that seemed to draw the most crowd reaction from the roughly 225 in attendance was that of Gerardo Noriega. He said he was a child of the community and a Burbank High School graduate who earned his architecture degree from Texas A&M University. He spoke of wanting desperately to return to his roots and open his firm in the old neighborhood, but that the issues described throughout the convention and more prevented him from doing so, as it did many business owners to which he spoke.
"We need to make the neighborhood more attactive to small business owners," he said. "We want to attract local talent back to the neighborhood."
He also said the same problems prevented him and his family from living in the district.
While the convention, put on with assistance from C.O.P.S/Metro Alliance, was billed as a chance to hear community members tell their problems to a group of invited guests and parishoners, the event had the feel of a political rally with calls for cheering and random whoops and hollers.
There was a "no campaigning" rule established at the beginning for the four District 5 candidates in attendance, but there was some of this going on until one candidate, Andro Mendoza, was cut off from his time for talking about his ability to balance a budget. Mendoza was the third candidate to speak.
Former District 5 Councilwoman Lourdes Galvan, who gave her speech completely in Spanish, talked of growing up in the area and knowing the community's problems. Current councilman David Medina spoke of doing this and building that many times over, but was allowed to finish his speech within the 2-minute time limit. Candidate Ray Zavala was far less in campaign mode while explaining his ties to the immigration and crime problems spoken of earlier in the session.
Ernest Rodriguez, a retired civil servent, spoke of seeing more and more crime and graffiti in his South Side neighborhood and recounted stories from people he spoke with during the Parish's block-walking.
Maria Flores, who delivered her speech in Spanish, said her major issue with the area was the lack of a Spanish-speaking church group.
"I wanted to learn Scripture," she said. "Others wanted the same."
Alfonsa Rosales, co-chair of the convention, said after the event completed that Monday night was only one step in the parish's efforts, stating that they intended to visit and speak with every homeowner in their parish boundries to make sure they were all part of making their community a better place.