These Bexar County community organizations empower girls and women to be the leaders of the future

These Bexar County community organizations empower girls and women to be the leaders of the future

As we celebrate Women’s History Month and all the amazing accomplishments women have contributed to our society, UP Partnership would like to uplift the work that some of our Future Ready community partners are doing to empower girls and women locally such as Empower House, Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas, Girls on the Run Bexar County, Lemonade Circle and YWCA San Antonio. These partners are key as our community works toward the collective Future Ready Bexar County Plan’s North Star goal of increasing the number of Bexar County’s High School graduates enrolling in postsecondary degree or credential programs to 70% by 2030. Through these partners’ collective work, they positively impacted the lives of nearly 7,000 people within Bexar County through their programming.

Empower House

Empower House believes that when women and girls are empowered to live their full potential, everyone benefits exponentially. Through their Empower Youth Program, the organization creates opportunities for youth to explore their world, achieve their goals and inspire their peers. Their Community Health program increases access to healthcare services, wellness tools, skills and support community wide change

Empower House’s Empower Youth is rooted in restorative justice principles, developmental relationships and feminist, womanist and mujerista theory. As an organization, they center the needs of the women and girls but they welcome all genders to participate in their program.

From 2022 to 2023, Empower House has served over 250 young people by providing:
   • social emotional enrichment (SEL) activities
   • goal setting
   • life skills
   • peer mentorship
   • tutoring provided by certified teachers during after school programs in reading and math
   • and counseling, family and youth circles, service learning and creative expression

Empower House also has passionate employees that do the work, including Krystal King, a community health worker for their Empower Youth who said that “the reasoning behind my work here is being able to help guide our youth into the men/women they aspire to be and to provide not only mentorship but to be a safe space they need.”

“What’s important to me is that the youth know that they are more than their circumstances. That they have the power to become whoever it is they aspire to be,” King added.

The impact of the work on young people is evident.

“What I enjoy most about Empower House is the activities we do brings the mentors and kids together,” one student explained. “Those activities introduced me to my mentor who has become one of my best friends.” Further, “[Empower House] has made a difference in my life by improving my social skills and personal development. I would like to thank Empower House for helping me grow, while preparing me for adulthood.”

Joining forces with fellow Future Ready partners San Antonio Metro Health and the United Way, Empower house works in the community to raise awareness around family violence, as well as bridging access to education, healthcare and resources available. In addition, they use skill-building and wellness workshops to empower women with the knowledge, skills and a supportive community to make informed choices for themselves and their families.

Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas

The mission of the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas (GSSWT) is to build girls’ courage, confidence and character to make the world a better place. GSSWT champions girls as they pursue their passions and forge their future. By supporting girls and amplifying their voices, GSSWT gives them a chance to discover a lifetime of self-assurance, adventure and achievement.

As one Girls Scout member said: “Being a part of Girl Scouts has changed my life for the better. I have formed bonds with girls that I know will always be there for me; I love all the activities, especially community service projects where you not only help others but create memories with your sister Girl Scouts.”

Any girl in grades K-12 can participate in the social and emotional learning outcomes of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, a one-of-a-kind leadership program designed with, by and for girls based on time-tested methods and research-backed programming. GSLE is entirely girl-led, meaning that girls at all levels take an active and age-appropriate role in figuring out what, where, when, why and how in everything they do in Girl Scouts.

As a community centered equity approach, GSSWT takes its educational based programming to where the girls are reaching them during the school day, after school and on the weekends. This is done through many programs including after-school collaboratives, in-school programming and Gamma Sigma Girls, a leadership development series for middle – and high school- aged girls.

In the most recent program year, 56% of the more than 10,000 they serve are not in traditional volunteer-led troops and that approach allows GSSWT to reach girls who would not otherwise have access to all the benefits Girl Scouts has to offer. The impact of GSSWT is life-long:

    • nearly 80% of alums vote regularly
    • 38% earned earned a college degree
    • On average, Girls Scouts earn salaries of more than $51,000 per year

Stephanie Finleon Cortez, Chief Development and Communities Officer for the organization, also lives up to that life-long commitment as she lives her life as “a grown up Girl Scout” who specifically said she has “an obvious passion for the work” she does particularly when it comes to advancing gender equality and developing youth.

“The girls are the most inspirational part of my job. Today’s girls are fearless, have strong opinions on what is right and wrong and what to do to make our work a better place. As a professional Girl Scout, it’s my responsibility to bring adults together to help ensure our movement is adequately funded and staffed so we can continue to inspire the next generation of girl leaders our nation needs.”

Girls on the Run Bexar County

Serving Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and Kendall counties, Girls on the Run Bexar County offers evidence-based programs that empower girls of all abilities to build confidence, character, caring, connections, confidence and contribution.

Through physical activity and dynamic discussions, trained coaches work with the girls to build social, emotional and physical skills, while encouraging healthy habits for life. The organization believes the strategies and skills they instill in girls are more important than ever given the unpredictable world we live in.

Girls on the Run, the program for grades 3-5, promotes a blend of physical activity and life development skills so girls are able to adapt to changes that will occur in their lives. Built in a team setting, the girls compete together in a 5K to give them a sense of accomplishment and creates confidence in those that compete.

Heart & Sole, a program for grades 6-8, considers the whole girl — body, brain, heart, spirit and social connections — to meet unique needs of middle school girls. The program serves as an inclusive, safe space for girls to feel supported, inspired to explore their emotions, cultivate empathy and strengthen both physical and emotional health. At the end of the program, the girls also compete in a 5K together.

In Bexar County, Girls on the Run has had the following impact:
    • served over 6,000 girls since 2010
    • had more than 300 volunteers and 160 coaches annually
    • averaged 65% of participants receiving scholarships annually
    • are located in schools, parks, YWCAs, churches and community centers
    • the 5k runs are held twice per year.

Participants of their programs had positive things to say about the organization, including the importance of giving back to the community and the gratification of self-confidence they received as being part of Girls on the Run. “Girls on the Run gave me the self-confidence to accomplish things that might be hard in my life, and really just taught me to be brave and be strong,” one participant shared with UP Partnership.

Lemonade Circle

Dedicated to empowering young women of color, particularly Black females grades five and beyond, the Lemonade Circle provides opportunities for the girls to explore and engage with their community.

With a focus on leadership development and civic engagement, Lemonade Circle seeks to ensure that all of their girls are given the opportunity to identify and network with other women of color within their communities. Those experiences teach personal and professional skills to the girls in order for them to advocate on their campuses and in their communities.

The girls are given the chance to take part in civic engagement by serving as youth representatives in local, state and national communities and nonprofit organizations that are working to ensure equity and equality are accessible to all people regardless of race, gender, religion or political belief.

Lemonade Circle’s program model is the Empowerment Circle Model in which the girls earn community service hours, gain the values of “Lemonade” — Lead, Excel, Mentor, Overcome adversity, Network, Affect change, Discover power and Explore the world — as well as build relationships with girls and women in their community.

The following are the empowerment circles offered by the organization:

    • STEM Circle works to enhance girls’ understanding of STEM fields in order for them to take charge of their careers through culturally relevant conversations, personalized self-paced projects and engage in community initiatives designed by women of color in STEM fields.
    • Literacy Circle engages participants in conversations about literary works, with a focus on those written by women of color. The circle also analyzes artwork and participates in community projects that elevates Black voices in art.
   • Mental Health Circle focuses on erasing the stigma surrounding mental health by educating their girls on why maintaining their mental health is important to live a healthy, balanced and productive life.
    • Mommy Circle provides moms with events and opportunities to express their thoughts and feelings spiritually, mentally and physically. The circle also shares community resources, as well as offering professional development exercises to empower moms in their careers.

YWCA San Antonio

YWCA San Antonio exists to eliminate racism and empower women, which we achieve by removing barriers for women — especially women and girls of color — to break the cycle of poverty and become self-sufficient through numerous programs and services. Youth programs include:
Mi Carrera, their signature school-based program to build self-esteem, prepare girls and young women for post-secondary success by introducing them to education and career opportunities, and provide guidance on healthy relationships and social/emotional wellness, with 152 young people being served through this program in 2022.

RESET is a program for women 16-24 years in age that offers workforce training opportunities, with an emphasis on community health workers, which can prepare participants for careers in the allied health sector. The program also partners with Workforce Solutions Alamo as part of the City’s /Ready to Work program, providing their participants who are over the age of 18 the ability to obtain training for in-demand careers. Last year, 30 young women were certified as community health workers and a total of 74 individuals obtained post-secondary training and certification for in-demand jobs.

In addition, YWCA provides Texas Rising Star 4 early childhood education and care for children, ages 0-5, and after school care for children in grades K-5. YWCA advocates for – and provides – thriving wages for child care workers, who are disproportionately women of color.

Through advocacy and education efforts, the YWCA provides wage equity awareness and training that includes salary negotiation training and a wage equity business cohort. In 2022, YWCA staff members participated in panels, webinars and training to raise awareness about the wage gap and promote changes in business and policy behaviors to close the wage gap.

For Misty Harty, YWCA’s Director of Racial Justice and Gender Equity, YWCA’s work reflects her own personal mission.

“I am honored and privileged to advocate for racial justice and gender equity internally,by incorporating our mission into the work of our staff and programs, and externally by educating the community and promoting health,” said Harty. She further explains that YWCA’s work on wage equity impacts all of its services including: child care, youth success, health equity and economic independence.

If your organization is ready to join in on the Future Ready movement like the organizations above, please contact to find out more information on how you can become a Future Ready partner or donate to the work here.

You can also follow our progress by signing up for our newsletter and following us on social media, @UPPartnershipSA.

Meet Kimberly Sama, UP Partnership’s Chief Financial and Operations Officer

Meet Kimberly Sama, UP Partnership's Chief Finance and Operations Officer

Kimberly Sama has served as the Chief Finance and Operations Officer for UP Partnership since June 2022. Since joining the organization in 2018, she has also previously led the Youth Development team before transitioning into the role of Senior Director of Investment and Sustainability in Dec. 2020.

In her current role, Kim works with her team to develop internal systems that model the “transformation [UP Partnership] aspires to achieve within our community, particularly in regard to finance, human resources, operations and development,” she said.

As a continuous improvement leader and strategic thinker, she values “integrity, autonomy, imperfect action, social justice and growth.” It was the alignment of those values and the values and mission of UP Partnership that drew her to the work she does now.

In Kim’s own words, “It is incredible to wake up everyday and realize that I get to channel my energy into work that I truly believe in,” adding that her days “are filled with heart-driven, soul-infused work, in which I find meaning greater than myself.”

Sama works with her team to develop internal systems that model the “transformation [UP Partnership] aspires to achieve within our community, particularly in regard to finance, human resources, operations and development.”

Before joining UP Partnership, Kim grew up as a “citizen of the world” living in the United States and Europe, as well as living and working in East and West Africa as a member of the Peace Corps., International Rescue Committee and Muso, a global health organization. While living internationally, she gave birth to her incredible kid in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and they lived in the Republic of Mali before they returned to San Antonio in 2014.

Kim earned her bachelor’s in French with a minor in social work at The University of Texas Austin and her master’s at St. Mary’s University. Out of work, Kim is currently reading Harvard Business Review and Economist magazines, The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor and Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown. She is currently watching Ted Lasso, Morning Show and Ms. Marvel, and enjoys listening to podcasts and various Spotify playlists.


When asked what advice she had to offer, Kim offered the following pieces of wisdom:

   • Real transformation and change takes time.

   • You are enough — the knowing is already within you, believe in yourself and lead from within.

   • True change is rooted in seeing ourselves and others in the fullness of our complexities.

   • And her son’s favorite quote from Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

If Kim could be any dinosaur, she would be a pterodactyl “because then I could fly.”


Meet Dr. Emily Calderón Galdeano, UP Partnership’s Chief Impact and Strategy Officer

Meet Dr. Emily Calderón Galdeano, UP Partnership's Chief Impact and Strategy Officer

Emily Calderón Galdeano, Ed.D., has served as the Chief Impact and Strategy Officer for UP Partnership since June 2022. Since joining the organization in April 2020, she has also previously led the Data and Postsecondary teams.

In her current role, Emily oversees all partner-facing elements of UP’s work to help empower evidence-based decision making and maximize community-wide alignment and systems change. She actively works with our partners to streamline the many steps that lead to graduating from high school and being connected to a postsecondary education or career.

It was her passion for a more inclusive and just world that drew her to the work of UP Partnership, particularly the work the organization does as a backbone in helping provide equitable access to education and academic and career success.

In Emily’s own words, “I have had the opportunity to do work with some fantastic partners at the state and national level, so when the opportunity came where I could be a part of system change in my own back yard, I jumped at the chance. So much is possible when we collectively work together — community, policy, research, individuals.”

Calderón Galdeano said it was her passion for a more inclusive and just world that drew her to the work of UP Partnership.

Born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, Emily made San Antonio her home nearly 15 years ago. She is proudly both Salvadoran and Mexican and loves being a part of two beautiful cultures.

She has nearly 20 years in the education, community engagement, and policy arenas. Prior to joining UP Partnership, she served as Director of Research for two national organizations – Excelencia in Education and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, university faculty member, and Legislative Director in the Texas Senate. Emily has been recognized as a San Antonio Business Journal 40 Under 40 recipient, served as the Chair for the national Council on Public Policy in Higher Education, and was a German Marshall Fund Memorial Fellow.

Her first book, Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs): Advancing Research and Transformative Practice, is an edited volume that focuses on colleges and universities that serve large numbers of low-income, first-generation, and Latinx students, and explores how these institutions can better serve their students.

Emily received her Ed.D. in higher education policy from the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, her master’s from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and a bachelor’s from Southwestern University. She is honored to be one of only 112,000 Latinas in the U.S. with a doctorate, but believes that “While being ‘Dr. Emily’ is just a title, it comes with a responsibility to give back and do more to help others.”

That sense of responsibility also led to her co-founding a nonprofit called Fiesta Wishes, alongside two of her friends in 2017. The mission of Fiesta Wishes is to inspire hope, create memories and bring smiles to children in foster and homeless care to feel the joy of being celebrated by providing birthday fiestas.

She and her husband, Dr. Daniel Galdeano, a fellow education leader who was born and raised in San Antonio’s westside, are the proud parents to their adorable 20-month old daughter. In her spare time, Emily enjoys taking flamenco lessons at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, traveling, reading, and cheering on the UTSA Roadrunners.

She is currently reading Solito by Javier Zamora, a memoir of a 9-year-old boy’s 3,000 mile journey from El Salvador to the United States.

Her advice to all is to travel, “whether you go near or far, it will open up your eyes to different sites, foods, cultures and experiences. Get out there and learn from it. Our world is a big, beautiful place and San Antonio is a great place to start exploring!”

If Emily could be any dinosaur, it would be a furry velociraptor that she and her nephew named “Panchito.”

2023 – March Newsletter


On January 11, 2023, nearly 150 executives and senior leaders from 75 partners came together at the Future Ready Leadership Table event to provide strategy and drive forward the work of our  community Future Ready Bexar County Plan

The Future Ready Leadership Table oversees progress of this plan as we strive to reach our collective North Star goal of increasing enrollment of Bexar County’s High School graduates to 70% by 2030 – a goal that can be accomplished if an additional 5,000 students from our community enroll into a postsecondary or credential program.

During workgroup breakout sessions, leaders from pre-K12 and higher education met to align shared messaging strategies and commitments for the class of 2030, youth development leaders discussed ensuring access to quality programs for all young people and a group of fundraising and corporate executives met to discuss better alignment of investment within our community. 

Prior to these breakout work sessions, the world-renowned educational organization Harlem’s Children’s Zone (HCZ) President, Geoffrey Canada, joined Mayor Ron Nirenberg in addressing these leaders in a plenary session. 

Canada was in San Antonio alongside HCZ CEO Kwame Owusu-Kesse and a a delegation of eight representatives on a two-day excursion where they met with and shared next practices with Future Ready Partners such as East Central ISD, the Alamo Colleges District, Corporate Partners for Racial Equity and Communities in Schools- San Antonio. 

Data Point


Postsecondary enrollment rate for Bexar County African American high school graduates from the Class of 2020.

This is 2% higher than the state average.

Meet UP Partnership’s K12 and Justice Team​

UP Partnership’s K12 and Justice team works with community partners through the My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio (MBKSA) network and the Restorative Practices Collaborative (RPC) to scale healing, restorative practices and programming for boys and young men of color. The team consists of John Jacobs “JJ”, Director of K12 and Justice, Suzette Solorzano, Senior Manager of Coaching and Facilitation, and Tyler Radwin, Manager of Community Engagement. Read more about them here.

Restorative Practices Collaborative Cohort 3 Kicks off

On January 19, cohort 3 of the Restorative Practices Collaborative (RPC) kicked-off at the Victory Center at San Antonio College. Subsequently, the cohort will meet eight times, including the February session that was held at San Antonio Independent School District’s office. RPC works to move Bexar County’s K12 and Justice ecosystems from a punitive to a restorative paradigm, as well as broadening the pathways to postsecondary success for justice-involved youth, opportunity youth and foster youth.

Cohort 3 has approximately 55 participants, the largest cohort of RPC to date, from East Central ISD, Judson ISD, Harlandale ISD and San Antonio ISD. One of the current cohort participants has immediately applied what they have learned and has since credited these practices with causing a “complete turn around in the classroom,” citing dramatic changes in behavior, improved classroom engagement, and improved test scores.

The work being done by this collaborative was recently also highlighted at a national Department of Justice conference and the work by Future Ready partners Empower House and San Antonio ISD’s Rhodes Elementary was recently featured in this article

UP Partnership joins forces with Search Institute, a national research organization, to augment Excel Academy work

In February, UP Partnership announced its partnership with Search Institute, a Minnesota-based positive youth development and equity-focused organization, to collaboratively expand the framework of Excel Academy to a national scale. Through a $1.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, a new three-year framework that helps organizations to cultivate relationships – and character-rich climates has been developed and piloted with the latest cohort of the leadership program that started last September. For those interested in further developing their developmental relationship leadership skills, stay tuned soon for the upcoming Excel Academy application cycle.

Future Ready Joint Leadership Table

Cross-sector leaders and youth leaders representing them came together at Family Services Association’s The Neighborhood Place to continue to drive forward the Future Ready Bexar County Plan’s impact in an intragenerational manner. The table discussed action commitments per organization and underwent training over two of the developmental relationship elements: expressing care and sharing power. Contact UP Partnership Chief Impact and Strategy Officer, Emily Calderón Galdeano, at for more information.

Legacy Leadership Initiative brings mental health strategies to the community

In partnership with Communities in Schools San Antonio, The Ecumenical Center, and District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran, UP Partnership convened 15 young people and their parents to discuss mental health, coping strategies and community resources. It was a powerful event that ended with a drumming circle and a reflection on the day’s learnings. Learn more about the Legacy Leadership Initiative here.

Request for Presenters:
Future Ready Practitioner Conference on May 22

UP Partnership is looking for presenters for the Future Ready Practitioner Conference on May 22 at St. Mary’s University. The theme is Relationships are The Work, and focuses on aspects of Developmental Relationships. For some examples of focus areas please check out the link here. Proposals are due by March 24th, 2023 and can be submitted here. Contact UP Partnership Senior Manager of Community Engagement, Jonathan Weaver, at for more information on the event.  

New Horizons and Opportunities Grant Request for Proposals

Through support from the San Antonio Area Foundation made possible by Corporate Partners for Racial Equity (CPRE), UP Partnership has released a grant application specifically aimed toward providing campus-based restorative justice training and capacity building for school districts and their alternative schools. For more information contact, John Jacobs, Director of K12 and Justice, at

Communications Council on May 11 

UP Partnership’s Future Ready Communications Council meeting for cross-sector communications and marketing representatives will meet on May 11 At the last meeting, Council members discussed the various actions organizations are taking to create more opportunities for postsecondary enrollment for Bexar County’s students. Contact UP Partnership Director of Communications, Jeannette Garcia, at for more information.

Is your institution an official Future Ready partner yet?

It’s not too late to become a partner in the Future Ready Bexar County community-wide strategic plan. Please email UP Partnership CEO, Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, at to join the more than 75 institutions that have already signed on to ensure Bexar County’s young peoples are future ready!


Youth voices needed for city-wide mental health survey

Future Ready partner City of San Antonio have launched the second annual SASpeakUp survey focusing on teen mental health for young people between the ages of 12 and 19. The survey will be available for responses through April 9, 2023, at

Meet UP Partnership’s Data Team

Meet UP Partnership's Data Team

UP Partnership’s Data team compiles data from across the community and our partners to advance data-decision making for healing, access and voice in connection with the Future Ready Bexar County Plan.

Each member of the Data team works collaboratively with a specific systems change networks — K12 and Justice, K12 and Postsecondary and K12 and Youth Development — to gather data from partners and disseminate that data in a way that can be leveraged and used as a catalyst to create equitable outcomes for our young people.

The team spearheading data collection consists of Jasmine Martinez, K12 and Justice Data Manager, Sara Dunn, K12 and Postsecondary Data Manager, Marie Moreno, K12 and Youth Development Data Manager.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022 only 26.4% of computer and information systems managers are women and only 7.5% are Hispanic/Latino/a. At UP Partnership, we are honored that our Data team is comprised of all women and two Latinas: Sara Dunn and Jasmine Martinez.

Get to know the Data Team

Jasmine Martinez is the daughter of immigrants, first generation and Latina. She attended the first public all girls school in Texas — Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School — where she graduated as salutatorian.

She went on to graduate magna cum laude from Texas Christian University where she was able to study the relationship between nostalgic reverie and health outcomes. Jasmine then earned her master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where her research concentrated on discrimination against minorities in the criminal justice system.

In her free time, Jasmine enjoys road trips and getting to see natural phenomena.

Her advice to all is “Never give up on your dreams, no matter how hard it may seem along the way.”

Sara Dunn was born and raised in Austin. She attended the University of Texas at Austin where she earned her bachelor’s degree in math. After being a data analyst for a few years, Sara went on to become a math teacher in Title 1 schools.

She completed her master’s degree in educational technology and leadership which enabled her to help teachers create engaging lessons by using classroom technology. Data called her back, however, and she now enjoys being a data manager.

Sara is a wife and mother of two — a son and a daughter. She keeps busy in her free time helping with her daughter’s girl scout troop and volunteering at her children’s school.

Her advice to all is “It is important to be an advocate for yourself. If you don’t speak up for yourself, no one else will.”

Marie Moreno is a self-proclaimed nerd who loves to learn new things and finds great joy in the telling, hearing and reading of stories. She is nearly always reading three books — one nonfiction, one fiction and one fantasy/science fiction — and enjoys making book recommendations to others.

Keeping with her nerdy persona, Marie enjoys playing board games with family and friends. She also enjoys being outdoors whether it be hiking, camping, playing sports, etc. Nothing makes her happier than spending time with her family.

Marie spent her early years desperate to grow up to be….Indiana Jones, but didn’t we all?

Her advice to all is “Always be willing to learn.”

If your organization is ready to join in on the Future Ready movement, please contact to find out more information on how you can become a Future Ready partner or donate to the work here. You can also follow our progress by signing up for our newsletter and following us on social media.