Future Ready Bexar County celebrates nearly $114 million in funding

Future Ready Bexar County celebrates nearly $114 million in funding

Participating organizations convene to organize and amplify efforts into 2024

SAN ANTONIO – Today, Future Ready Bexar County partners gathered to celebrate a historic almost $114 million in funding received by local anchor partners and national philanthropic investor Blue Meridian Partners. These investments will help the strategic community plan enter its next phase – which scales, deepens and strengthens initial community efforts to achieve the plan’s North Star goal of increasing the percentage of Bexar County high school graduates enrolling in a postsecondary degree or credential program to 70% by 2030. Reaching this goal through this first-ever countywide alignment will significantly improve the economic mobility of San Antonio youth and can have positive ripple effects for the future. Local nonprofit UP Partnership serves as Future Ready’s convening and coordinating backbone organization and drives the strategic plan’s progress across more than 90 institutional partners aligned with the plan’s goals.

The event served as a convening of the plan’s Coordinating Committee and the Joint Leadership Table (JOLT), which will lead the community organizations through the next phase of the Future Ready plan. During the next six years, these efforts will be boosted with funding, enabling the aligned organizations to expand, deepen and strengthen initial countywide efforts.

“This is a monumental investment in Bexar County’s children and youth, which will, no doubt, have a positive impact on our region’s future,” said UP Partnership Chair of the Board Elaine Mendoza. “This private investment in Bexar County’s young people is geared toward strategic efforts of Future Ready Bexar County partners who are working together to increase San Antonio’s economic well-being.”

When the Future Ready Bexar County Plan launched in 2022, UP Partnership provided leaders across San Antonio and Bexar County with the shared vision, language, goals, metrics, support, and initial convenings needed to drive aligned contributions toward the Plan’s North Star. During this phase, more than 90 institutional partners made concrete action commitments to scaling Healing, Access, and Voice for young people who undergo their services. These three focus areas are mutually agreed upon must-haves for advancing equity.

“Through its equity pillars of Healing, Access and Voice, the Future Ready Bexar County Plan is a national model for how we can strengthen every aspect of our city to better support children and youth,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Funding Specifics

Of the almost $114 million, $64 million of private capital comes primarily from four of the local Future Ready Bexar County anchor partner institutions – United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County, the Charles Butt Foundation, the H. E. Butt Foundation and the San Antonio Area Foundation (SAAFdn), as well as additional support from USAA, the Greater Texas Foundation and the Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. 

Through successful implementation, this next phase of the Future Ready plan could unlock up to $330 million in public resources through 2030, which includes Pell Grants, College, Career and Military Readiness state funds, and local public dollar alignment. The City of San Antonio Department of Human Services will work with our youth-serving delegate agency partners to contribute to Future Ready Bexar County outcomes.

A catalyzing investment of $50 million is coming from national philanthropic investor Blue Meridian Partners, which identifies, invests in, and scales up strategies that target drivers of poverty from cradle to career.

“We believe that Future Ready Bexar County is poised to uproot multiple difficult challenges confronting youth and families in poverty in the San Antonio area,” said Othello Meadows, a Managing Director at Blue Meridian.  “The vision set by UP Partnership and its dozens of committed community partners exemplifies why we invest in place-based partnerships through our Place Matters portfolio

In 2020, Blue Meridian provided UP Partnership and the San Antonio Area Foundation an $8 million investment across two years, which was used for planning and to lay the groundwork for the current work, as well as invest in community-based organizations helping to ensure young people’s recovery from the COVID pandemic.

Anchor Partners and their roles

Today’s event formally introduced the Coordinating Committee of anchor partner institutions that will coordinate the private capital to create a shared operating environment for child and youth-serving partners across Bexar County to fulfill their Future Ready action commitments, uproot isolation between sectors and drive communitywide progress. Together, they will create a connected and relationship-rich city that helps young people thrive. The next phase will be supported by anchor partner institutions and intermediaries supporting the multiple school districts that will play a key ecosystem-level role in the plan implementation. These institutions are fully committed to achieving the Future Ready North Star goal and equity pillars, including embedding a postsecondary-going culture across Bexar County institutions and the community. 

Each anchor partner has a defined role in coordinating, organizing and advancing the work of the Future Ready Plan across the more than 90 partner institutions. 

The anchor partner institutions include United Way of San Antonio & Bexar County, San Antonio Area Foundation, H. E. Butt Foundation, Communities In Schools of San Antonio, CAST Schools Network, Charles Butt Foundation, and Alamo Colleges District.

Our commitment ensures students will have resource-rich learning environments that drive high-quality learning experiences, pushing us closer to meeting Future Ready Bexar County’s North Star of 70% postsecondary enrollment by the year 2030,” said Chris Martin, the CEO of United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County. 

Similarly, SAAFdn’s funding focuses on youth-focused grants supporting Future Ready initiatives.

“The Area Foundation will coordinate $25 million in funds to help Future Ready partners fulfill their action commitments to Healing, Access, and Voice,” said Lisa Brunsvold, the foundation’s interim CEO. 

Additional funding from the H. E. Butt Foundation has a similar focus.

“Our focus will be to invest in building the organizational and leadership capacity of Future Ready partners committed to advancing Healing, Access, and Voice pillars at scale,” says H. E. Butt Foundation’s President and CEO David Rogers.

Other anchor partners focus on campus-driven initiatives and coordination. 

“Communities In Schools of San Antonio is dedicated to coordinating resources and services between partners and campuses, ensuring the districts and post-secondary programs have the resources they need to meet the North Star goal by 2030,” said Communities In Schools of San Antonio President & CEO Jessica Weaver.

Additionally, funding from the Charles Butt Foundation will support anchor partner CAST Schools to strengthen and scale platforms for youth voice. CAST will ensure Future Ready strategies integrate the experiences and values of those most directly affected, young people themselves, in determining the terms of their future – thereby increasing local buy-in, engagement, impact, and sustainability of investment.

“CAST Schools advance Future Ready activities focused on youth voice by working to showcase, document, and expand practices that engage young people in shared decision making and co-creation,” said Jeanne Russell, CAST Schools Executive Director. “We’re looking forward to participating, along with our youth, in the Joint Leadership Table, growing signature community-wide programs such as Speak Up Speak Out, and supporting youth-led research, grantmaking, and advocacy.”

Anchor Partner Alamo Colleges District leads efforts for expanding multiple early pathways to post-secondary enrollment. 

The Alamo Colleges District is proud to advance the work of the Future Ready Plan alongside our partners. Our work will focus on enhancing economic and social mobility for our students by providing an expanded reach of our comprehensive advising services with partnering school districts and youth development agencies,” said Alamo Colleges District Chancellor Mike Flores.

To ensure these efforts meet their intended goals, bimonthly Joint Leadership Table meetings comprised of a senior leader, a youth leader and an additional institutional representative from each Future Ready partner promotes, shares and circulates successes in advancing goals tied to the plan’s equity pillars.

Meet UP Partnership’s K12 and Postsecondary Team

Meet UP Partnership's K12 and Postsecondary team

Our K12 and Postsecondary team members are driving the work by convening our postsecondary partners as our community aims to reach the Future Ready Bexar County North Star goal of increasing enrollment in postsecondary education or credential programs to 70% by 2030.

UP Partnership’s K12 and Postsecondary team works with our partners to adopt measurable outcomes and to create strategies to achieve those outcomes.

Specifically, the team works with partners to expand equitable access to resources and programs to increase postsecondary enrollment and success through the Diplomás systems change network and the Equitable Enrollment Collaborative (EEC).

The mission of Diplomás is simple — it is a collective impact effort uniting 23 cross-sector partners to increase the college attainment and quality of life of San Antonio’s Dreamer/Latinx students. The work continues to be important and needed.

The purpose of the EEC is to dissolve barriers students often face when transitioning from K12 into postsecondary. 

Equitable Enrollment Collaborative is a space for ISDs, institutions of higher education IHEs and community-based organizations CBOs to work together to build city-wide bridges to postsecondary education that intentionally close equity gaps for all students and ensure they are ready for the future and the workforce.

The team spearheading the work of Diplomás and EEC consists of Briana Hagelgans, Ed.D., Director of K12 and Postsecondary, Lowell Butler, Ed.D., Senior Manager of Coaching and Facilitation, and Jonathan Weaver, Senior Manager of Community Engagement.

Get to know the K12 & Postsecondary Team

Briana Hagelgans, Ed.D., is a first generation college graduate and the oldest of four siblings. She is proud to say that two of her siblings have also obtained a postsecondary degree with one still in medical school. She obtained her Associates and Bachelors degrees in Business Management before she found her passion within the postsecondary field. As a first generation college graduate, Briana experienced first- hand the transformational power that a postsecondary degree holds and how it impacts not only students but their families. Briana has also earned her master’s degrees and doctorates in educational leadership and has held a variety of roles within postsecondary at the 2-year and 4-year level. Prior to her position at UP Partnership, Briana was a member of the Diplomás Network and the Equitable Enrollment Collaborative. 

Briana is an avid reader who loves to garden. One of her personal goals is to own land where she can build her homestead that has an abundance of fruit and vegetable plants, as well as an array of flowers, including native varieties. Of course, her homestead would not be complete without friendly ducks, egg-laying hens and gorgeous views in all directions.

She finds joy in cleaning, which she admits scares most people. However, for her, if she is thinking through a challenge, doing a load of dishes or laundry usually helps her work through that slump.

Briana’s advice to all is: “if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t learning.”

Lowell Butler, Ed.D. spent his early years in Louisiana before moving to the Mississippi Gulf Coast when he was a teenager. He obtained both his Associate and Bachelor degrees in Business Administration from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi. After college, he got involved in national service through Americorps where he worked on social issues ranging from integrating technology in Mississippi high schools to hunger insecurity and reducing poverty in San Antonio.

He loves all things Southern Mississippi and is always on the hunt for the best soul and New Orleans style restaurants in San Antonio. He spent last year as a Texas Education Policy Fellow, hosted by the College of Education, at Texas Tech University, and recently earned his Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration.

Lowell is a McDonald’s superfan! He was unsuccessful, though, in getting a McDonald’s meal named after him, which he called the McLB that includes two plain McDoubles, large fries, large Hi-C Orange and BBQ sauce.

His advice to all is: “we really need to understand and fully accept that the young people of today are our future consumers and producers of all our goods and services, whether it is education, housing, employment, etc. Intergenerational conflict occurs because we expect young people to engage in systems, have the same motivators, definitions of success, and even the same challenges as we did. When they don’t, they’re penalized or denigrated. This leads to disconnection. It’s time for new models, new ways of thinking that are informed by young people, and that’s what Future Ready is about!”

Jonathan Weaver was born and raised on San Antonio’s south and southeast sides of town. He is the product of San Antonio ISD, having graduated from Fox Tech’s Law Magnet program in 2010. He continued his education at the University of Texas at San Antonio, obtaining a bachelor degree in Global Affairs.

Having always known that he wanted to serve his community, Jonathan has worked in the nonprofit sector for almost 10 years. He previously worked in various organizations, but it wasn’t until his time at Good Samaritan that he started to think of the inequalities that exist in our community and the systems that keep them in place, which is what drew him to UP Partnership’s work.

In his free time, Jonathan enjoys doing home improvement projects, such as plumbing, yard work, concrete, and wood work, and he also plays the drums and piano. He always likes smoking BBQ the “hard way” — burning the wood before sunrise and managing the heat over many hours. For 15 years, Jonathan has collected various Marvel items that, to this day, remain unopened.

Jonathan’s advice to all is: “do NOT waste your time or energy on what others think about you or things that make you upset. Focus on what you can control. Enjoy the small things; they often get overlooked in the present and are the things you miss once they are gone.”

For more information about Diplomás and the Equitable Enrollment Collaborative, please visit www.uppartnership.org or donate to the work here. You can also follow our progress by signing up for our newsletter and by following us on social media.

Bexar County’s impact on young people presented on a national stage at annual collective impact conference

Bexar County's impact on young people presented on a national stage at annual collective impact conference

In a standing room only session at StriveTogether’s 2023 Cradle to Career Network Convening in San Francisco, Calif. Future Ready Bexar County partners Amy Contreras, Assistant to Director at the City of San Antonio’s Workforce Development Office, Dr. Jeniffer Richardson, DM, MAOM, Senior Vice President, Strategic and Policy Initiatives at United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County and Dr. Emily Calderón Galdeano, Ed.D., Chief Impact and Strategy Officer at UP Partnership, led a panel session entitled “Working Together: How Government Leaders and Community Organizations are Collaborating for Long-Lasting Change.” 

The session focused primarily on how Bexar County is working collaboratively through the Future Ready Bexar County Plan to increase economic mobility for young people through a shared North Star goal of increasing the percentage of Bexar County High School graduates enrolling in a postsecondary degree or credential program to 70% by 2030. Team San Antonio shared how cross-sector community partners have come together to help address the postsecondary barriers faced by young people in our community and improve their opportunities and outcomes in life.

This was just one of many examples of San Antonio shining its light at StriveTogether’s Cradle to Career Network Convening. For the past 12 years, StriveTogether has convenednational partners and community leaders for three days of connecting, learning and collective thought partnership focused on creating positive changes for young people across the country. 

This year, UP Partnership staff was joined by several key Future Ready Bexar County partners including the San Antonio Area Foundation, United Way of San Antonio, CAST Schools Network, City of San Antonio Workforce Development, and Bexar County Juvenile Justice. Along with Contreras and Richardson, Team San Antonio also included Jennifer Cook, Director of Strategy and Impact at the San Antonio Area Foundation, Andrea Figueroa, Senior Program Officer of Youth Success at the San Antonio Area Foundation, Jennifer Maestas, Community and Educator Engagement Manager at CAST Schools Network and Holly Pompa, Trauma-Informed Program Manager at Bexar County.

Team San Antonio joined over 500 national participants for plenaries, sessions and workshops designed to further align on the importance of continued collective impact work — ensuring that all young people have equitable pathways to the best possible successes in life.

It was also a celebration for Team San Antonio, as UP Partnership and Bexar County were once again recognized for becoming one of the most recent communities in the StriveTogether national network to receive the Systems Transformation designation, joining six other StriveTogether communities in the country: Appalachian Cradle-to-Career Partnership (Berea, KY), E3 Alliance (Austin, TX), Higher Expectations for Racine County (Racine, WI), Learn to Earn Dayton (Dayton, OH), Northfield Promise (Northfield, MN), Promise Partnership of Salt Lake (Salt Lake City, UT) and Spartanburg Academic Movement (Spartanburg, SC). 

Through the StriveTogether’s Theory of Action™, communities complete an assessment of their civic infrastructure and progress toward aligning resources around better and more equitable outcomes for young people. The Systems Transformation designation is the top designation a community can reach as it advances through Exploring, Emerging, Sustaining, Systems Change and Systems Transformation designations.

The Systems Transformation designation, and the continued work in Bexar County, could not have been done without the hard work of the partners who have made actionable commitments to the Future Ready Bexar County Plan that are rooted in the equity pillars of Healing, Access and Voice — the must HAVEs for equity amongst Bexar County’s young people.

Team San Antonio partners appreciated the convening for providing “opportunities to learn more about youth development focused work and connect with others who are engaged in collective impact work,” said Richardson.

Contreras added that she was pleased with the “large number of trainings offered, which provided a variety of best practices from which to learn.”

Pompa looked forward to the convening and “meeting with, and learning from, people who are working toward similar advancements of opportunities and equity for young people.” Ultimately, “the convening was a joy to attend. I only wish there had been more days so that I could attend more sessions.”

While partners learned and celebrated accomplishments, UP Partnership staff shared insights, challenges and achievements of work being completed in San Antonio. Three additional sessions highlighted the work that is being done both internally, and through two of UP Partnership’s continuous improvement collaboratives that support and scale the commitment to young people in Bexar County. Those sessions included:

Fostering Organizational Change Through Communities of Practice,” led by Shelby Drayton, K12 and Youth Development’s Senior Manager of Coaching and Facilitation at UP Partnership and Dr. Miray Seward, PhD, Research Scientist at Search Institute. Participants learned about UP Partnership and Search Institute’s partnership within the Excel Academy to catalyze a youth-serving ecosystem that centers around developmental relationships, racial equity and the Results Count Framework to promote organizational change.
Internal Systems Transformation: HR, Finance and Development,” led by UP Partnership team members Kimberly Sama, Chief Finance and Operations Officer, J’Shcarla Adkins, Senior Manager of Finance and Operations, Patrick Farris, Manager of Development and Grants, Brandon Henson, Director of Finance and Operations and Kristen Kitler, HR Manager of Team Success. Together, they created a unique space for backbone staff focused on internal organizational health to share best practices, tools, and resources. This session provided a foundation for relationship-building and collaborative internal systems design and operational experience-sharing, responding to universal challenges facing non-profit and collective impact organizations.
Journey Toward Equitable Enrollment in Bexar County,” led by UP Partnership team members Briana Hagelgans, Ed.D., Director of K12 and Postsecondary, and Lowell Butler, Ed.D., K12 and Postsecondary Senior Manager of Coaching and Facilitation. They discussed the creation and evolution of the Equitable Enrollment Collaborative, which consists of 20 partner organizations representing K-12, higher education and nonprofit organizations, as it works to actively dissolve barriers in postsecondary enrollment for young people in Bexar County.

UP Partnership’s Equitable Enrollment Collaborative works with community organizations to ensure access for Bexar County’s young people

UP Partnership’s Equitable Enrollment Collaborative works with community organizations to ensure access for Bexar County's young people

Today, many young people in Bexar County still face significant barriers to enrolling in, and attaining, a postsecondary education. Disproportionately, it is marginalized student groups — students of color, students from low-income families — that are most likely to experience those barriers.

While it is clear that postsecondary education offers the greatest potential to alter the outcomes of young people and their communities, in 2020 only 50% of all young people graduating high school in Bexar County enrolled in a college, university or credential program after high school graduation.

Addressing those barriers is where UP Partnership’s Equitable Enrollment Collaborative (EEC) focuses their efforts. 

The EEC supports the advancement of more equitable enrollment strategies for the young people in Bexar County. 

Briana Hagelgans, Ed.D., UP Partnership’s Director of K12 and Postsecondary, the department that leads the EEC’s convenings said that “through EEC, leaders from two- and four- year higher educational institutions, representatives from Bexar County school districts and community based leaders work together to address the challenges to postsecondary enrollment,” in an effort to drive toward the Future Ready Bexar County Plan’s collective North Star goal of increasing the percentage of Bexar County High School graduates enrolling in a postsecondary degree or credential program to 70% by 2030.

“Together, we can work through barriers that students commonly face when navigating their transition into postsecondary,” Hagelgans added.

The Beginnings of the Equitable Enrollment Collaborative

Initially started in 2021 as a joint initiative between Diplomás and My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio, two of UP Partnership’s systems change networks, the EEC offered a space for secondary and postsecondary professionals to convene and begin building formal and actionable strategies to increase postsecondary enrollment and success for students of color — especially young men of color — and Dreamer students that would lead to a living-wage career and economic mobility.

During its first two years, the EEC supported local school districts, institutions of higher education and community based organizations in analyzing their internal data college application and enrollment data. 

By tracking the number of students completing college applications and the number of students completing financial aid applications (FAFSA or TASFA), EEC members could see where gaps and barriers existed within their own organizations and begin the shift in policies and programs to systematically close those gaps and remove those barriers. 

There were many successes during the initial work of the EEC including:

One local school district identified lower college-going rates among its Emergent Bilingual students and launched a strategy to deliver college advising in multiple languages.
Another partner led “Senior Saturdays” to help young people and their families navigate FAFSA applications and they were also able to meet with enrollment advisors from a local higher education institution building cross-sector bridges to support student success.
One university partner hosted six mini-summits engaging a total of 309 students from four EEC school districts. These mini-summits contributed to the university’s enrollment of 254 Dreamer students for that fall semester.

According to Texas A&M University – San Antonio’s Executive Director of Student Success, who is a member of the EEC, the efforts were “[creating] the kind of environment where high school Dreamers can picture themselves [in college],” and the work being done plays an important role in building “a direct pipeline to higher education.”

Evolution of EEC under Future Ready Bexar County

In 2022, UP Partnership looked in depth at the EEC and realized that the focus of the collaborative needed to change in order to meet the Future Ready North Star enrollment goal. While institutions were successfully implementing changes to increase equitable enrollment, that existing model of work could not be scaled to its full potential across Bexar County.

As part of EEC’s evolution, UP Partnership actively garnered input from its partners on what the next phase of the EEC should look like in an effort to reach a collective equitable postsecondary enrollment strategy.After much discussion, it was decided that, moving forward, the EEC’s way of thinking would shift from “what we can change in our own institution” to “what can we change together across institutions.”

The work to remove barriers 

The EEC is now heavily responsible for scaling the Future Ready Bexar County Plan’s equity pillar of Access, which along with Healing and Voice, has been identified as the must HAVEs amongst Bexar County’s young people. 

To do this, they are addressing three major barriers young people face to postsecondary enrollment in Bexar County. These barriers were identified in discussions with EEC partners on the next phase of scaling the collaborative’s work:

1: There is no clear and aligned definition of what “college readiness” is in Bexar County.

As community partners began coming together to advance collaborative postsecondary work, a pattern emerged of students not being adequately prepared for postsecondary opportunities because different institutions used different formal definitions of “college readiness.” 

Local school districts refer to the definition of the Texas Education Agency, while institutions of higher education use the definition of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Those separate definitions are a major barrier to shared data measurement and strategic partnerships between secondary and postsecondary institutions.

To address this barrier, the EEC brought Future Ready community partners together in conversations that led to  the adoption of three established K12 and higher education metrics of “college readiness” to support the building of a shared advising framework and curriculum in an effort to create alignment in practices and policies across community partners. 

2: There is a lack of clarity around student pathways from K-12 to Postsecondary Education or Credential Training.


Through its work in Bexar County, the EEC holds the closest focus on the Future Ready Bexar County Plan’s North Star goal of reaching 70% postsecondary enrollment by 2030. To that end, the collaborative fosters partner-initiated policies and programs that secure pathways for all young people in the community to have access to postsecondary enrollment opportunities and success. 

Direct admissions initiatives are one pathway for postsecondary enrollment and the groundwork for successful initiatives that provide access for Bexar County’s young people to get affordable two-year and four-year degrees.  These opportunities are accessible through Alamo Colleges Foundation’s AlamoPROMISE, the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Bold Promise, both of the institutions’ Promise-to-Promise and Texas A&M – San Antonio’s Achiever Promise.

“What this work shows is that all community partners believe in graduating high school seniors in Bexar County as we help them move forward to postsecondary enrollment and success,” said one Future Ready partner at the Future Ready Bexar County Leadership Table held in July of this year.

3: There is a lack of alignment on how partners track and integrate data about postsecondary barriers and readiness.

Data is a vital component to drive collaborative work forward but often, cross-sector partners either don’t have access to others’ data or the data collection, metrics, descriptions and use vary by individual organizations. The EEC is striving toward standardizing data and data collection so that community partners can access it in one central location.

The ultimate goal for collecting, analyzing and sharing data is a real-time data integration model that helps community partners identify early indicators of at-risk students, evaluate the effectiveness of programs and interventions both in and out of school and track college and career readiness and students’ engagement with community youth development organizations.

Initial work on this model began this past January with the EEC leading a discovery phase with six local school districts to identify the presence of college advisors and resources across high school grades 9-12. This phase revealed that the current college advising system — grades served, content and models — is not the same across Bexar County school districts. Identifying these inconsistencies has allowed partners to begin advancing strategies to address those existing gaps.

Additional work continued through a needs assessment of Future Ready partners around a shared problem — how to transition more students into postsecondary programs starting in high school that will lead to credentials of value.

This included landscape mapping for two different school districts that examined high-quality advising and support and explored career centered pathway programs, such as dual credit, advanced placement and/or college prep, that lead to a postsecondary or credential enrollment.

The results showed that Bexar County has a rich landscape of pathway programs, which were particularly notable across the community partners that participated in this assessment. It also yielded ways to improve existing pathway programs, with the community partners using that information to scale their work in Bexar County.

By working together in collaboration, the work of the Equitable Enrollment Collaborative strives to better the future for all young people in Bexar County and these tests of change are a continuation of cross-sector collaboration, through which our community can  create more equitable access to postsecondary opportunities for our young people.

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

Meet UP Partnership’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Ryan Lugalia-Hollon

Meet UP Partnership’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Ryan Lugalia-Hollon

Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Ph.D., has served as the chief executive of UP Partnership for six years, ensuring alignment across UP’s board, staff, partners and leaders in pursuit of the mission of ensuring all young people in Bexar County are ready for the future.

Ryan identifies as a human development planner. He was drawn to UP Partnership and the work the organization does because of the “opportunity to help increase youth outcomes while working across sectors,” he said.

Prior to joining UP Partnership, he served as the executive director for Excel Beyond the Bell San Antonio, which is now one of UP Partnership’s systems change networks, as well as worked at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago’s Youth Safe and Violence Prevention department.

He is also a poet and an author. His poem, Vision, helps to explain some of the underlying motivation that drives him in this work daily…

Lugalia-Hollon is committed to working towards racial equity both locally and nationally.

Prophecies cannot restore the past,
yet each dream we cast
buries a secret weapon
in the not too distant future.

Our young ones
will soon need to dig them up
and use them for their defense.

Ryan’s first book, The War on Neighborhoods, was published by Beacon Press and tracks the devastating impact of mass incarceration on one Chicago community area. It helped influence the birth of the R3 Program in Illinois. R3 — Restore. Reinvest. Renew. — which provides a model for how to support those neighborhoods most impacted by the War on Drugs.

Ryan is committed to working towards racial equity both locally and nationally. He is an active leader in the national StriveTogether network and serves as the Board Chair for the Children’s Funding Project, a nonprofit organization that helps communities and states to expand equitable opportunities for children and youth through strategic public financing.

He was selected as the Outstanding Young San Antonian of 2020 by the Rotary Club of San Antonio. Ryan received his doctorate in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago and his bachelor’s in anthropology from the University of Chicago.

When not supporting social change efforts, Ryan enjoys time with his family, practicing Tai Chi, hiking, cooking, coaching, and studying the Enneagram of Personality types. He is a big fan of the book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, the show Foundation, and the rapper Lacrae.

As UP Partnership staff can attest, Lugalia-Hollon also loves telling dad jokes. Including this gem: “When does a regular joke become a dad joke? When it’s a-parent!”

All joking aside, Ryan’s advice to the work is “Take it easy, but take it.” If he could be any dinosaur, he would be a Pterodactyl “for the views.”

Meet UP Partnership’s Executive Assistant Rebekka Payne

Meet UP Partnership's Executive Assistant Rebekka Payne

As we celebrate Administrative Professionals’ Day, UP Partnership would like to highlight Rebekka Payne who has served as the organization’s Executive Assistant since August 2022. 

In this role, she supports the organization’s senior leadership team consisting of Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Ph.D., CEO, Emily Calderón Galdeano, Ed.D., Chief Impact and Strategy Officer and Kimberly Sama, Chief Finance and Operations Officer, in day-to-day operations. Rebekka is also key in event organization and logistics for UP Partnership events that relate to the progress of Future Ready Bexar County, the community plan whose north star aims to increase local enrollment into postsecondary and credentialed programs to 70% by 2030. 

She has lived all around the country, including New York City, where she worked in the Empire State Building as the Director of Employment Services for people with mental and physical disabilities. Rebekka brings many professional skills to the position from her nearly 20 years of experience as an Executive Assistant.

She has an adventurous nine-year-old who loves reading her books each night; funny comic books are his favorite. In her free time, she enjoys art and is a self-taught photographer.

Rebekka offers the following advice: “Don’t be afraid of being afraid. Sometimes the one thing you need for growth is the one thing you are most afraid to do.”

For more information about UP Partnership, please visit www.uppartnership.org or donate to the work here.

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

Advice from Rebekka Payne:

“Don’t be afraid of being afraid. Sometimes the one thing you need for growth is the one thing you are most afraid to do.”

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 admin@uppartnership.org 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.”

Organizations join forces to create a national standard for a leadership program geared toward youth-serving professionals

Organizations join forces to create a national standard for a leadership program geared toward youth-serving professionals

UP Partnership’s leadership program for youth-serving professionals sets the standard using Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships Framework

UP Partnership, a San Antonio-based collective impact organization, and Search Institute, a Minnesota-based positive youth development and equity-focused research organization, are collaborating to create a national standard for a leadership development program. This program is specifically geared toward augmenting youth-serving professionals’ ability to better connect and build transformative relationships with those they serve, which in turn helps young people develop character virtues, such as generosity, self-control, civility, respect, humility, purpose, and curiosity.

Since 2019, UP Partnership has led Excel Academy, a leadership program rooted in racial equity, continuous improvement, adaptive leadership, and Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships Framework. The core of Search Institute’s Framework is based on five elements vital to transformative relationships between youth-serving professionals and young people: expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, sharing power and expanding possibilities. Excel Academy participants are invited to engage in learning around these five elements through a racial equity lens. These elements are important for professionals to utilize in helping young people succeed while also focusing on equity.

“Developmental relationships are close connections through which young people discover who they are, cultivate abilities to shape their own lives, and learn how to engage with and contribute to the world around them. Our Developmental Relationships Framework guides youth-serving professionals toward creating meaningful relationships with young people and providing the support and encouragement they need to thrive,” says Search Institute CEO, Ben Houltberg.

Search Institute and UP Partnership have worked together for several years on various projects. In the spring of 2022, both organizations saw an opportunity to scale up Excel Academy through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Through a $1.6 million investment, Search Institute and UP Partnership are currently creating the framework to further expand Excel Academy to a national scale through a new three-year framework that helps organizations to cultivate relationship- and character-rich climates.

“Through Excel Academy more than 75 youth serving professionals in over 26 youth-serving organizations in Bexar County have been impacted through the program, to-date. We are bringing together two professionals each from selected youth-serving organizations – one senior level, one frontline staffer. Having both perspectives at the table is vitally important to ensure diverse voices are heard,” said Emily Calderón Galdeano, UP Partnership’s Chief Strategy and Impact Officer. “The reach that both have to attain feedback from their teams and students inform how the participants create and continually improve their organizational work plans.”

Together senior-level and frontline staff members will co-create an organizational improvement plan that will help them implement changes based on the content covered in the sessions. Frontline and senior-level staff also receive individualized coaching from UP Partnership staff, and training from Search Institute, Quantum Possibilities, and UP Partnership facilitators.

Miray Seward is Search Institute’s Research Scientist and primary researcher for this pilot. The primary lead of Excel Academy at UP Partnership is Senior Manager of K12 and Youth Development Shelby Drayton.

A total of 23 organizations received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. To learn more about this grant and read more about the other awardees you can click here.

About Search Institute
Search Institute is a nonprofit organization with a sixty-plus-year history of collaboration with youth-serving organizations to conduct and apply research that promotes positive youth development and advances equity. Our tools build connections that help all young people learn and grow.

About UP Partnership
Founded in 2009, UP Partnership is a San Antonio-based nonprofit that convenes partners in Bexar County that provide healing, access, and voice to local youth to create equitable systems and ensure that all young people in the county are ready for the future. Its work is conducted through collaborative efforts with its partners that focus on education and youth development initiatives and have signed on to a community-wide strategic plan called Future Ready Bexar County or its networks of My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio, Diplomás, and Excel Beyond the Bell. UP Partnership has 130 local partners and 500 volunteer leaders across seven sectors including: early childhood, preK12, postsecondary education, youth development, workforce, justice, funders, corporate partners and local government.