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 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 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.