San Antonio Builds Plane, Flies It, and Opens Up Its Black Box

17 Jul 2012 | Guest blog post by Marcos Marquez
San Antonio Builds Plane, Flies It, and Opens Up Its Black Box
Above: Eastside Promise Neighborhood implementation team holds a Q&A with leaders from Chicago and Dallas sites. Photo courtesy Marcos Marquez

Research shows that mentoring matters. Personalized instructional support from an adult to a child is a powerful tool that speeds up and deepens learning. The United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County and San Antonio’s Eastside Promise Neighborhood are building on this premise by mentoring aspirant communities preparing to apply for planning or implementation Promise Neighborhood grants.

“We feel that participating in a peer-to-peer learning network is part of our charge as a Promise Neighborhood,” says Mary Ellen Burns, Vice-President of United Way’s Partners for Community Change, which has oversight responsibility for the Eastside Promise Neighborhood. “We are accountable to deliver on the promises this community has called for in terms of impact, influence, and leverage. But we also believe that to be truly effective it’s critical to support other communities interested in becoming a Promise Neighborhood. Our goal is to help folks across the country build opportunities to turn the curve for children and families in their communities.”

Eastside Promise Neighborhood hosted two hopeful organizations during the month of June. The Center on Communities and Education, from the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development of Southern Methodist University is pursuing a planning grant with a west side neighborhood in Dallas. SGA Youth & Family Services of Chicago, Illinois, recently launched the Roseland Children’s Initiative targeting a 60 block segment of the Roseland community and is applying for an implementation grant. Both visited with the Eastside Promise Neighborhood to understand what has worked and what has been challenging in moving from planning to implementation. Both visiting groups were able to engage with residents, stakeholders, and staff and participated in a tour of the EPN footprint. Their visits also coincided with an EPN Advisory Council meeting, and so they were able to see firsthand how residents and stakeholders execute decision-making on EPN strategies and commitments.

“We’re building this airplane as we fly it and we’re learning along the way,” notes Dr. Henrietta Muñoz, Director of the Eastside Promise Neighborhood (EPN). “What does it mean for United Way to do community transformation work in collaboration with residents, our institutional partners, and a neighborhood? How do we ensure that this work is sustainable beyond the generous 5 year commitment from the Department of Education? These are just a few questions guiding our strategies and efforts. It’s an invigorating process and a delicate dance at the same time,” states Dr. Muñoz.

Word about our work is spreading fast, with organizations as far away as Australia contacting EPN to learn more. United Way Worldwide is working with our site to produce a set of video tools that promote best practices for other United Ways interested in pursuing this powerful set of opportunities. Locally, United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County is developing our own set of materials, including a set of Frequently Asked Questions to help raise awareness about what it takes to become a Promise Neighborhood. For more information on the EPN please visit


Marcos Marquez is the Results and Communications Manager for United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County’s Eastside Promise Neighborhood. A national trainer in Results Based Accountability, Marcos is helping United Way ensure accountability to the community on the 10 Promises made with residents in the EPN footprint.