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South San ISD CARE Zone is ready to help and heal

On most school days, South San Antonio High School students Marc Mendiola, Agustin Perez and Nathaniel Soto are attending classes, taking tests and trying to do all it takes to prepare for college once they graduate. They’re also just trying to be regular teenagers.

On Friday morning, these three young leaders took center stage with their peers as city, county, state leaders and members of the South San Antonio Independent School District came together for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the South San ISD CARE Zone.

“You are quite literally saving the lives of hundreds who walk after you,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “Teamwork and collaboration are our community’s secret sauce,” he added.

The CARE Zone is a mental wellness center that houses hope for people in the South San community who need a helping hand when life deals them an unexpected challenge.

The South San ISD CARE Zone is partnered with the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, Communities in Schools, Jewish Family Service San Antonio, Clarity Child Guidance Center, Rise Recovery and Family Service to provide wellness counseling for students, families and South San ISD personnel.

“Nothing is ever done in isolation,” said Susan Arciniega, South San ISD behavior specialist who has been mentoring students who raised their hands asking for help. She calls these students her heroes.

“Today we open the doors to a totally new beginning,” said Marc Mendiola. “We should not hide behind our differences; instead we should embrace them,” he added.

The CARE Zone will also house a study center, food pantry and clothing store to help clients during difficult times.

Cathy Hamilton, CEO/Founder of San Antonio Threads, says she was approached by South San ISD students about the needs in their community. As a result, the Bobcat Clothing Den came to fruition with the goal of providing clothing and shoes to those who need them.

“Right now our city has so many coat emergencies,” Hamilton said.” “I just got a call from Sam Houston High School for 15 special needs students that don’t own a coat…the last referral of the day was for three students; they not only needed the coats—they were sleeping in them because their families don’t have heat.”

Because of the strong partnerships, clients can get the free assistance by reaching out to the CARE Zone to find a wide variety of help under one roof. Services are available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 2707 W. Gerald Ave. Students are encouraged to reach out to their respective school counselors for assistance or referrals.

“If you do not have mental wellness, you do not have physical wellness,” said Talli Goldman-Dolge, Jewish Family Center chief executive officer.

As all of the needs are being met, state educators are closely watching with the hopes the South San ISD CARE Zone will be an example for the rest of the state.

“Hope lives here,” said Harold Wright, Texas Education Agency state director of community and university partnerships. “They [South San ISD] have gone partnership crazy knowing what partnerships can do for the community.”