Photo courtesy of Meredith Ruiz.

A man was surprised to find the children’s book, “Corduroy,” in the wooden box at Golden Community Park.

“I read this as a kid,” he said, handing his son the book.

Meredith Ruiz described this scene to me as she anxiously awaited the winning announcement of the Awesome SA $1,000 grant, of which The Rivard Report is a sponsor.

He didn’t steal the book – you can’t steal what’s free. It’s more than likely that he’ll be back to return the book soon, for the next family to appreciate, Ruiz said. She estimates that about 100 books have circulated through the Little Free Library, a birdhouse-like box filled with books, in Golden Community Park so far.

Photo courtesy of Meredith Ruiz.

Now, thanks to Ruiz, City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation‘s Adopt-A-Park program and Awesome SA‘s award, three more parks in lower-income neighborhoods will receive little libraries.

When Ruiz, a program manager at Volunteer Services, heard of the Little Free Library concept, she was immediately inspired.

Meredith Ruiz (left) and Claudia Loya, Awesome SA Dean
Claudia Loya, Awesome SA Dean, presents Meredith Ruiz (left) with the winner’s plaque. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“The libraries provide an instant connection between people, the park, and their community” Ruiz said. The Golden Community Park has been adopted by the Daughters of Charity Services, a nonprofit poverty advocacy group, which also maintains the library.

“It’s very low maintenance,” Ruiz said, “Just make sure its books, not bad stuff, that ends up in there.”

Dominic Ochoa, an intern at Solar San Antonio, provided an update on their Awesome SA grant-funded project, the Say.She.Ate solar food truck – “the first of its kind in South Texas.” So far, a deal is in place to receive a 50% discount on the panels from a local supplier, a generator has been replaced, and an engine cleaned – making way for an efficient drive in the future.

The award ceremony took place during the first monthly “Third Brewsday” at Hemisfair. More than 100 people showed up to sample a selection of free beer, listen to acoustic country music and hang out on the lawn. [See our previous coverage for details.]

Third Brewsday
The crowd at Third Brewsday, Hemisfair Park. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“This was a perfect place to announce (the winner),” said Omar Gonzalez, Awesome SA Trustee. “It’s crowded, diverse and eclectic – just like (Awesome SA), we like things that connect different people in ways that are safe, fun and friendly.”

Though there are no specific rules or guidelines besides “be awesome,” Gonzalez says the Little Free Libraries won because it involves everyone around the little box, “it’s a community project – everyone’s responsible for that box.” Perhaps because no one is officially responsible for it.

Read more about Awesome SA from the Rivard Report: Amazing! The Awesome Foundation Spreads to San Antonio.

Here is a round-up of the 5 finalists in their own words. If you see an idea that you wanted to win, fret not! There is no limit to how many times you can submit an idea.

WINNER: Little Free Libraries in the Park by Meredith Ruiz – Volunteer Services, City of San Antonio, Parks and Rec. Dept.

A little about me:

I oversee the Volunteer Services division with San Antonio Parks and Recreation. We average about 20 projects a month ranging from graffiti clean ups and litter pick ups to tree plantings and recycling education. The volunteer base grows every month with awesome San Antonio citizens willing to pitch in to make our parks shine.

I LOVE my job and the opportunity it provides to explore new ideas like the Little Free Library concept.

Here’s my idea:

I have several adopt-a-park groups that would love to install little free libraries in their adopted parks. In a nutshell, this is a “take a book, leave a book” station that looks like an oversized (and cute!) bird house. So far, the first little free library has been a great success at Golden Community Park. My volunteers report that over 100 books have circulated through this station since it was installed last month! I am focusing on installing these in low-income areas with poor access to libraries and book stores.

Please see here for more info on the Little Free Library concept: I also submitted this idea to the Texas Public Radio’s Lighter Quicker Cheaper contest and it made it to the final stage. Lots of community support for this neat concept.

How I will use the money:

$250 per library x 3 libraries = $750 Cement and other building supplies for three stations = $200 Used books to initially stock each station = $50 The models would be either the “Friendly by Nature” or “The Basic” from here:

I am also open to building these locally rather than ordering online. If you know of any volunteer carpenters, please let me know! Three libraries could turn into 6+ with $1000!


Errand Boy Bicycle Delivery by Gem Abrahamsen – bike enthusiast, aspiring reporter, and serial Awesome SA finalist

A little about me:

My name is Gem, I’m 28. I’m a Gemini, I love to read, cook, paint, and I’m a bicycle advocate. I, like so many other Americans, have the dream of being my own boss, and I’m ready to make that happen.

I’m re-applying for the Awesome Foundation’s grant (Hi y’all!) because I passionately love San Antonio and I want to make it the best place that I can. I live downtown, get around by bicycle, don’t drive, and I want to give this option to other people, even if they don’t ride a bike themselves.

Here’s my idea:

My fiance and I have lived downtown for the better part of a decade. We both love the vibrant diversity and uniqueness of San Antonio’s heart. We both love to ride bikes. We both got fed up and we decided to start our own business.

We wanted to do something that was enriching to the community, that was good for the environment, and created jobs for other people like us. We thought long and hard about what our talents had to offer, and what we (as residents) were missing.

Drawing on our combined experiences (he has been a bike messenger and delivery person for some time now, I’ve got deep roots in customer service with a real knack for web design and marketing) we arrived at the decision to start San Antonio’s newest errand service. The great part is that we’re doing it entirely by bicycle.

Our plan is simple. We will serve businesses and residences in the greater downtown San Antonio area. We can bring groceries, help with dry cleaning, mail outgoing parcels, and much more.

How I will use the money:

We will use the funds to purchase the freight trailers that we need and to provide comprehensive road safety training for our staff.

We pledge to pay this kindness forward by providing free assistance to vulnerable downtown residents through our first year in operation.


Madison Solar Car Initiative by Joseph Dungan – Madison High School Teacher, solar team advisor and director

A little about me:

I am Dr. Joe Dungan, PhD in biophysical chemistry from UCSB, & I teach preAP & AP chem at Madison HS after retiring from 21 years of biomedical research. Though chemistry is what I am most avid about I have a great passion for science, technology, engineering & math. At Madison I also serve UIL Science team, National Science Bowl team, & Solar Car team director. In 30 years of teaching (14 university & 16 HS) I have constantly sought beyond the classroom projects that teach real-world skills.

Here’s my idea:

Let me introduce you to a project that has been on-going at James Madison HS since 2010 – the Madison Solar Car Initiative (MadSCI)MadSCI’s mission is to advance knowledge and educate a wide diversity of students in science, technology, engineering, math, and other areas of scholarship that will ensure that they will best serve themselves, San Antonio, Texas, the nation, and the world in the 21st century. Founded two years ago, MadSCI provides opportunities for students of very diverse backgrounds and talents to apply classroom principles to a hands-on, real-world problem that involves designing, constructing, promoting, educating themselves and others about solar-electric vehicles, and racing these vehicles. Currently, we have designed, constructed, shown and raced two solar cars.

This project also develops engineering intuition and innovation, project and time management, and public speaking skills, just to mention a few. This is not the type of experience that can come from a classroom, nor even other extracurricular/scholastic activities. Rather, this is the type of major project that they could expect to be involved with working for a large corporation, government agency, or a private business. Building a “solar car” is much more than the “nuts and bolts” of engineering. It requires systems thinking at the broadest scale and touches on science, technology, engineering and math but also communication, publicity and fund-raising, policy, economics and the social sciences.

Each student learns what is involved in a major project in taking an idea from inception to completion and allows them to demonstrate individual and collective leadership. This project environment prepares them for life after Madison High School. An additional valuable aspect of MadSCI is that it promotes and educates the community about alternative forms of energy and transportation through its participation in national and international races, and state and local community and school events.

The only award that the team has won is the perseverance award at the National Shell Eco-Marathon competition last April.  We finished 9th out of 31 solar cars as a ?rst year entry at the National Solar Car Challenge.  We did beat all the other 4 ?rst year entries.  We plan to enter both these events again this year.  There are 36 students currently on the MadSCI team.  It has grown in just 23 months from 11 to 18 to 36 this school year.  This does not include 4 students that graduated last year and come back to serve as mentors for the current students. The students range from freshman to seniors.  The breakdown is as follows: 9th grade (4), 10th grade (13), 11th grade (10), seniors (9).  The group is also very diverse in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomics and is about 35% female.

How I will use the money:

The $1000 will go toward the battery pack and monitoring system needed for the Shell Eco-Marathon car we are in the process of designing and building.  We need to purchase the battery pack before February 1.  If the money does not go toward this (due to time constraints), we need parts for the new suspension we are putting on our existing car Helios to get it more open road worthy.  The deadline for that would be March 1.

The school just moved to a new space which, although larger, does not have the equipment that was available in the welding shop. This was necessary as the welding shop is too crowded with us in there to be useful and save. The much-needed money therefore would primarily go toward the equipment needed for the new shop and parts and supplies for building a new solar car and re-modeling our older cars, but also, for travel when we take our cars to events and schools around the city and state.


Mobile Adoption Vehicle by Ashlea Denton – UTSA grad, dog rescuer

A little about me:

I graduated from UTSA in 2008 with a BS in Biology. I have always been interested in animals. Growing up we always had a pack of rescue dogs on our ranch in south San Antonio. I completed my Girl Scout Gold Award by hosting a low-cost vaccination clinic for the pets in my economically depressed rural neighborhood. In 2010 I started a dog rescue with a publicly voted grant from Pepsi.

Here’s my idea:

About 6 months ago a fellow rescuer, that is dying from cancer, donated a UPS type van to our rescue. We have raised $1,500 so far. With this grant we would be able to get our van to adoption events. . We believe an adoption vehicle will help us increase adoptions by as much as %50. Saving many lives in the process. This is something San Antonio needs desperately to become No Kill!

How I will use the money:

The money would be used to install an awning and a plexiglass wall. The rest of the money we raised would be used for new tires and an inspection sticker.


River Taxi for the Masses by Brian Hanes – Urban living,  river cruising, life-long San Antonio(ing)

A little about me:

I am a native San Antonian born and raised. I lived in suburban SA most of my life and hardly ever went downtown, but moved to Tobin Hill off North St Mary’s about 4 years ago and I have never looked back. I love living in the middle of a growing and developing neighborhood. The Pearl Brewery area and the Tobin Hill Art on the Hill projects are wonderful and the neighborhood is improving all the time.

Here’s my idea:

I am working on getting the owners of the River Taxi service to offer a discounted 6 month or yearly pass to San Antonio residents. The benefit to offering a pass would be to all the business downtown that are on and around the river area. These business would see an increase in revenues and more foot traffic. Why rely on just tourists that visit certain times of the year? The barges are typically only 1 to 2 passengers currently. The second benefit would be to alleviate parking downtown. When residents can walk to some part of the river or park at the Pearl Brewery parking garage and then take the River Barge Taxi the need for parking downtown is alleviated. The discounted pass could even be supported/underwritten by the business on the river by means of a punch card so the owners of the businesses know that their funds are actually working for them.

How I would use the money:

I would use the money to further encourage the powers that be to offer the discount pass. I would create a sample card to show the how the cards would look and then contact businesses on the river to sell advertising on the card its self to further fund the project. I would also try to get Mayor Julian Castro involved.


Iris Dimmick is managing editor of the Rivard Report. Follow her on Twitter @viviris or contact her at

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...