Pointing to issues such as the digital divide and mental health support, local leaders worry the coronavirus pandemic has magnified obstacles to economic mobility that have plagued generations of Bexar County residents.

In April, public and private sector leaders signed a pledge to ensure that everyone – including low-income students, students of color, and other marginalized students – can get equal opportunities to come back stronger following the pandemic.

Now Blue Meridian Partners, a nationwide consortium of philanthropic organizations focused on supporting plans for equitable recovery, has contributed $8 million to two San Antonio foundations working to fulfill that promise.

“We are excited to be investing in San Antonio and working with these talented leaders,” stated Othello Meadows, managing director at Blue Meridian Partners. “In particular, UP Partnership’s track record of using data and its strong relationships within the public sector are positioning the organization to be an excellent advocate for lasting change in San Antonio. UP is intentional about sharing power with partners and centering voices from the community, especially youth.”

Founded in 2015, the New York-based nonprofit is a philanthropic partnership supported by groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and 17 others. It pools the partners’ resources to make large contributions toward social problems affecting young people and families in poverty. 

Since the coronavirus outbreak began in the United States, Blue Meridian has contributed more than $150 million in COVID-19 relief funding to support federal nutrition programs and state unemployment insurance benefits. 

Blue Meridian awarded the grant for equitable recovery in San Antonio to the nonprofit youth advocacy organization UP Partnership and the San Antonio Area Foundation, which will disburse a portion of the funds to area nonprofits through grants. 

Of the $8 million contributed by Blue Meridian, $2 million will go to the Area Foundation and the remainder to UP Partnership. With those funds, each organization will distribute grants totaling about $2 million to community partners, said Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, executive director of UP Partnership. 

With the remainder of the funds, about 35 percent will be used to support the UP Partnership staff and the rest will pay for technical assistance from consultants experienced in integrating recovery and mobility plans across institutions and city government. 

Lugalia-Hollon said the funds are meant to help young people recover from the economic and social effects of the pandemic and come out stronger. 

With the UP Partnership seeking to build and strengthen a coalition of equity-focused leaders who can transform the systems that serve young people, he said, it will grant funds to its network of groups that are focused on education and youth development initiatives. Those include My Brothers Keeper SA, Diplomás, Excel Beyond the Bell, and Our Tomorrow.

“Prior to the pandemic we have these huge disparities [and] we know they’re being exacerbated, we know they’re getting worse,” Lugalia-Hollon said. “We already knew that those communities were behind on some key metrics, because of the way that our systems were falling short so … if we don’t respond, then existing disparities get worse.” 

But with an equitable recovery plan, “we really believe that we can not only minimize the damage of the pandemic on learning, on social, emotional, mental health, on long-term outcomes like college success, but we can also start to reverse the disparities that existed before the pandemic.”

In applying for the Blue Meridian grant, the UP Partnership named the Area Foundation as a partner. 

“We are humbled to see national investors seeing the need for upward mobility for youth of color in our community and demonstrating their leadership by doing something about it,” said Patricia Mejia, vice president of Community Engagement and Impact at the San Antonio Area Foundation. 

“Blue Meridian’s support clearly illustrates that centering equity in our work is not only the right thing to do but it also drives new investment in our community – it simply makes economic sense.”

Plans for how the Area Foundation will distribute funds are still being worked out. 

“We’ll be looking for opportunities to put this significant infusion to good use through support for youth development agencies as well as for those providing workforce, childcare, and leadership development opportunities focused on centering the youth voice,” Mejia said. 

Another partner for the grant is the City of San Antonio and the personnel who head the offices of equity, innovation, economic development, and the department of human services.

“They’re going to attend all of our partnership’s quarterly board meetings next year, and a lot of that planning work is going to be about strengthening the bridges between City government and our student-serving institutions,” Lugalia-Hollon said. 

“I’m thrilled that San Antonio is already receiving national recognition and support for our equitable recovery efforts — including our community’s investments in early childhood education and workforce development,” stated Ron Nirenberg. “UP Partnership and the Area Foundation will be able to augment their wraparound services, ensuring that every San Antonio family has an opportunity to thrive in the city we call home.”

The San Antonio Area Foundation and the UP Partnership are financial supporters of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the business beat reporter at the San Antonio Report.