Robert Rivard

Alejandro Juul, a St. Mary’s Hall high school student representing a team of young programmers, became the first teenager to accept an Awesome SA grant of $1,000 to help fund an initiative that will use coding to fight illiteracy among San Antonio youth.

Juul was the only member of the youth team at Boneshakers Thursday evening, explaining that other team members were out of state on other school-related projects. That didn’t seem to affect Juul’s confident and articulate cameo at the microphone where he evangelized for coding as a way to combat the city’s high rate of illiteracy.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what part of the city you live in, you can learn to code,” Juul said as he explained the Flash Cards reading app now in beta and talked about the team’s goal of creating the city’s largest-ever hackathon as a means of attracting more students to try their hand at coding.

The November award was the 13th such award granted by the local chapter of the Boston-based Awesome Foundation, a grass roots creative idea incubator that has spread worldwide in recent years. That brings the local chapter’s awards to $13,000 to date, funding everything from a project to solarize a food truck to another to design and build a bike rack as public art object.

Awesome SA trustees, including the Rivard Report, contribute $100 monthly to fund the monthly grants, inviting applications from locals with creative ways to make San Antonio more awesome. The program is notable for its informality and lack of red tape.

“We encourage everyone here tonight to think about applying for a grant,” said Kelly Beevers, Awesome SA’s November emcee, who was joined at the microphone by Acie, her big, affable Goldendoodle. “Most of our winners apply more than once before winning.”

[Read More: Awesome SA Celebrates One Year, $12,000 of Awesome Grants]

Here are the three finalists in their own words, including the winning application, which was submitted by student Mia Benavidez and presented Thursday evening by Juul:

 Apps for Aptitude – Mia Benavidez

A little about me:

Hello! I am currently a high school junior at the International School of the Americas in San Antonio and head of public relations at Apps for Aptitude. I am also very involved within my school. I am the captain of the volleyball team at Robert E. Lee High School, a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society and Model United Nations San Antonio. I am also an avid volunteer within the San Antonio community.

Here’s my idea:

Apps for Aptitude is a non-profit organization, 501(c)3 run completely by high schoolers. It was established for the purpose of reducing illiteracy rates within the in the greater San Antonio area and to fight technological illiteracy across the nation. San Antonio has experienced an increase of illiteracy, about 25% of the population is illiterate or functionally illiterate. This alarming rate and the fact that the majority of students are not knowledgeable in computer programming has fueled our desire to lower these rates. In order to do this, Apps for Aptitude has created an educational flashcard app called Cards for Cause, which is targeted at the common high school student struggling to study their material while on the go.The proceeds from the app will be donated to organizations in San Antonio that were established for the purpose of fighting illiteracy; thus enhancing education for everyone.

Apps for aptitude

First, you sign up for a submission service. Then, you send in your study flashcards/ review materials (which may be in the form of an excel spreadsheet) to be examined by the app’s team. Once your cards have been surveyed, they will be reiterated back to you though our app – a perfect solution for students who are very involved or constantly busy.

How I will use the money:

This money will be used to start a hackathon in San Antonio. The purpose of the hackathon is to terminate the social barriers associated with coding. Most people view coding as an introverted activity- it is our mission to break this stereotype. Hackathons greatly emphasize the importance of collaboration because in order for the participants to acquire a ending goal, they must work together extensively. The proceeds made from the hackathon will be donated to the San Antonio Youth Literacy.

How will this benefit San Antonio as a whole?

If we were to receive funding to start a hackathon, many sponsors will visit from around the country. If San Antonio wishes to show its proficiency as a tech economy, other people must notice San Antonio as a tech economy. In addition, a hackathon will bring the community together as a whole. This event will attract the attention of prospective students, and allow other students to aspire to do bigger and better things that will essentially enhance their education.

Humans of San Antonio – Michael Cirlos

A little about me:

I was born and raised in San Antonio. I started my college career in Hua Hin, Thailand, and through hard work and dedication I was awarded the World Traveler Scholarship through Webster University. I then moved to The Netherlands to continue my studies before returning to UTSA to complete my B.A in Psychology. I’m currently working as a case manager for a non-profit foster care organization in San Antonio. I’m a Peace Corps nominee, spoken word poet, a bicycle enthusiast, and a photographer

Here’s my idea:

The Humans of San Antonio project is part of a network of Humans of Projects from around the world. The Humans of San Antonio Project promotes diversity and offers a street level perspective of our vibrant community from the downtown area. Our main goal of the Humans of San Antonio project is to promote diversity honestly and accurately. In order to do this, we are photographing and interviewing everyday people to showcase their individuality and cultural differences so that we can share those perspectives to people within in San Antonio. By doing so, we believe we can rise social awareness and togetherness.

humans of san antonio

The Humans of San Antonio project has been creating a better sense of community. Within the past year, I have experienced the positive effects this project has had on our community. One day I photographed a lady who looked upset. I quickly learned that someone had stolen her money and personal belongings at home while she was at work. I asked if I could share her story on Humans of San Antonio and she agreed.

Soon after I had posted her story, strangers from around the city and from across the U.S. wanted to donate what they could to help. What’s great about The Humans of San Antonio Project is that every person has their own unique story, and when you capture them right there in the moment, I believe they share something genuine.

Caught red-handed trying to borrow my bike. Photo by HOSA/Michael Cirlos.
Caught red-handed trying to borrow my bike. Photo by HOSA/Michael Cirlos.

The people we capture don’t know that they are going to be photographed that day, nor did they have time to plan or think about what they might say. This human interaction happens naturally because it’s at the spur of the moment, and The Humans of San Antonio Project has the ability to capture the content of that moment. Our project is continually growing and what brings people back to this project is the marriage between the caption and the photograph. This combination leaves an emotional impression and what comes out of it is real human experience. For more information visit to watch our video.

How I will use the money:

We would like to organize a children’s portrait day. We would take the photos to have them developed and deliver them. We would also like to make a wall art collage of the collection of photos for the children’s hospital. Also, we would use the money to help organize a community meal at one of the local parks. 

How will this benefit San Antonio as a whole?

We believe HOSA will help give the community a voice and increase social awareness through individuality, diversity, photography, and literature.

Escape to Create – Amanda Uriegas

A little about me:

I have a passion for creating change in San Antonio and love volunteering my time and talents to creating a better tomorrow. San Antonio has many needs that are unmet and I plan to spend my life bringing attention to these needs and creating solutions. I believe that by having an active community our overall health and well-being as a society increases therefore, I hold myself accountable for the changes I would like to see in San Antonio and will fight for marginalized populations.

Here’s my idea:

This project was initially created by 16 masters of social work students for our community organization class at UTSA, but has really grown into something more meaningful than just another class project. As a class we wanted on focus on the children of incarcerated parents, as they are often a forgotten population. There are many services for their parents but not many that focus on how being a child of an incarcerated parent affects the child emotionally and increases the obstacles they will face. We are working with high school aged youth in creating a mural on the Chrysalis Ministries building in downtown San Antonio.

escape to create

Our social work class will start meeting with the students this Saturday, Oct 19. We will bring the students downtown and work with each one individually to discuss how having their parent’s incarcerated has affected them. Then the students will collaborate about the images and story they would like to tell on the mural.

We will first have the youth write down a painful memory on the wall of the mural then will cover it up with primer and paint over the statements with an inspirational mural which will represent their triumph over their struggles and focus on higher education. This is done to symbolize that no matter what happens in life, no matter how painful, they can always overcome it and succeed.

Each graduate student will partner up with one of the youth to act as a mentor throughout the project and help expose the youth to higher education. We will also be bringing in other leaders in our community and do mixers with the youth. We hope to create enough funding and publicity to keep this project going.

How I will use the money:

The money will go to art supplies and building materials. Since the Chrysalis organization is moving locations the artist had a great idea of having a portable mural so we can display it in different areas of San Antonio. Also, after the completion of the mural we are having an unveiling party where we will have live music, free food and invite the community to view what the youth was able to accomplish any extra funds will go to the unveiling party as well as to snacks for the youth.

How will this benefit San Antonio as a whole?

It will increase awareness about the struggles youth with incarcerated parents face everyday give them a chance to tell their story. This will be a great project to increase our communities involvement. Without awareness to the issue San Antonio citizens may not be sensitive or understanding the youths struggles. This is creating an healthy community involvement.

Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook.

Related Stories:

UPDATED: Awesome SA Celebrates One Year, $12,000 of Awesome Grants

Mobile Om Takes Home Awesome SA Grant

$1,000 for wabiStory App: Placemaking via Digital Storytelling

Awesome SA <3?s 1005 Faces

Gallery: 1005 Faces by Sarah Brooke Lyons

Amazing! The Awesome Foundation Spreads to San Antonio

San Anto Cultural Arts & Awesome SA: Paletas, Bikes, Youth Engagement

This article was assembled by various members of the San Antonio Report staff.