One year ago, 10 San Antonians – some friends, some strangers – decided to stir the pot creatively by awarding $1,000 a month — no strings attached — to a different person with an awesome idea for making the city a better place. No complicated grant application, no strings attached, no criteria written in stone. Just make San Antonio more awesome.

The 10 people agreed to donate $100 each every month and to work together as a group to encourage interest and applications from the creative community, and to select and celebrate an awesome winner 12 times a year.

Kelly Schaub presents her case for Community Supported Art, much like a subscription to local artists work. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Kelly Schaub presents her case for Community Supported Art, which operates like a subscription to local artists’ work, at an Awesome SA award ceremony at The Richter Co. in July. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Awesome SA, the local chapter of the Boston-based Awesome Foundation, celebrates its first year this Saturday at Alamo Street Eat Bar at 609 South Alamo St. The gathering will begin at 5 p.m. and the winner of the 12th $1,000 grant will be announced at 6 p.m. DJ Agosto Cuellar will be spinning the night away.

Update from Saturday Evening: After it’s fourth time as an Awesome SA finalist, the Each One Teach One (EOTO) Adult Literacy Program was awarded the 12th $1,000 grant Saturday night at Alamo Street Eat Bar. A crowd of about 35 gathered to listen to this month’s finalists pitch their awesome ideas.

Awesome SA trustees and deans pose for a photo with Thomas Villa of Each One Teach One Adult Literacy Program. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Awesome SA trustees and deans pose for a photo with Thomas Villa of Each One Teach One Adult Literacy Program, winner of the $1,000 October grant. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

(See descriptions of this month’s finalists below.)

“This was the perfect time for us to finally win,” Villa said. The Full Force Foundation is currently matching all grants awarded to EOTO, turning $1,000 into $2,000 for the nonprofit, volunteer-based literacy program.

After a one-time $25 fee, adults 18 and older can benefit from EOTO’s one-on-one tutoring sessions and get help for their GED – some students have been attending for several years, many become volunteers themselves. While EOTO receives referrals from city and state programs, Villa said, its funding is based on grants and donations.

“Of course money is always needed and it really goes a long way,” Villa said. “It’s the volunteers that really make the program work. Their backgrounds are as diverse as our students … ranging from 18 to well, one of our students is 67 years old.”

Awesome SA’s first birthday was celebrated with the usual cake and merriment. Past awesome winners stopped by to celebrate and support new applicants including Sarah Brooke Lyons of the 1005 Faces Project, Robert Gutierrez of Public Beat’s community chalk board, and the James Madison High School Solar Car Initiative students.

Awesome SA trustees pose for a photo with the James Madison High School solar car initiative team. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Awesome SA trustees pose for a photo with the James Madison High School Solar Car Initiative team. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Happy Birthday, Awesome SA.

Though the award ceremony has since traveled to The Brooklynite, The Richter Co., and other interesting gathering places around town – Alamo Street Eat Bar hosted several early ceremonies, including the first in October 2012, and will always be “home.”

Ben Judson sets his beer down before describing his awesome idea, the wabiStory mobile app which is currently in beta form at wabiStory.org. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Ben Judson sets his beer down before describing his grant-winning project, the wabiStory mobile app at wabistory.org. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The first grant recipient(s) was Solar San Antonio and Say.She.Ate. and the idea to save the food truck gas by equipping it with a solar panel. While the truck is not completely solar-powered, its panels and rechargeable battery have been powering delicious “new American” cuisine for several months now.

A miniature library, a paleta bike rack, a mobile story-telling application, a photography project, a mobile pet adoption vehicle, a solar car, and a mobile yoga class are but a few examples of the awesome ideas funded by the grant so far.

All ages, shapes and sizes welcome at Mobile Om. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
All ages, shapes and sizes welcome at Mobile Om. Photo by Iris Dimmick. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

“We were able to successfully complete the construction of our (solar) car, Volta, which then competed in the Shell Eco-Marathon in Houston, Texas,” said previous grant winner Joseph Dungan, chemistry teacher at James Madison High School. Through the Madison Solar Car Initiative, students built a solar car from scratch and have competed in local, state, and national competitions/races.

Dungan applied three times for the grant and had this advice for future applicants: “Just stick with it and keep a positive attitude. If you are enthusiastic about your project and can show it makes and important contribution to San Antonio, you have  good chance of being rewarded.”

Madison High School students at the Shell Eco-Marathon make some adjustments to Volta before the race. Courtesy photo.
Madison High School students at the Shell Eco-Marathon make some adjustments to Volta before the race. Courtesy photo.

The $1,000 went towards a new welding machine for the team. “Without a welding machine the construction of our car would have been impossible,” he stated in an email.

Claudia Loya and Jeff Mulholland started the local chapter and continue to serve.

“In May 2012, I read an article about an awesome project funded by the Awesome Foundation. This sparked an idea for the solution to the problem with San Antonio not being able to retain college graduates from the local universities that I had actually read about via the Rivard Report,” Loya said, who is also the media dean for the organization. “I tweeted my idea and it surprisingly picked up interest. Jeff was one of the first to contact me about starting the San Antonio chapter and within a few months, we had our Awesome 10 (trustees).”

Trustee Zac Harris, of recent Monks Toolbox fame, has also been around since the start.

Sarah Brooke Lyons celebrates her $1,000 Awesome SA grant at Alamo Street Eat Bar. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Sarah Brooke Lyons celebrates her $1,000 Awesome SA grant at Alamo Street Eat Bar. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“Awesome SA has been a real life example that you can affect change without a ton of resources. It is about doing and not talking. It is about getting together and making the community better for everyone. It’s about seeing the great in our city and working to jumpstart the awesome revolution we all want,” he said of Awesome’s goals in an email. “It’s about the people that have decided to be [awesome] change agents in the city that they so love. We have done a great deal with a small group of 10. Imagine what we can do with 100, a 1000 or 10,000. Now that is really cool to think about.”

Awesome SA has grown to 15 trustees and two deans, including Michele Jacob who joined as administrative dean in March 2013. Jacob, an artist and architecture student, previously applied for a grant to make a kind of urban park at the Nolan Street underpass on the Eastside. Though the idea wasn’t funded, she wanted to become a part of the team.

“Well, if I can’t win, I wanna be a part of it,” Jacob said laughing. “I think (Awesome SA) is connecting people, and that’s what I love. It’s something that impacts the whole city – not just one person or organization. That’s what I was attracted to, the sense of community.”

Jacob and Loya recently attended the Awesome Summit in New York City, where they met representatives from Awesome Foundation chapters from all over the world.

“They talked about what’s worked for them and what hasn’t worked,” Jacob said. “Each chapter is different … some have as many as 20 trustees and give out two grants a month.”

The event was inspiration for the San Antonio chapter to solidify plans to expand.

“With two more trustees, we’ll have two extra grants to award a year,” Jacob said. “But we want to keep it grassroots, keep it local and small. And make sure grants go to people and ideas that don’t typically get money.”

Edward Garcia holds up his $1,000 Awesome SA grant certificate for a photo with Awesome SA board and trustees. Courtesy photo.
Edward Garcia of SATX Pedal Power holds up his $1,000 Awesome SA grant certificate for a photo with Awesome SA board and trustees. Courtesy photo.

Six months into this year, Awesome SA was receiving roughly 8-10 applications a month, now it’s grown to about 15 -25. Chapters from larger cities can get as many as 600.

The Rivard Report is a proud member of the founding trustees and will continue to support awesome ideas next year and the years following. Go forth and be awesome.

The following is a list description of each finalist in their own words, edited only for grammar and spelling, in no particular order. 

Carolyn Heath – Each One Teach One Adult Literacy Program

A little about me:

Each One Teach One is a two-time Awesome Foundation finalist. I have over 30 years of experience in non-profit management. I have served as executive director of Each One Teach One since 2010. I am from Chicago, Ill. and have undergraduate and graduate degrees from Northwestern University. I wish everyone could experience the personal power and freedom that comes with an education. Education breaks the bonds of poverty and other barriers, benefiting not only the individual but the larger society.

Carolyn Heath, executive director of Each One Teach Once literacy program.
Carolyn Heath, executive director of Each One Teach Once literacy program.

Here’s my idea:

As mentioned in previous applications, EOTO provides one on one tutoring to adult learners who either: 1) perform below 8th grade level academically or 2) are studying to pass the GED exam for high school equivalency. Through the use of over 100 volunteer tutors from all walks of life, EOTO serves adults ranging from non-readers to those nearing completion of the GED. The tutoring sessions are two hours in length, and EOTO staff prepare individualized lesson plans for the adult learners. Since becoming an independent non-profit in 2010, EOTO has served over 200 adult learners and helped more than 60 obtain their GED.

EOTO is the only non-profit in San Antonio serving low functioning adult learners. One quarter of San Antonio adults are “functionally illiterate”, i.e., unable to read above a fifth grade level. San Antonio ranks 7th in the U.S. in population, but 60th among U.S. cities in literacy. Literacy has a profound affect upon socio-economic issues such as unemployment, crime, health, high school dropout rates, and domestic violence to name a few.

EOTO utilizes the one on one approach to learning with adults so that they can learn at their own pace and avoid the stress or embarrassment of a traditional classroom setting. Furthermore, the EOTO approach to adult learning gives members of the San Antonio community the opportunity to be a part of the solution to this serious and citywide problem. As a result, the program effectively leverages its resources and can serve many more adult learners than if dependent solely upon financial resources.

EOTO provides tutoring services at four locations in the city: Baptist Child and Family Services (410 and Callaghan), River City Christian School (5810 Blanco), St.Mary’s Learning Center (3141 Culebra), and Margarita Huantes Center (1411 Guadalupe Street).

How I will use the money:

The funds will be matched dollar for dollar by a local foundation, and will enable EOTO to purchase much needed office supplies as well as curriculum materials to serve our growing student population. One of the most important needs we have is to purchase study materials for the new 2014 GED exam. We also want to purchase online progress assessment software to replace the antiquated and time-consuming paper and pencil format used to track student improvement in their academic grade levels.

How will this benefit San Antonio as a whole?

A literate populace is one that attracts more economic development to our city. Adult literacy also impacts initiatives targeted to children by enabling their parents/caregivers to take a more active role in their children’s education. Literate adults also take a greater part in community activities, such as voting and neighborhood programs.

How did you hear about us?

Previous selections as an Awesome Foundation finalist.

Shaun Lee – Truckin Tomato

A little about me:

By day I’m the executive vice president of operations at Haven for Hope. By night I’m launching a mobile farmers market called Truckin’ Tomato. I’m originally from St. Louis. I came down to San Antonio to help design and develop Haven for Hope in 2008. I have a wife of 7 years and two children. I also love music. I played in a band for six years in St, Louis before moving to San Antonio. See www.jonhardy.com.

Rendering of a possible Truckin' Tomato trailer. Courtesy image.
Rendering of a possible Truckin’ Tomato trailer. Courtesy image.

Here’s my idea:

How many times have you wanted to go to a Farmer’s market only to miss the short window of time they are actually open? Even worse, what if the one good farmer’s market in town is 30 miles away and only open for three hours a week?

Truckin’ Tomato aims to solve both of those problems by taking the farmer’s market directly to the customers. We will sell locally grown produce, food products, and merchandise on a trailer transformed into a mobile market that is parked on the campuses of businesses, large parks, apartment complexes and special events in San Antonio and the surrounding area. We intend to have a presence downtown every week. Our aim is to bring the highest quality farmer’s market selections to the places people already congregate. Additionally, the profits generated will help provide meals and supportive services for families experiencing food insecurity in San Antonio.

The majority of the profits will go directly to the Christian Hope Resource Center (CHRC), who provide food and other social services to 2,500 households every month. We like to say that when you shop at Truckin’ Tomato you will eat well and do good at the same time. We are confident that we can drive meaningful revenue to CHRC through this partnership.

Additionally, Truckin’ Tomato will also create job training opportunities for residents of Haven for Hope. From the farm to the point of sale, we will create meaningful job training opportunities for people seeking to gain new job skills that will help them to overcome homelessness. We are creating partnerships with local grocers to hire the job training participants once their training is complete. We will be doing good all through the supply chain.

How I will use the money:

With the $1000 grant, we will be able to purchase and install a fridge for the trailer. This secondary fridge will be used to easy access at the juice and smoothie bar. The juice bar is on the back-end of the trailer, and the opposite end of the primary point of sale, so adding it will greatly help the traffic flow of the employees working on the trailer.

How will this benefit San Antonio as a whole?

By making fresh produce more readily available throughout San Antonio, and specifically downtown. By generating funds for an organization that feeds the poor on the westside. By only working with local farmers and vendors, we will increase their sales and market their products to new customers, thus improving the viability of their business. Lastly, it will benefit San Antonio by creating meaningful job training opportunities for people emerging from homelessness.

How did you hear about us?

Friend on Facebook.

Michael Cirlos – Humans of San Antonio

A little about me:

I was born and raised in San Antonio. I spent two years of my undergraduate degree in Thailand and through hard work and dedication; I was awarded the World Traveler Scholarship at Webster University. I then had the opportunity to continue my studies in The Netherlands before returning to UTSA to complete a bachelors in psychology. I’m currently working as a substance abuse counselor for a non-profit organization that serves the downtown community. I’m a Peace Corps nominee, and a bicycle enthusiast.

humans of san antonio

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. The Humans of San Antonio project has been creating a better sense of community. Within the past year, I have experienced 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. 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 together 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. Please visit vimeo.com/76104039 for more info.

How I will use the money:

We would use the money two ways.

First, we would like to organize a children’s portrait day for families that can’t afford school portraits. We take the photos and deliver them and then make a wall art collage of the collection near the children’s hospital.

Second, we would use the money to help organize a community meal for the homeless.

How will this benefit San Antonio as a whole?

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

How did you hear about us?

We were asked to give a presentation about The Humans of San Antonio Project at UTSA and the Professor who sent us the invitation later told us about this opportunity.

Related Stories:

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

UPDATE: January Awesome SA, $1,000 Towards a ‘No Kill’ San Antonio

$1,000 for Awesome Little Libraries

Who Will Win December’s $1,000 Awesome SA Grant? Find Out at Third Brewsday

San Antonio Report Staff

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