For more than 40 years, the local leaders and activists who make up the COPS/Metro Alliance – a coalition of religious institutions, schools, and unions – have represented and served the interests of some of the most vulnerable communities in the greater San Antonio area.
Alliance officials will invite current and past coalition members, local leaders and city residents on Saturday, April 30 to celebrate their more than four decades of history and collaboration. The event will take place at the Edison High School Auditorium, located at 701 Santa Monica St., from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Communities Organized for Public Service (C.O.P.S.) formed in 1974 after factory layoffs in San Antonio, and was quickly embraced by the surrounding religious institutions. The Metro Alliance was established in 1989 as an organization that also emphasized the importance of civic engagement. Eventually, the two organizations merged as COPS/Metro Alliance, a collective unit that aimed to improve the community and expand opportunities for residents, particularly those living in Westside and Southside San Antonio.
“These are ordinary people with extraordinary courage,” said Fr. Walter D’Heedene of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, during a special alliance tour of the Westside on Friday. The alliance has been supported by local religious institutions since the 1970s, and is still headquartered inside St. Timothy Catholic Church.
“San Antonio was painfully divided by race and income when this began,” COPS leader Carmen Aguilar said. “But we worked together to protect our families.”
Over the last 40 years, the alliance has collectively directed more than $1 billion into these communities through housing initiatives, infrastructure improvements, new and rehabilitated businesses, and health and safety resources.
The alliance partnered with City leaders and businesses to create Project QUEST, a program that connects thousands of San Antonio residents with educational and professional training, and meaningful employment each year. COPS/Metro was also instrumental in bringing institutions like Broadway Bank, which became the first bank to open in the Westside. They fought for and won local and federal funds for several H-E-B grocery stores, which bring quality produce to the community and are accessible for local pedestrians and drivers.
The alliance also approached and secured funding from City Council to improve drainage throughout Westside neighborhoods and add paved streets, gutters and sidewalks. Though sidewalks and drainage pipes may seem like basic infrastructure, it wasn’t long ago that the Westside neighborhoods didn’t have them.
“To us, it’s a big deal. It used to flood here all the time. At one point, we didn’t have sidewalks,” Aguilar said.
Alliance members proudly pointed out the neighborhood housing projects, such as Cassiano Homes, that have provided safe and affordable housing for young families and senior citizens. The alliance worked with developers and families to secure mortgages and quality housing. The Texas Diabetes Institute, San Antonio Education Partnership, and several City libraries are also the results of their efforts.
Most recently, alliance members fought to improve the community’s economic wellbeing through a living wage campaign – fighting to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour for the lowest-paid workers in City and County hospitals, and the San Antonio Independent School District. They were able to win over County leaders, and eventually the City followed suit.
“COPS/Metro has had a long, lasting impact on our community from job training to infrastructure improvements to pay equity,” said Bexar County Nelson Wolff on Friday afternoon. But alliance leaders say they are expanding their reach to new generations throughout the County.
“We’re organic, constantly growing,” said COPS leader Linda Ortega, who has worked with the alliance for 25 years. To date, there are 35 member institutions who support alliance efforts and initiatives and a growing number of participating leaders. “But you have younger leaders … young couples who are eager to continue the work. We also work with schools, and we reach young people who are our supporters,” she said.
Many alliance members have been involved with the organization from the beginning, but there are plenty of new leaders coming in and being trained through the various parishes.
“There’s people who work all day and then go to these meetings … it is exhausting,” Aguilar said. “There’s times where I just have to leave or take a break because it’s just too many meetings. But then I start to think ‘I can’t just let someone else fight for me,’ and I always come back. It’s good to give support, even just by being there.”
For more information about the COPS/Metro Alliance goals or the April 30 celebration, call 210-222-2367 or visit the organization’s home page here.
*Top Image: Community members hold C.O.P.S signage during a wage change press conference in 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.