Image from the new SA2020 website, now featuring more data on indicators, progress reports and volunteer/involvement opportunities.
Image from the new, now featuring more data on indicators, progress reports and volunteer/involvement opportunities.
Molly Cox. File photo from TEDx San Antonio.

I started volunteering at the ripe old age of five, but it wasn’t clear to me that’s what I was doing.

I auditioned for “Annie” at my local community theatre. (Shout-out to Harbor Playhouse in Corpus Christi.) I became the youngest orphan in the production and spent the next six weeks of my young life rehearsing. Then I spent four weekends performing.

SA2020 Chief of Engagement Molly Cox as "Annie."
SA2020 Chief of Engagement Molly Cox auditions for “Annie.”

I got to be on stage; Harbor Playhouse got to produce a show. Boom. Volunteerism in its simplest form.

In a 2000 article in the Annual Review of Sociology, entitled “Volunteering,” John Wilson defined volunteering as “any activity in which time is given freely to benefit another person, group, or cause.” Note that this definition does not preclude volunteers from “benefitting” from their work. And that’s what I’m interested in – the benefit of volunteering.

The Corporation for National and Community Service describes the multiple benefits of volunteering, ranging from pride and satisfaction to improving lives and strengthening communities.

I make the case for volunteering because I truly believe that for whatever personal reason you do it, the return to your community is undeniable.

In fact, SA2020 (my employer) is banking on that.

SA2020 connects the community for a stronger San Antonio. Using data, we identify problems, form strategies, and develop action plans.

Courtesy of SA2020.
Courtesy of SA2020.

Here’s an example of that:

In 2006, San Antonio had a 27.7 percent volunteerism rate. With the exception of a spike in 2010, between 2006 and 2010, San Antonio saw a decline in volunteerism. By 2012, we were sitting at 20.8 percent.

Increasing volunteerism, however, wasn’t an original indicator for success in the Civic Engagement Cause.

But in June 2012, over 200 subject matter experts convened to look at the first SA2020 Progress Report. Over the course of that summer — and with public input — we added “increase volunteer rates” to our measures of success.

So here’s the deal:

Without an intervention, San Antonio’s volunteer rates will continue to decline – if we keep with the current trend.

Instead we believe that not only can we, as a community, stop that trend, but we can reverse it, increasing the amount of volunteers in our community to 28.4 percent, or by almost 438,000 people, by 2020.

You know why I think this is possible? Because of people like our SA2020 Resolutions Leaders.

*During a press conference held Tuesday morning at Artpace, Mayor Julián Castro joined SA2020 staff and City Council colleagues to announce the official reveal of SA2020’s new website, introduce 19 resolution leaders, and to challenge San Antonians to make a resolution.

What started as a set of goals led by community input of about 1,200 engaged San Antonians and led by Mayor Castro in 2010 has become a nonprofit organization with the mission to bring that community vision to a reality by the year 2020.

“Nobody can do it alone,” Mayor Castro said. “It’s going to take the public and private sector and the army of community nonprofits … (as well as) the energy of individual San Antonians.”

SA2020 President and CEO Darryl Byrd, District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, Mayor Julián Castro, District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña, and SA2020 Volunteer Leader Brandon Logan pose for a photo at the Resolution Leader launch. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
SA2020 President and CEO Darryl Byrd, District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, Mayor Julián Castro, District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña, and SA2020 Volunteer Leader Brandon Logan pose for a photo at the Resolutions Leader launch. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The Mayor’s resolution? “I’m still looking at the options … but I think my plan is to go to 25 local restaurants that I haven’t been to before,” he said after the conference, pointing to supporting the local economy – economic competitiveness is one of SA2020’s 11 causes within its vision.

While timed at the beginning of 2014, this challenge goes beyond New Year’s resolutions that are so often abandoned weeks or months later. The SA2020 Resolutions Leader program aims to make these resolutions personal, yet public, year-round commitments – directly connecting personal actions with the city’s larger goals.

“This is about us curating a ‘City on the Rise’ together,” said SA2020 President and CEO Darryl Byrd. “When we get to the year 2020, when we’ve accomplished in great measure many of the almost impossible goals that we set for ourselves, it will not be because of one group of people … mostly it will be because of you (the individual).”

Nineteen individuals have stepped forward to show you how to make a measurable difference in San Antonio, our “City on the Rise.” These San Antonians will take up the charge in increasing arts attendance, reducing water and energy use, increasing use of public transportation, and – yep – increasing volunteerism, among others.

Who are these people and what are they doing?

Sho Nakpodia has committed to attend at least 20 arts events in 2014, as the Arts Attendee Leader.

Meredith Bell Alvarez has committed to help generate funding for the arts from at least 20 people in 2014, as the Arts Funding Leader.

Their work will help us increase funding for and attendance in the arts, both SA2020 goals in Arts & Culture.

In Civic Engagement, we want to increase volunteerism and voter turnout.

Local teacher Lindsay Rodriguez gets a head start on her resolution by helping fellow Resolution Leader Claudia Loya register to vote. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Local teacher Lindsay Rodriguez gets a head start on her resolution by helping fellow Resolution Leader Claudia Loya register to vote. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Lindsay Rodriguez has committed to help register at least 200 voters in 2014, as the Voter Registration Leader.

Brandon Logan has committed to volunteer for at least 20 hours in 2014, as the Volunteerism Leader.

In Downtown Development, we want to increase the economic impact of sectors in downtown, as well as increase housing.

Sarah Miller has committed to attend at least 20 events in downtown San Antonio in 2014 as the Downtown Impact Leader.

Agents with Amber Thomas’ Platinum Top 50 Realtors, our Downtown Living Leader, have committed to show at least 20 properties inside Loop 410.

In Education, we want to improve third grade literacy and increase college enrollment.

Denise Barkhurst, the President & CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Big Sister herself will work with her Littles as the Book Drive Leader to collect at least 2,020 books by the end of 2014.

High school senior, Mark Vargas, our Student Aid Leader, will help at least 20 students get their FAFSA/TASFA forms completed during Student Aid San Antonio events.

In Environmental Sustainability, we want to improve residential waste and recycling rates, as well as reduce our water and energy use.

Patti Radle is the Bottle Saving Leader. She will convince 20 people to reduce their use or stop using plastic water bottles all together in 2014.

Iris Dimmick – yes, the Rivard Report’s very own – is the Energy Saving Leader. She has committed to lower her energy use by 250 kilowatt hours per day in 2014.

The Spriester/Foy Family will refrain from using plastic bags when shopping as our Sustainable Shopping Leader.

Sonia M. Rodriguez and her family are our Water Saving Leaders. They have committed to reducing their water use by 10.5 gallons per week during 2014.

In Health & Fitness, we want to decrease obesity and diabetes rates in our city.

The Chocano/Sigg Family is increasing their adult physical activity to at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week, and their kids’ physical activity to at least 7 hours per week as our Physical Activity Leaders.

Joey Palacios has agreed to take the stairs instead of the elevator as often as possible in 2014 as the Stairwell Challenge Leader.

Councilman Diego Bernal is the Water Drinker, agreeing to up his intake of water to at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day in 2014.

Tuesday morning, Councilman Bernal also committed himself to eating “five servings of fruits and vegetables by the year 2020,” he joked. That’s five servings a day. “As someone who is very reluctant to do it,” he said he hoped he could serve as an example of how easy and important individual health is personally and for future generations.

In Neighborhoods, we want to increase walkability and improve access to green spaces.

Colleen Pence has agreed to take her kids to at least 20 parks/green spaces in 2014 as the Outdoorsy Leader.

Lyndsey Johnson has committed to going on at least 20 walks as the Walking Leader.

In Transportation, we want to improve our Travel Time Index and increase bus ridership.

Claudia Loya is the Alternative Transportation Leader, opting out of driving her car at least 20 times in 2014.

Councilman Rey Saldaña is our Bus Rider Leader, committing to ride the bus at least 20 times in 2014.

“That should be the low minimum, that should be the bar that we try to go above,” said Councilman Saldaña Tuesday morning. “I hope that you’ll consider this not only an opportunity to get to and from work, but an opportunity to experience something new … you can get to know your city in a better way.”

Change happens when we identify a problem and focus on solving it. And if there’s anything we as a community have shown in the last four years – San Antonio can make change happen.

We, as a community, focused on these SA2020 indicators and real change happened.

Want lower teen pregnancy rates? Yes.

Want quicker emergency response times? Done.

Want higher high school graduation rates? Boom.

Over the course of 2014, you will have the opportunity to follow these leaders – yep, just like the game you played in elementary school. SA2020 will measure the impact of the resolutions through the power of individual actions. We will track sign ups through and at the end of the year, through the magic of data, we intend to tell you how, together, we moved the needle. It’s an elementary school game with real results.

Can you imagine if we all picked one of these 19 leaders to follow? Can you imagine how much change could take place? We won’t just say, “We’re a City on the Rise,” we’ll prove it.

Molly grew up in Corpus Christi. Her focus in nonprofit capacity building grew to include her own consulting business, Nonprofit Fancy Pants. In March 2013, she joined SA2020 as the Chief of Engagement. Find her on Twitter @themollycox.

*Rivard Report Managing Editor Iris Dimmick attended this morning’s press conference to contribute to this article and is the Energy Saver Leader.

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SA2020 Then and Now: Brainstorm to Reality to Report Card

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San Antonio in Motion: A Tree Grows for SA2020

SA2020 One Year Later: Part Farmer’s Market, Part Big Tent Revival

Artists and Developers Eye Historic Buildings, Imagine Possibilities

After a decade with SA2020, Molly Cox founded Molly Cox Consulting in March 2021. She is in the current cohort of The University of Texas at Austin LBJ Women’s Campaign School.