More than 1,600 H-E-B employees, vendors, suppliers, and company partners volunteered their time and muscles Thursday morning to help out local organizations and neighborhoods throughout the city as a part of the annual H-E-B Tournament of Champions event.

H-E-B partnered with Blueprint Ministries, Sidney Lanier High School, the San Antonio Food Bank, and St. Jude’s Ranch for Children to provide a helping hand through landscape and home improvement projects at five different locations.

Home repairs ranged from roofing and dry wall repair to sub-flooring installation and painting. Landscaping, painting, and overall campus improvement was completed at St. Jude’s Ranch for Children by more than 200 volunteers. At the San Antonio Food Bank, individuals distributed food to more than 700 clients, picked fruits and vegetables in the garden, and helped with food packages for the food bank’s Summer Food Service Program.

“We love partnering with the San Antonio Food Bank, it’s something that’s very near and dear to our hearts,” said Julie Bedingfield, H-E-B public affairs representative.

Since its inception in 1986, the Tournament of Champions’ golf tournament and event series has raised more than $90 million for more than 600 nonprofits. This year, the tournament raised $8.4 million to benefit hundreds of Texas nonprofits.

More than 300 volunteers from Inner City Development and Lanier High School congregated in the high school’s parking lot before heading out to beautify 14 houses and two traffic islands on San Fernando and South Trinity streets immediately adjacent to the school.

Inner City Development employees led the volunteers with the help of Lanier students who have worked with the homeowners to develop landscape and exterior painting plans as part of their architecture class. H-E-B contributed $50,000 to the project. Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and San Antonio Alternative Housing provided volunteers as well.

“Our students have been excited to serve as consultants for homes located directly across the street from their school. They are very proud to give back to their community and will learn to pay it forward,” said Roxanne Rosales, SAISD executive director of academic support.

The atmosphere was festive, from the classic rock music blasting from the Lanier parking lot to the bright paint colors chosen by homeowners: bright blue, canary yellow, and electric orange were just a few of the fresh hues applied to the worn exteriors. Most of the houses were built in the 1930s and are part of the Alazan Apache Courts and Prospect Hills subdivisions.

Lanier student Ethan Ladesma oversaw the work on one house, and referred to his plans for the painting scheme and the placement of plants. Entering his senior year, Ladesma said that he thinks he will want to pursue architecture as a career. He has already had success with some of his conceptual designs receiving rave reviews, but seeing a project come to fruition is uniquely rewarding.

Earlier in the day, the owner of the home, which will soon be bright yellow with a hedge of flowering bushes, came outside to shake hands with Ladesma. That moment was particularly gratifying, he said.

“It makes it more personal,” he said. “Like you are designing for yourself.”

In a way, the Lanier students do have a personal stake in the work they are doing. The houses will be visible from the high school, a constant reminder of the power of giving back.

Meanwhile, around 250 volunteers organized by Blueprint Ministries improved 16 homes in a neighborhood on the Eastside.

Suzanne Wade, president of H-E-B’s San Antonio Food and Drug Division, has participated in the program for several years. In the past, the grocery store has provided improvement services to school playgrounds, parks, and several social services facilities, she said.

“It’s probably one of our better if not best days at H-E-B because we do business with our suppliers all the time, but today it’s all about working together to help somebody else,” Wade said. “It’s usually very hard, dirty work, but so many of us work in offices so it’s a great time to get outside and when we leave we will have accomplished a whole lot in just four or five hours. It will be neat to help improve somebody’s quality of life.”

Blueprint Ministries is a nonprofit organization that uses teams of volunteer youth and adults to help San Antonians that live in substandard housing. The city has one of the largest percentages of substandard housing out of other major cities in the United States.

According to Deedee Sedgwick, Blueprint Ministries executive director, 87% of homeowners that the organization serves live at or below the national poverty level. About 65% of them have a disability.

“You’ll be working in some of the poorest zip codes in the United States,” Sedgwick told the crowd when they arrived Thursday morning. “These are areas where work really needs to be done as many of these homeowners are depressed or afraid that their ceilings are going to collapse around them when it rains.”

Volunteers even worked on a house that hasn’t had running water for years. The resident bathes on her back porch with a bucket of water. A Blanket acts a shower curtain. New water lines will soon be placed in the house to provide running water.

Some houses in the Blueprint Ministries program are in early renovation stages while others are on the verge of completion. Most home improvements will be fully completed by the end of the summer.

Jennifer Miller’s Eastside home was chosen for renovation. As volunteers got off the bus and streamed into her backyard, Miller came out with wide-eyes and a smile.

“Wow, I’ve never had so many people in my house before,” she said. “I should have put on a barbecue, I should have put on a ton of stuff.”

Jennifer Miller exists her home as H-E-B volunteers begin renovations. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Jennifer Miller greets volunteers in her front yard. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Miller moved to San Antonio from Iowa after she received an inheritance when her mother passed away. She was able to afford her house, but no repair work, so the roof leaked every time it rained, she said. Miller had to put buckets all around the house to catch the water. Eventually, the overflow of water in the house’s structure made several of the walls collapse over time. Miller later found out she had herniated disks in her back that disabled her.

“Things were just getting worse and worse, so I signed up with Blueprint Ministries,” Miller said. “When they arrived, I was so excited because it was a big burden off my shoulders … to know that my house wasn’t gonna be a waterfall anymore.

“I would cry every time the rain came.”

Most of the work on Miller’s roof has been completed, but Thursday’s volunteers came to finish up the last details. Soon new flooring will be installed and her living room will be expanded for her children to have more space.

“I’m really grateful for everybody’s work,” Miller said. “It will make our lives a lot nicer and healthier.”

Education reporter Bekah McNeel attended the volunteer event near Lanier High School and contributed to this story.

Top image: Jennifer Miller’s children play in the front yard as renovations on their house begin.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone. 

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