Inner City Development participants play at a playground in the backyard.
Inner City Development participants play at a playground in the backyard. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

On any given day, the bright green, one-story house on the corner of Chihuahua and South Trinity streets is bustling with activity. Neighborhood kids splash in the above-ground pool, run on the playground, read books in the small library, play board games, and make crafts.

This is the house that Rod and Patti Radle built, one that serves as a home for more than a generation of neighborhood children.

The Radles themselves came to the West Side’s Avenida Guadalupe neighborhood in 1968. Inspired by faith and reform efforts of the era, a commitment to simple living led them to move into an area of San Antonio marked by poverty, lack of education, and dilapidated houses.

Fifty years later, the Radles are still there, having built a small organization with a shoestring budget called Inner City Apostolate into Inner City Development, a nonprofit that focuses on helping the local neighborhood – particularly the residents of the nearby Alazan-Apache public housing project – by inspiring them to volunteer to improve the community by building their own network of support.

Over the years, the Radles led volunteers to renovate and expand  the house originally owned by Inner City Apostolate to become a hub of community involvement, a place to go for kids who have little at their own homes and a refuge from the struggles that come from poverty, abuse, and neglect. Inner City Development’s services include a food pantry, emergency clothing closet, spring basketball league, and summer reading program. 

Maria Hernandez, 57, volunteers in the kitchen preparing meals for kids spending their summer days at the house and packing sack lunches for the homeless. “I have been coming here since I was 7 years old,” she said.

A child of the neighborhood, Hernandez said that her parents started sending her to Inner City Development to keep her out of trouble.

“When we were little we didn’t have no place to go and play, and then [the Radles] came and they had this house, and they had room for us in the back where we could color and read,” Hernandez said. “We didn’t get in trouble when we were here.”

Working in the kitchen with Hernandez was Fernando Salas Jr., who was 6 years old when he first came to the house, which has been added on to accommodate growing attendance.

“Patti and Rod are very amazing people,” Salas said. “They listen to you, talk to you, and try to help you. They have been wonderful for the neighborhood, for the community. It’s amazing what they have done.”

Salas and Hernandez said that when they spent summers at the house as young children, activities included visits to museums, public parks, overnight camping, and trips to the beach in Corpus Christi – all supervised by the Radles and other volunteers. Today, kids go to the skating rink and the movies, and spend time on the full-sized basketball court up the street, which the organization owns.

Campers walk across the InnerCity Development basketball court in the near Westside.
Children walk across the Inner City Development basketball court on the near West Side. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“They don’t go camping anymore because we don’t have anyone to take them,” Hernandez said.

Inner City Development is kept running entirely by volunteers on a donated annual budget of around $130,000. Although they are co-executive directors of the nonprofit, the Radles take no salary or other compensation for their full-time commitment to the organization they have led for 50 years.

“When we took the position, they said they wanted to pay us, but we would have to raise our own salary” through donations], Patti said. “We could not imagine being out there trying to raise money for our salary when we have kids here who don’t have shoes.”

Instead, they have rotated the role of family breadwinner as they raised their four biological children within the community they serve. Patti worked as a teacher in the San Antonio Independent School District for 12 years, served on San Antonio’s City Council fro 2003-2007, and is now president of SAISD’s board of trustees. Rod has worked as a therapist, and the couple still lives in the house they bought in the early 1970s a few blocks from Inner City Development’s facility.

Their philosophy: If every household in the United States had one person who volunteered full time and one person who worked, it would strengthen communities and the economy at the same time.

The emphasis on volunteerism eventually became a rule at Inner City Development: If you are older than 13 and want to attend, you have to volunteer. “And everyone kept coming back,” Salas said.

Children and volunteers play bingo, air hockey, board games, and other activities at Inner City Development.
Children and volunteers play bingo, air hockey, board games, and other activities at Inner City Development. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Westside neighborhood, extending from South Brazos Street to Interstate 35, is home to just over 2,100 residents, with an median household income of $11,922. Almost 80 percent of households are headed by a single parent, and 77 percent of children live below the poverty line, according to 2016 census data.

While there are many agencies throughout the West Side aimed at providing services to residents, the Radles committed themselves to providing services to children by providing them with a haven. On a given day, 60 to 100 kids will sign in to spend some, if not all, of their day there. And every summer, the organization throws a block  party that’s open to everyone.

Volunteer Samantha Estrada, 32, said she grew up in the neighborhood and would drop in and out of Inner City Development throughout the summer because she “always felt safe and left feeling cared for.”

Estrada was also a student of Patti’s when the organization offered a homeschooling program to kids from 1990-98.

“It is hard to explain what Patti and Rod have done for the community, but they have changed people’s lives,” Estrada said.

While she no longer lives in the Westside neighborhood, she returns with her four children to volunteer every summer.

“They built a family out of our community,” Estrada said. “Even on days where I feel like it might be too hot to come here and supervise the pool, something inside of me pushes me to do it. That is just what Patti and Rod do.”

Brieanna, 9, enjoys the swimming pool at Inner City Development.
Brieanna, 9, enjoys the swimming pool at Inner City Development. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

For their part, the Radles say they view themselves as a bridge to encourage people to step outside of their homes and work alongside their neighbors.

“There are a lot of people who want to give and be involved as long as they are invited to get involved. So we give them the opportunity,” said Rod. “We don’t see ourselves as being anything out of the ordinary.”

That depends on what someone considers out of the ordinary, Estrada said.

When Molly, an Inner City Development participant, experienced the death of both parents just before she began high school, she asked the Radles to adopt her. “We now have five children,” Patti said.

The Radles’ volunteer spirit has spurred some of their volunteers to spearhead or become involved with other nonprofits, including establishing the nation’s first Habitat for Humanity chapter in 1976, with leadership from Faith Lytle, whose husband Bill was pastor of the downtown Madison Square Presbyterian Church. Rod put the roof on the first house the organization built.

“We weren’t housing people,” Patti said. “We were people who wanted to house people.”

In 1993, Inner City Development volunteers – guided by the Radles – founded the San Antonio Alternative Housing Corporation to provide rental and home ownership assistance for low- and moderate-income families. In its first 15 years, the organization helped 400 families secure home loans and find housing.

Another volunteer, Manuel Castillo, in 1993 helped the Radles create Inner City Cultural Arts, now San Anto Cultural Arts, to foster connection and community development on the West Side through public art initiatives and education.

By Inner City Development’s own count, its volunteers put in more than 16,500 hours of service annually, lead more than 22,000 children in recreational and education programs, provide about 18,200 people with clothing and serve more than 3 million meals to children and the homeless.

On Saturday, the organization will celebrate its 50th anniversary at its annual block party, the Friendship Festival. It will include musical performances by Bidi Bidi Banda, Los Texmaniacs, Eddie and the Valiants, and more. The event starts at 6 p.m. and is free and open to the public. 

“It’s going to be our best party yet,” Rod said.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.