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I have spent more than half of my professional life in commercial real estate, and when I was a young and brash 24-year-old looking to purchase my first home, I was told by a developer mentor to never look at my own home as an investment. I thought this was such an odd perspective at the time, especially from someone who measured just about everything else they did in dollars and cents.

But after nearly 20 years, a massive kick-you-in-the-teeth recession, two beautiful children and one ugly pandemic, I think I finally understand what he meant. A home is different from a house, just as a community is different from a neighborhood. Fortunately for my wife, Mariana, and I, we found both a wonderful home and a welcoming community when we made the decision to settle in Shavano Ridge.

Shavano Ridge is nestled along De Zavala Road directly between U.S. Interstate 10 and Shavano Park. But don’t let the “Shavano” moniker fool you. We are proud residents of District 8 and puro San Antonio. Right side of the tracks, wrong side of Lockhill Selma.

Thanks to our convenient location just inside Loop 1604, we can get just about anywhere in the city in 20 minutes or less. My two young boys, Emerson and Walsh, are short car rides from endless pampering at their grandparents’ houses, and we can get to their schools in 5 minutes or less. Also within 5 minutes of our home are the epic views and beautiful trails of Eisenhower Park, the remarkable land bridge and massive playgrounds of Phil Hardberger Park, and the easily accessible Valero Trailhead that leads to the exceptionally well-done Leon Creek Greenway.

My family likes to cook, and with plenty of grocery stores nearby, we don’t have to go far to gather our supplies. Plus, we have the coolest of cool spots to grab anything you might need for the ultimate grill experience: Tri-County Meat Market.

For days when we need a break from the kitchen, we can enjoy fresh baked goods from Broadway Daily Bread, sammiches from Gino’s Deli, or pizza from Royal Pizza. And we’re just a short, pleasant walk away from the only three things I really need: tap beer at Dooryard, tasty tacos at Taqueria Datapoint, and Nepali-style dumplings at Momo House of Dumplings, located inside Carry On Food Mart.

Nine-year-old son Emerson Kuhl, who loves to impersonate Michael Jackson, dances to “The Way You Make Me Feel” inside of Carry On Food while waiting for his family’s order of dumplings made by Momo House of Dumplings.
Nine-year-old Emerson Kuhl, who loves to impersonate Michael Jackson, dances to “The Way You Make Me Feel” inside of Carry On Food Mart while waiting for his family’s order of dumplings made by Momo House of Dumplings. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

If you’re wondering what a ridiculously delicious Nepali dumpling house is doing in a gas station on the North Side of San Antonio, it’s because our diverse population includes thousands of hard-working and incredibly talented immigrants and refugees from all over the world who have found a new home in San Antonio’s District 8. Mariana and I have had the great fortune to hear many of their remarkable stories of struggle, survival, and perseverance at the nearby Center for Refugee Services (CRS).

We both worked as tutoring volunteers for a number of years and quickly fell in love with the people we served. We learned the common purpose of CRS is to provide a “one-stop” center where refugees can receive social support, educational support and counseling in an environment that is culturally respectful, welcoming and friendly. Every day, the kind and loving people at CRS patiently help their clients navigate the systems of a strange new world to hopefully attain self-sufficiency.

I recently had the good luck to once again touch base with Margaret Costantino, the executive director of CRS. It was wonderful to see how she has managed to grow the organization with an unwavering devotion to her cause but also sobering to revisit the mountain of challenges my newest neighbors face as they try to settle their own families in a foreign land with a foreign language and foreign laws. They have often sacrificed everything they once knew and loved just for the opportunity to establish a new home here in San Antonio, and I am proud to call them members of my community. 

My time volunteering with CRS taught me that the concept of community is fluid and not merely determined by geographical boundaries; community is much more about our willingness to be inclusive. Our shared thoughts, hopes, and desires that bring us together form a far stronger communal bond than any zip code or street name ever could.

And I will admit it has taken me every bit of my tenure in Shavano Ridge to learn what it means to be part of a community.

Even though I was a child of the suburbs, growing up in Encino Park in the ’80s and ’90s, I wasn’t fully prepared to comprehend what it meant to actually own a home and be a good neighbor. For years, I raged against the machine every time I received a letter from the HOA telling me to pull weeds or mow my lawn. I used to call the service who oversaw these letters and argue that I never landscaped because I was a disciplined conservationist, but to no avail. Now, when I get my semi-annual letter, I actually fix the issue and respond to them with photos and a thank you for keeping me honest. My parents would call this growing up, young me would call it selling out, but middle-aged father of two me just considers it being a good neighbor. 

Ryan Kuhl (back right) enjoys drinks with friends and former neighbors Kami and Cole Buss at the Dooryard, a kid and pet-friendly self-serve beer & wine taproom.
Ryan Kuhl (back right) enjoys drinks with friends and former neighbors Kami and Cole Buss at the Dooryard, a kid- and pet-friendly self-serve beer and wine taproom. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Over time, I have gained the added perspective of many raucous Shavano Shark swim meets, friendly waves from fellow neighborhood walkers, over-sugared trick-or-treat runs, passionate Fourth of July parades led by kids and escorted by neighborhood police and firemen, and one of the best attended National Nights Out in the entire city. 

I have found pets and lost pets, given strangers directions and asked strangers for help, welcomed new friends and said goodbye to longtime neighbors. I have seen first steps taken and heard first words spoken, celebrated the arrival of new family members and mourned the loss of old family members, savored small victories and suffered brutal defeats.

And somewhere along the way, my house became a home.

To all of the neighbors I have met in Shavano Ridge who have made me and my family feel welcome for 18 years, I owe you a debt of gratitude. For those of you I have yet to meet, I hope that I will show you that same love and then some – might even buy you some Nepali dumplings and an ice-cold beer if you’re lucky.

Ryan Kuhl

Ryan has held leadership and management positions in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors over the past 20 years. He is passionate about all things San Antonio and is most proud of his recent service...