Each new wave of the pandemic has brought new challenges for children, youth, and families in our community — challenges that have often made previous inequities worse. These growing inequities dampen the prospects for the vibrant economy that has been emerging in San Antonio. 

This month and next, the City of San Antonio will decide on how to spend the remaining $229.4 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to target our city’s recovery from the pandemic. City leaders will decide on investments necessary for our community’s short- and long-term emergence from the pandemic. How we use these funds now will set the stage for San Antonio’s future resilience and prosperity and influence the type of city that we want to be known as. 

It is vital that youth recovery be incorporated as a primary city investment priority. Our students are currently struggling with core academic needs as well as the social and emotional toll of the past nearly two years. As a result, the progress we have made in high school graduation rates and post-secondary attainment — two critical factors for any city’s economic competitiveness — are at risk. Ensuring our youth are in safe environments that offer them academic and social-emotional support has never been more important for families, our community, and our economic prosperity. 

Our student needs today are too great for any one institution to meet. Local school districts are doing heroic work to support their students, but we must also scale youth development programs to meet their increased needs. Quality youth programs are uniquely designed to help children and youth to recover and grow in the wake of the pandemic’s many challenges. 

Investing in youth development programs has proven effective according to national research. These programs are actively contributing to the economic development and mental wellness of our city by building strong relationships that support student development, using trauma-informed practices to create safe spaces for students, supporting learning recovery through targeted tutoring, providing high quality social and emotional support, and ensuring the inequities exacerbated by the pandemic do not hinder our young people from achieving their goals and dreams. These programs also provide a second shift of support for working parents and are thus key to helping parents and caregivers to fully reengage in the workforce and related education and training programs. 

If invested wisely, today’s infusion of federal funds will allow organizations to scale programs to serve more children, youth, and families. Large opportunity gaps always existed, but they have widened because of the pandemic. While youth development and out-of-school programs have continuously served our youth and their families since March 2020, the economic impact of the pandemic strained the resources of youth development organizations while simultaneously increasing the need for services.

To best support our young people and their working parents, San Antonio must invest in high-quality youth development programs and allocate ARPA funds that will enable organizations to scale their most effective programs where they are most needed.

The impact of this investment would put youth development organizations in a solid position to empower our most impacted young people to recover emotionally, socially, and academically. While local school districts are doing their best to help students, we know from recent data that the scale of what students need is beyond their capacity. The moment calls for intentional coordination across sectors for the sake of our future— and theirs.

We know the mayor and city council members are grappling with how to make the best use of the last of our ARPA dollars and ask our city leaders to not leave our young people behind. Instead, by investing in them, make this a game-changing moment for every young person in this city. 

Elaine Mendoza

Elaine Mendoza is founder, president and CEO of Conceptual MindWorks, Inc. Established in 1990, CMI is a biotechnology and medical informatics company located in San Antonio.

Charlie Amato

Charlie Amato is chairman of SWBC.

Nathanael Tarwasokono

Nathanael Tarwasokono is the executive leader for Firstmark Credit Union, the 4th largest credit union in San Antonio.

Bobby Blount

Bobby Blount is a department head within MITRE’s National Security Engineering Center and president of the Bexar County School Board Coalition.