Youth find resources in San Marcos community

By Ross Griffith and Victoria Robinson

Stability can be hard to come by for the one in four San Marcos youth living in poverty and the more than 100 children a year housed in an emergency shelter.

Eddie Warner, services supervisor at the Greater San Marcos Youth Council, said the organization offers counseling for families who are experiencing domestic issues and looks after displaced children.

“We have the only emergency shelter for children in Hays County and a high percentage of those kids have been removed from the home for abuse or neglect,” Warner said.

In a city named the fastest growing town of its size in the United States by the U.S. Census Bureau for three years, twenty-five percent of the youth population live below the poverty line, according to City Data.

The Greater San Marcos Youth Council shelter has space for 16 kids. Fourteen occupants is considered full capacity for the shelter, as two beds are reserved for additional youth brought in by local law enforcement. During their stay, the kids are assessed by the GSMYC while a CPS caseworker reviews their options, said Warner.

“They could end up in foster care; someone could adopt them; if they have drug issues they may end up in rehab; if they have behavioral issues they may end up in residential treatment… that’s determined more by the caseworker,” Warner said. “We’re just that first stop after removal. We’re a place that’s safe where they can be treated with respect while a caseworker decides their next step.”

This focus on providing a safe haven for children in need is shared by the people at PODER Learning Center, an extension of the San Marcos Housing Authority, which operates as a learning center and community center where school-aged youth and adults in San Marcos can find support and encouragement. PODER stands for Providing Opportunities, Driving Educational Results.

“PODER is the kids’ safe house,” said Kelly Salas, a former PODER employee. “With the kids I’ve met, they’re born into a bad situation and you would never even guess when you first meet them.”

Maria Calcaben is the resident service coordinator at the San Marcos Housing Authority who revamped the program in 2009, adding structure and stability.

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Maria Calcaben, resident services coordinator for the San Marcos Housing Authority, oversees the planning and activities that go on in PODER Learning Center. Photo by Jesse Louden/VoiceBox Media

“Kids thrive on structure,” said Calcaben. “There are kids that really struggle and we try and focus on them.”

The San Marcos CISD offers a summer feeding program at PODER for all youth 18-years-old and under. Michael Boone, associate director of Child Nutrition Services for San Marcos CISD, said the program is important.

“These may be the only meals the kids receive during the day and it’s important to feed the kids who can’t feed themselves,” he said. “Just because it’s summertime doesn’t mean kids aren’t hungry.”

Meghan Grant, 23, eats lunch with her three young children, Dreyden, Leah and Charlotte, nearly every day at PODER. She said the meals give her family a boost and allow her to use her financial resources for other needs.

In addition to providing breakfast and lunch at PODER during the summer, the San Marcos CISD provides meals at other locations around San Marcos including the San Marcos Public Library, Martindale Three Rivers Church, Rio Vista Park Pavilion, Redwood Baptist Church, KAD Korner Store and Chapultepec Housing.

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Dreyden Crawford, 6, enjoys a nutritious meal at PODER Learning Center on Thursday, June 25. Photo by Jesse Louden/VoiceBox Media

The Center partners with organizations like Hays Caldwell Council, Best Food FITS and the Capitol Area Food Bank to provide informative programs on drug abuse and nutrition.

During the summer, PODER stays open for youth to enjoy lunch and activities with peers. A few of the school-aged children are currently working on a project involving women in history on the new $10 bill.

Twelve-year-old Ana Reyna is working on the project and said she loves PODER because “it’s always fun.”

With the help of the resources at PODER, Reyna was able to pass her STAAR test this past year.

“Ms. Maria used to help me a lot, even when PODER was closed,” said Reyna. “They helped me do my homework and work on the STAAR test.”

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“We do have a lot of educational programs, but I try and mask it to make it fun,” Calcaben said. “I try and incorporate education with hands-on activities.”

PODER offers youth personal growth opportunities like karate lessons. The center also boasts a recording studio complete with various musical instruments. Last year, an anonymous donor donated three Fender guitars and the center now offers free guitar lessons.

“PODER means possibilities for them – opportunities they might have not known about,” said Calcaben. “We try to provide anything that they are lacking.”

For a list of available resources to help youth and their families in the San Marcos and Hays County community, click here.

{This story is part of an ongoing series that is examining poverty in San Marcos, Texas. To read the first story in the installment, click: How to Solve Food Insecurity in San Marcos, Texas.}

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