By Alexandra Fradelizio & Priscilla Rodriguez | m/Oppenheim Media Writers
The Family Service Association of San Antonio has been around for more than a century, providing hope and new opportunities for local families in need through various programs and services.
Founded in 1903, the organization was born out of need when city officials gathered local leadership to help establish a resource for families who were struggling financially. Though the organization originally focused on providing financial assistance to families, its programs have evolved tremendously over the years to provide a wider spectrum of services for minorities and underserved communities. Today, Family Services hosts health and education programs for children and teens, services for adults and seniors, and resources for families to overcome the financial, educational, and occupational barriers in their lives.
“Now we’ve expanded to 13 counties across Texas and we still continue to be a leader and a support element in many of our communities today,” says Mary Garr, who has served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Family Service Association of San Antonio for the last year.
Garr first joined the organization in early 2018 after serving in the military as Garrison Commander and as the Chief Operating Officer of the San Antonio Military Health System. Her background in health care gave her deep insights into a system that provided essential services to its community at various stages. Her observations, however, were that people were often seeking assistance for health problems that could have been prevented.
“Of course, some things you can’t prevent in needing health care, but other things are lifestyle choices,” says Garr.
Today, her approach is to help bring attention to the services that help families establish healthy lives early on.
“The best chance to influence somebody’s health is to help prevent them from needing those services to begin with,” she says.
Through the Family Service, both individuals and families can access resources for overcoming unemployment, poverty, domestic violence, lack of an education, and more. Family Services also partners with more than 200 local organizations to expand its reach and services, which makes it easier for clients to access an array of programs across multiple counties. These programs have also expanded to serve age groups, from toddlers to teens, to adults and seniors.
Garr explains that in recent years, the organization has focused more on investing in programs that address a variety of social determinants of health, such as environmental factors, neighborhoods, communities, education, and economic stability.
Each of these factors is important to the overall well-being of every individual, and Garr says her team is dedicated to addressing every unique need of each client.
“We know the individuals and families that we serve, when they come in for help, it’s never just for one service. They often have multiple needs that relate and overlap,” she says.
When clients are first introduced to Family Services, they partake in a survey-style analysis that helps the organization assess each individual person’s needs. This approach allows for every person to access the exact services that they need in order to improve their lives. Sometimes the needs can be as urgent as tackling an eviction or as long-term as finding new career paths.
Currently, Family Services impacts thousands of lives every year. Many participants are living in poverty and merely surviving on salaries of less than $24,000. Those who receive services are also women, minorities, and single parents and ultimately facing a lot of adversity in their lives.
“Unfortunately, these issues are around our nation and are not going away in the near future,” says Garr, which is why, she explains, it’s up to communities and organizations to create those foundations of stability for their local families and individuals.
Moving forward, Garr says the focus of the organization will be to continue expanding the conversation on the importance of addressing social determinants of health and using those to inform future programs and outreach.
“I would like for us on the advocacy and education level to continue to be a leader with other community partners and to address those issues and improve the conversations on the health of communities.”