SS&E: Serving The Community

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His column will appear every Wednesday.

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Katie Funk/

At the corner of Capitol and West Gramercy, in a one-quarter acre lot behind “Iglesia Bautista Ebenezer,” Claudia Pena is pulling weeds, laying down mulch and clearing trails on a slice of property known as the Beacon Hill Community Garden.

Once a vacant patch of ground with overgrown grass, the withering lot has been raised to life. A sloping mound of wildflowers, fruit trees and vegetable beds sits among cactus, herb and butterfly gardens.

Still, the Community Garden needs work, a mid-summer makeover, if you will. And that’s why Pena arrived here in work gloves, accompanied by 14 colleagues from Spurs Sports & Entertainment known as the volunteer POSSE (People of Spurs Sports & Entertainment), many of them sinking shovels and picks into the drought-stricken earth.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to give a helping hand and beautify the area,” says Pena, an SS&E executive assistant in public and government affairs. “The satisfaction I get is seeing people’s reaction to what we’re doing and knowing there are people who are trying to help one another.”

Pena, 37, is used to rolling up her sleeves. In her youth, she helped her father with repairs on their West Side home near Lanier High School. Today, she helps her mother with gardening. “I enjoy this kind of work,” she says. “It’s very gratifying.”

Pena and the POSSE are here at the request of SA Youth, a dropout prevention and education program whose students have assumed a noble project. They promote recycling and trash pickup in their neighborhood and maintain the Beacon Hill Community Garden.

Silver & Black Give Back, the charitable partner for SS&E, has selected the SA Youth project as one of 10 semifinalists in the 2012 summer Team Up Challenge, presented by AT&T. Throughout the summer, Silver & Black Give Back offers assistance and recognition to semifinalists working on each project. At the end of the summer this edition of the Team Up Challenge comes to an end at which time three Champions will selected, each receiving an award of $10,000 from SBGB to continue their impactful work in our community.

On Tuesday, the POSSE assisted SA Youth in beautifying the Beacon Hill Community Garden in preparation for a neighborhood block party.

“We are so thrilled for their help,” said Cassandra Lewis, the community garden manager. “The hardest thing for us has been sustaining the garden during this drought and heat.”

POSSE volunteers put down weed cloth and crushed granite beneath a pavilion. Working alongside SA Youth, they built raised vegetable beds and a retaining wall for a walkway that will be wheelchair accessible. The POSSE also rebuilt ascending steps, swept sidewalks and removed weeds.

“This is huge,” Lewis said. “When we have a work day, we might get eight people to help. But look how many are helping today.”

An estimated 75 volunteers showed up from SA Youth, Ebenezer church, the neighborhood and the POSSE. For the SS&E crew, community service is routine. In the past 12 months, SS&E staff members have volunteered their time to assist over 80 community projects, working with 63 different programs around the city.

They built homes for Habitat for Humanity, served dinner to the homeless at Haven for Hope, participated in a Meals on Wheels project and volunteered for other charities across their community.

“I’ve done multiple projects,” Pena said. “This is just one of many. To help beautify the gardens is very motivational.”

Like Pena, Kenny Hartmann, SS&E event coordinator, and Henry Gonzalez, SS&E electrician, have performed a variety of community service projects. On this day, they dug a trench for a ramp that will hold wheelchairs in the Beacon Hill Community Garden.

“This shows our support for the community that supports us,” said Hartmann, 24, a graduate of MacArthur High School. “We want to help as much as we can.”

Gonzalez agreed. A San Antonio native, he grew up not far from the Beacon Hill area near Jefferson High School. “The people in this organization,” said Gonzalez, 41, “we’re all of the same spirit.”

Then he began digging up dirt and clearing rocks, sweat dripping from his brow. All around him, tools raked across the ground and plowed into the earth. The POSSE was hard at work.

For more information on the Team Up Challenge, visit