Area nonprofit offers ‘Safe Space and Language Matters’ workshop

May 30, 2023

An area nonprofit agency is offering an opportunity to learn about LGBTQ+ identities, gender and sexuality as well as examine prejudice, assumptions and privilege.

Thanks to a generous grant from USAA, the Thrive Youth Center, which provides emergency shelter, housing, street outreach and resources to homeless LGBTQ+ young adults in San Antonio, offers “Safe Space and Language Matters” workshops, an opportunity for people to talk, learn and ask questions about sexuality and gender in a non-judgemental, safe and educational environment.

The free workshop, according to Greg Casillas, Thrive Youth Center’s assistant director, is especially relevant to organizations in Comal, Bexar, Guadalupe and Wilson counties that serve the LGBTQ+ population – adults and youths.

“It’s not just about the clients that we externally serve,” Casillas said. “It’s the clients that we have as co-workers, as referral agencies and how we provide supportive language for clients that we serve when we’re working with those outside agencies. And then what we do internally and externally to understand what a safe space is.”

The workshop sets and clarifies a common vocabulary on LGBTQ issues, provides activities and lectures that serve as a space for critical discussion and examination of privilege, bias and identity, grants participants the freedom to ask and discuss questions and empowers participants to feel personally involved and invested in issues of gender and sexuality.

“It’s the lateral learning opportunities that exist within the community and taking away some of the walls and barriers that prevent us from collaborating and cooperating with other organizations and learning from them,” Casillas said.

The curricula, activities and resources used for the workshop were co-created by Meg Bolger and Sam Killerman in 2013.

Organizations interested in attending a workshop session should contact Casillas at 210-220-2474 or email Sessions are available through September.

NB Housing Partners’ First Footing program serves more than 400 individuals in its first 22 months of operation

May 30, 2023: NB Housing Partners’ First Footing program has served 409 unduplicated individuals between the start of operations in February 2021 and November 2022. Additionally, the program has provided 19,599 nights of shelter during that time. Program staffers also diverted 150 individuals were diverted to other resources.

The First Footing program has been leasing local motel space to provide services to community members at risk for or experiencing homelessness. The program serves an average of about 30 individuals daily. The demand increases to nearly 50 individuals on cold weather nights.

Of those sheltered, 74% have lived in the community for at least six months. The average length of time lived in the community for all individuals sheltered was 13.21 years, with a median of 3.5 years.

In addition to providing a safe place to stay and 24-hour staff coverage, the program offers support services such as identification document recovery, establishing employment and reestablishing benefit income such as retirement, disability, or food assistance, which significantly increases the likelihood of individuals establishing long-term housing. The program also partners with Acacia Medical Mission for physical healthcare services and Hill Country MHDD for behavioral health services.

The program has served individuals representing a cross-section of the community. Currently, 82% of those served are male, while 18% are female; most females are referred to other community resources. While most individuals served are ages 20-59, 4% were under age 20, and 11% were over 60. Some individuals are parents or even grandparents, and some are veterans.

There are many factors that lead to someone experiencing homelessness, including social and economic reasons, notably a rise in housing costs with a lack of an adequate supply of affordable housing options or low wages that result in a housing cost burden for individuals or families. These community reasons are further complicated by individual factors, such as disease and disabilities, past trauma, poor credit history or financial debt, grief, domestic violence, mental health issues, or substance use. The negative stigma associated with homelessness also adds to the hesitancy to seek help.

“What people experiencing homelessness all have in common is they are struggling with their current circumstances and need a hand up, not a handout,” said Kellie Stallings, executive director of NB Housing Partners. “We want to see the positive outcomes continue to grow. We know that crisis housing and support services are only one part of the solution and that long-term housing is the key ‑‑ we are committed to both.”

First Footing staffers found that 57 individuals were already employed at intake, and 116 gained employment after receiving shelter. The program connected 85 people to at least one source of benefit income, such as retirement, disability or food assistance programs, such as SNAP.

The program assisted with attaining 139 identification documents needed for individuals to gain employment or housing and connected 120 people to housing or long-term support providing housing, such as family, friends or treatment.

The program focuses primarily on serving single men and couples, referring youth to Connections Individual and Family Services, and, whenever possible, directing single women and families to the Crisis Center of Comal County and Family Promise of Greater New Braunfels.

NB Housing Partners will soon enter the next phase of the First Footing program after entering into a 25-year agreement with the City of New Braunfels to lease the former fire station at 4120 Loop 337 as a permanent facility.

Plans call for NB Housing Partners to invest significant funds in building and property improvements at the site to provide a crisis housing and outreach center, including a comprehensive intake process that helps connect individuals to community resources and housing opportunities, case management, basic needs, meals, medical care, behavioral healthcare, budgeting, employment/job assistance, benefit application assistance, housing navigation and planning, congregate crisis housing (shelter) and transitional housing rooms.

The facility will also serve as a cold-weather shelter room to protect the safety of individuals during extreme weather conditions. The agency is also partnering with Salvation Army for the purchase of land to expand homelessness prevention support and faith-based activities, as well as to add transitional housing for individuals or families that are experiencing housing insecurity and need additional time and support to sustain housing at market-value rental costs.

“The goal is to expand crisis housing and support services for individuals who need assistance moving from homelessness to housing stability, as well as to add to the community’s current capacity of affordable housing options,” Stallings said.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to NB Housing Partners and mailed or dropped off at 801 W. San Antonio Street, New Braunfels, TX 78130. Individuals can volunteer for the program through the Serve Spot website at For additional information regarding donations or the program, email or call 830-606-9526.

Mobile outreach team ready to respond, offer support to individuals experiencing mental health crisis

May 24, 2023

No matter the situation, there is always hope, and there is always help.

Members of the Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disability Centers’ Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, also known as MCOT, are trained professionals ready to respond to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and needing immediate support.

MCOT is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, to provide on-site services within the community to individuals or families. MCOT provides crisis services for children and adults, including assessment, case management, crisis follow-up and support necessary for the individual to remain in the community.

Jennifer Nieto, Hill Country MHDD Center’s mental health clinic director in New Braunfels, said the program is designed to reduce mental healthcare access barriers, decrease suicide completion and increase safety.

“Through the resources available to the MCOT, we are now able to expedite the mental health treatment needed to de-escalate the current crisis while providing the tools needed to prevent these situations in the future,” Nieto said. “Working in this field for the last 16 years, I’ve seen treatment options expand and improve, and it feels good to finally be able to provide these services to our community in a timely, trauma-informed and person-centered manner.”

Trauma-informed staff members are dedicated to assisting individuals experiencing behavioral health crises. The crisis hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling 1-877-466-0660.

The nationally proven, evidence-based program is designed to assist neighbors in crisis while saving community resources by reducing the burden on law enforcement, hospitals, school districts and other agencies.

But Nieto emphasized that individuals don’t need to wait or shouldn’t wait until a situation reaches an emergency or immediate danger level to seek help. Prevention is a critical part of the MCOT equation.

“What we are seeing now (since the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic) are fewer calls but more lethality and risk in the call,” she said. “I’m afraid people are waiting longer to get the help they need. Instead of reaching out, they are struggling, self-medicating or otherwise hurting while thinking their symptoms are not ‘bad enough’ to ask for help. As people wait, their situation often gets worse and more intense.”

In the last 12 months, MCOT members have screened 970 individuals in crisis, resulting in 548 safety plans and 422 hospitalizations. Individuals were also referred to community partners for services that helped them avoid hospitalization.

A safety plan is a preventative tool designed to help support those who struggle with mental well-being. This ‘mental health first-aid kit’ includes strategies to keep an individual safe.

“While psychiatric hospitalization has its place in the mental health treatment model, we hope to provide lesser restrictive options so a person’s first experience with mental health care is not waking up in a hospital,” she said. “We hope people will reach out sooner, and feel welcome, cared for, and heard in an outpatient setting before their situation becomes a crisis.”

Nieto added that since the apex of the pandemic, family dynamics have become a primary stressor in patients seeking mental health services.

“Multiple families are living together,” she said, “multiple generations living in one home, probably because of financial concerns – and that is creating stressors for individuals and contributing to the mental health crisis.”

Other primary stressors include depression, work or school stress and finances.

From 2017-2022, MCOT provided lifesaving services to about 7,225 Comal County residents, with most calls resulting in safety plans instead of in-patient hospitalizations. About 5,135 people were referred to community partners.

The McKenna Foundation has supported MCOT since its creation, granting more than $1 million to assist this critical mental health program.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available 24/7. Call or text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat For local help, call the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team of Comal County at 1-877-466-0660 or text 741741.

Confidential crisis support is available for veterans and their loved ones by dialing 988, then pressing 1. Veterans can also text 838255. If someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For more information, visit

Comal Commissioners issue proclamation recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month

May 23, 2023: With representatives from local mental health care providers and other agencies such as Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Centers, River City Advocacy and Counseling Center, First Footing and CASA of Central Texas looking on, Comal County commissioners on May 4 issued a proclamation recognizing May as Mental Health Awareness Month in Comal County to promote awareness of resources available in the community.

The proclamation stated, “the importance of overcoming mental health challenges are significant and valuable to individuals, families and our community at large.”

“With early and effective interventions,” the proclamation stated, “those individuals with mental health conditions can recover and lead full, productive lives.”

Proclamations and other events are taking place this month as part of National Mental Health Awareness Month, observed in the U.S. since 1949 to raise awareness about mental health and fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support the millions of people affected by mental illness.

“I’m thankful with what we have in our community,” Jaime Brogan with Hill Country MHDD said. “Although there are service gaps, I know for certain that members of our community are working hard to close them, and it’s up to us to support them in this mission.”

It’s more important, Brogan continued, “for each of us to develop our own awareness of our own mental health and that of those closest to us because before someone calls the crisis line or calls 9-1-1 or verbalizes a need for help, there are often signs that those of us that are closest to them that they may need support.”

After the presentation, group members journeyed across the street to the Main Plaza to place a green ribbon, the symbol of mental health awareness, on the Freundschaftsbaum Friendship Tree.

Awareness of mental health issues and supporting those affected is essential. According to a survey conducted last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation and CNN, 51% of U.S. adults reported that they or a family member had experienced a severe mental health crisis. The survey also found that half of all adults have experienced anxiety or depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many warning signs indicate a person may be at risk of suicide. Take it seriously if someone you know is talking about or making plans to hurt themselves. Let them know there is hope and encourage them to call or text 988 for help.

For local help, call the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team of Comal County at 1-877-466-0660 or text 741741.

Confidential crisis support is available for veterans and their loved ones by dialing 988, then pressing 1. Veterans can also text 838255. If someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For more information, visit

Texas Suicide Prevention Symposium 2023 coming to New Braunfels

May 23, 2023: New Braunfels will host the Texas Suicide Prevention Symposium 2023 this summer.

The Symposium, slated for June 13-15 at the New Braunfels Civic and Convention Center, is one of the largest gatherings of mental health community partners, providers and stakeholders nationally and regularly attracts a variety of subject matter experts.

In 2022, the virtual Symposium attracted about 1,900 registrants and over 7.5 million social media impressions. This year’s event will serve as the first in-person Symposium since 2016.

This event provides vital technical assistance to Texas communities on suicide prevention. We encourage all stakeholders invested in mental health, suicide prevention, and those serving youth, military, veterans and underserved Texans to attend. There will be a Zoom option for those who cannot attend in person and most sessions will be recorded.

“We really work hard to make this widely available,” said Lisa Sullivan, executive director of the Texas Suicide Prevention Collaborative. “There is great work happening across our state – this is an opportunity to bring everyone together, hear from over 40 national state and local experts and showcase over 40 exhibitors. We know the hard work of suicide prevention happens in our communities and this event is designed to bring the resources to them. We are really excited to have the opportunity to work with New Braunfels on this important event. I think this location is fantastic. The New Braunfels community has been so supportive, and we’re grateful for the support we are receiving.”

The statewide organization supports and administers the Symposium as well as the Texas Suicide Prevention Council — a network of more than 140 statewide partners, local coalitions, military and veteran organizations and institutions of higher education who work together to improve suicide prevention outcomes for Texas.

Sessions on the first day of the Symposium will focus on schools, youth and higher education, presented by South Southwest Mental Health Technology Transfer Center.

Day two will feature sessions on general infrastructure issues that have statewide and local implications, presented by Texas Health and Human Services.

The event’s final day will include sessions focused on service members, veterans and families, presented by Endeavors.

At the Civic Center, one classroom will serve as a wellness room for those who need a break and even partake in art if they wish.

The McKenna Foundation, Mental Advocacy Partners Comal and the Suicide Prevention Council of Comal County are among the local organizations sponsoring the Symposium.

“The Texas Suicide Prevention Symposium is an important event that brings experts to the community to share nationally recognized prevention efforts,” said Kristen Fain, the McKenna Foundation’s program officer. “By supporting this Symposium in New Braunfels, we are taking a crucial step towards creating a safer and more compassionate community for all.”

For more information or to register for the event, visit

Follow the hashtag #TxSP23 on Twitter for live updates during the Symposium.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available 24/7. Call or text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat For local help, call the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team of Comal County at 1-877-466-0660 or text 741741.

Confidential crisis support is available for veterans and their loved ones by dialing 988, then pressing 1. Veterans can also text 838255. If someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For more information, visit

McKenna Children’s Museum breaks one-day visitation record, admitting more than 1,500 guests on St. Patrick’s Day

May 1, 2023: St. Patrick’s Day was a lucky charm for the McKenna Children’s Museum.

The Museum, overseen by the McKenna Foundation, admitted 1,547 guests on March 17, breaking the one-day record for visitations.

The previous record before last week was 1,088 visitors, set on March 17, 2022.

The Museum broke the one-day record twice last week. The Museum saw 1,528 visitors on March 16 before surpassing that number the following day.

Attendance was strong each day with students from the Comal, New Braunfels and surrounding school districts out for spring break. The Museum admitted 912 guests on March 13, 931 on March 14, 966 on March 15 and 1,201 visitors on March 18.

Isabel Martinez, the Museum’s operations manager, said spring break is usually one of the busiest weeks for the Museum.

“I love it when people visit the Museum for the first time,” Martinez said. “I also love to see return visitors because that means they really like us. Breaking records is something me and my team are very proud of. I can’t wait to see what the summer brings.”

The new one-day attendance record comes after a year of record-breaking visitations in 2022. The Museum admitted 111,965 visitors in 2022, which surpassed the previous mark of 91,427, set in 2017.

At the Museum, children discover a world of art and creativity, science and technology, culture, health, and history, engaging with educational exhibits designed to stimulate learning and encourage information.

McKenna developed this unique hands-on experience to provide tools to help nurture a child’s well-being. Children explore in a safe and secure place while parents share in their child’s learning experience.

The Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed on Sunday and for major holidays.

Admission for children older than 12 months and adults is $8 per person. School visits are available during the school year. All children must be accompanied by an adult 16 and up.

For more information and a calendar of events of Museum activities, visit