NBTX Young Life celebrates 30 years supporting New Braunfels area teens

June 30, 2023

NBTX Young Life is celebrating 30 years of supporting New Braunfels area teens in their journey searching for hope, meaning and belonging.

Brought to New Braunfels by Tom Bluntzer and Anna Lisa Bluntzer-Tamez in 1993 as a program tasked with introducing youth to Jesus Christ with about 30 New Braunfels area teenagers, NBTX Young Life has since grown to a ministry of around 600 middle and high school-aged-adolescents meeting weekly to share their Christian journey.

“We heard about Young Life through a relative who had attended a Young Life family camp in Buena Vista (Colorado), and we asked at the last minute if we could sign up and had room for us,” Anna Lisa said. “We had a fabulous time but knew nothing about Young Life then. We had a wonderful week, and my husband (Tom) decided we should bring this to New Braunfels.”

Cancer took Tom’s life shortly after founding the organization in New Braunfels. Anna Lisa is now married to Dr. Danny Tamez, who has also been involved in Young Life activities.

Ken White, who now operates a drug and alcohol treatment facility in the Bryan/College Station area, was the first hired NBTX Young Life staff member. He credits the efforts of Tom and a committee of individuals who worked to get the program to a successful starting point and fostered its growth.

“When you do good relational, incarnational ministry, it’s going to grow,” White said. “That’s just what it is. If you do Young Life right, it will grow because that’s the Gospel in action. I always taught my teens – you always love them the way you find them – there is no preconceived idea that this person may or may not make a fate decision with us, but people want to be loved. They want to be known and loved for who they are. I think that’s the strength of Young Life across the board.”

NBTX Young Life currently offers ministries for middle school and high school students and teen moms and hopes to continue adding staff and volunteers to continue the organization’s growth.

The staff and volunteers of the organization have become an active presence in the everyday lives of students at New Braunfels High School, New Braunfels Ninth Grade Center, Canyon High School, Davenport High School, New Braunfels Middle School, Oak Run Middle School, Church Hill Middle School and many other surrounding area schools.

Kids want to belong, and Young Life accepts them as they are and invites them to experience life at events such as:
• Club: Everyone is welcome at what is often called “a party with a purpose.” It’s a time of fun and talking about what matters in life.
• Camp: The “best week of your life” is a time of extravagant adventure when kids get to be real, sit at the table and learn that God loves them more than they imagined.
• Campaigners: Kids and leaders open the Bible together and discuss what it means to follow Jesus Christ.

J. W. Harle, metro director of Comal County Young Life, said the organization continues to grow.

“Some organizations may sputter out or reach a plateau, then just hope to maintain course, but I can tell you with both confidence and excitement that NBTX Young Life is growing and growing fast,” Harle said. “But this should come as no surprise as our community is growing. I suspect many people moving into the area have been impacted by Young Life at some point in their teen or early adult years, and we want them to know Young Life is happening right here in New Braunfels in the high schools and middle schools.”

The organization is planning a huge celebration inviting anyone and everyone touched by NBTX Young Life over the last 30 years on Oct. 21 at 444, an event venue at 444 E. San Antonio St.

“We’ve been here 30 years, and we plan to be here another 30 and beyond, positively impacting teenagers with the good news about Jesus through caring relationships,” Harle said.

Young Life was originally started in 1941 by Jim Rayburn in Gainesville, Texas, as a ministry designed to target unchurched high school-aged students. Today, Young Life is a global organization with a local focus in more than 100 countries worldwide, with ministries reaching more than 2.6 million middle school, high school and college students, as well as teen moms and kids with special needs.

For more information, visit www.nbtx.younglife.org or on Instagram and Facebook @nbtxyounglife, @nbtxwyldlife and @nbtxyounglives.

7Ten Activity Center: a new address for seniors, veterans, disabled adults

June 26, 2023

In October, the Comal County Senior Citizens Foundation moved its senior citizen activity facilities to the former YMCA building from its prior location across the street.

Now called the 7Ten Activity Center, named for its new address – 710 Landa Street — efforts to transform the more than 20,000-square-foot building into a state-of-the-art activity center for the community’s senior residents continue, according to Ken Lowery, the center’s executive director.

“We are trying to button down all of the things left to do so we can have a grand opening,” Lowery said. “We had a little hiccup with the steam rooms – they’re not quite ready yet – just little things that need to be accomplished. We don’t want to have an open house halfway. We want it to be completely ready to go, so the community can see what we offer seniors, our veterans and disabled adults.”

The Foundation finalized the purchase of the building about a year ago.

The new building features administrative offices, three to four separate rooms in the central area, outdoor pools, locker rooms and exercise spaces.

The main area contains tile flooring and movable walls to optimize the space, making breakout rooms for meetings, family gatherings and special events.

The rooms provide an opportunity to earn income that would help fund the Foundation’s Meals on Wheels and wellness programs, Lowery said.

“It’s no secret that funding for nonprofits is decreasing,” Lowery said. “It’s harder to get grants and donations are lower than they were in the past. We’re focusing on how we can have an earned income and help support what we do. So far, that’s working very well for us.”

The center provides many programs, services and activities to stay active and entertained.

At the back of the center is a square room for activities such as arts and crafts. Daily activities include card games, bingo, bean bag tournaments, dominos and craft classes. The center also offers bus trips and tours to selected sites.

The building includes an exercise area looking out to the outdoor pool. In addition to treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical equipment, the fitness room features Echelon Reflect home gym mirrors using technology to link the center’s senior clients to virtual personalized trainers.

Both men’s and women’s locker rooms include a sauna and whirlpool. The locker area leads to the aquatics area, with a five-lane Olympic pool, an aerobics pool and a walking pool. The aerobics and walking pools will be covered during the winter for year-round activities.

The center continues the Meals on Wheels program, which serves around 14,000 meals a month to senior residents in Comal, Guadalupe, Wilson and Karnes counties. Meals are provided at no cost to the clients.

“I think we’ve come a long way in a year,” Lowery said. “We moved from across the street over to here. We’ve got a lot of activities. We’ve got a lot of people coming for day-to-day activities. We’ve had parties here, and a lot of people are coming back wanting to use the facility. We’ve got bookings for Christmas parties already.”

The Foundation began in 1985, helping seniors and disabled people 18 years and older. Since then, it has added programs such as Meals on Wheels and a pet program covering veterinary care and food for home-bound clients.

For information about memberships, call 830-629-4547.

The McKenna Foundation is a partner with the Comal County Senior Citizens Foundation. McKenna recently awarded a $50,000 grant to the Foundation for its senior nutrition program in Comal County, which addresses food insecurity, hunger and social isolation in senior residents and includes the center’s Meals on Wheels and congregate meal programs.

NB Invites Residents to Participate in Transit Development Plan Survey

June 20, 2023

Part of that effort is a survey of residents designed to gather information about travel patterns and preferences. This brief 14-question survey will help city staff as they make recommendations about public transportation options in the future.

“We’re exploring which transit options are most appealing to New Braunfels residents, what they would use those options for, and why,” said Transportation and Capital Programs Director Garry Ford. “That can include ridesharing programs, bus service, or improving the current Alamo Regional Transit service connecting them to work, school, stores, or medical/social services.”

The survey is open to the entire community, with a special emphasis on those groups that may be more transit-dependent like senior citizens, students, low-income households, or those with disabilities. To take part in the City of New Braunfels Transit Development Plan Survey, visit www.newbraunfels.gov/transit. The survey will be available through July 7, 2023.

Comal County IDD Center, Rock Haus Foundation campus expansion underway

June 19, 2023

The building at the corner of Veramendi Avenue and North Street in New Braunfels, which houses the Comal IDD Center, represents a fair share of the history of a city that’s been around for more than 175 years.

In 1934, the school served segregated Hispanic students as the Stephen F. Austin School, according to Bill Barry, administrative coordinator for the Rock Haus Foundation, in remarks to attendees of a recent NB IDEA Forum meeting. The facility was renamed Booker T. Washington School in 1951 when the city’s African-American students were relocated there.

Integration began to take hold as some students were relocated in 1955. By 1960, the district had completed the integration and Booker T. Washington closed­. New Braunfels ISD used the facility as a central kitchen until the 1970s when what was then called Hill Country MHMR started operating programs from the building.

Now, almost a quarter through the 21st century, the building will continue to hold its place in the history of New Braunfels and serve as the foundation of a proposed development and expansion project to assist more adults diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Representatives from Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Center and the Rock Haus Foundation discussed their continuing efforts to help their clients and revealed plans to develop the 5.2-acre Comal IDD Center site into a campus-like setting.

The Foundation, founded in 2017 to support and provide opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Comal County, acquired the North Street property after a New Braunfels ISD donation last year.

The Foundation’s primary role is fundraising through events and grants for repairs and improvements to the property and research grants to provide various specialized programs to bring to the IDD Center to help improve the quality of life for those enrolled. Such programs include music, art and dance.

Rock Haus works with Hill Country MHDD in their efforts. Twelve Hill Country MHDD staff members tend to the around 30 adults who regularly receive services at the IDD Center.

According to Barry, the first development phase, which is underway, consists of renovating an existing building on the property for students in the NBISD Gateway Transition Program. The program is for students aged 18-22 with special needs who have completed the campus-based portion of their education. The program prepares students and their families for life after attending school, including employment, volunteerism, recreation, transportation and social events.

Renovation of the building has begun, with an expected move-in by Gateway during the 2023-24 school year. NBISD will continue to operate the program, according to Barry.

The plan’s second phase includes developing and constructing a community center to house area service providers, medical services, case managers and navigators, and a multi-purpose facility for recreation, education, meetings, conferences, plays and concerts. A capital campaign to fund community center construction will begin soon.

“Our hope is that we can develop this property into a campus-like setting that will include a number of different buildings,” Barry said. “It wouldn’t just be this one, it would be two or three, but we can envision a number of buildings that are on this campus that are going to serve adults, are going to serve those individuals and provide our community what that need is. Through meetings with our providers and our parents, we’ve learned that there is an incredible need.”

The McKenna Foundation recently awarded a $300,000 grant to the Rock Haus Foundation to assist with the improvements, renovations and construction project.

Intellectual disability is a term used when there are limits to a person’s ability to learn at an expected level and function in daily life.

Developmental disabilities affect an individual’s growth and cognition and include disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, muscular dystrophy, down syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Six to seven million Americans are said to have developmental disabilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as one in six children in the U.S. — about 17% — can be living with developmental disabilities.

Donna Brown, director of the Comal IDD Center and who has been employed with Hill Country MHDD for more than 30 years, shared information and educated meeting attendees on the services performed and activities at the center, which includes dance and movement, creative crafting, art empowerment, music enrichment, Rock-the-Haus Dance Parties and tending the vegetable garden center at Cemex.

Activities also include a creative writing class, she said. Brown said she was a true believer that every one of the people she serves has an imagination.

“There’s so many things that we try to offer here, so we open up the world to them,” Brown said. “We don’t want to close the world, and we want the world out there to know that they are productive citizens. They’re part of us. They live here in New Braunfels. Some of them have been here all of their lives. This is their town, too.”

Brown and Berry emphasized in their remarks that plans for the development and construction effort do not call for tearing down the historic school building.

Learn more at rockhausfoundation.org. Additional information on the IDEA Forum and future events can be found by visiting www.nbideaforum.com or emailing ideaforumnb@gmail.com.

McKenna Foundation awards more than $1 million in grants to Comal County non-profit organizations

June 8, 2023

The McKenna Foundation awarded more than $1 million in grant funding to 12 organizations in Comal County in the first round of grantmaking the organization will undertake this year.

The Foundation awarded $300,000 to the Rock Haus Foundation to assist with improvements, renovations and construction for a planned multi-phase expansion project at the Comal County IDD (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) Center on North Street in New Braunfels.

Plans are underway on renovating an existing building that will house the New Braunfels Independent School District’s transition program for special needs students ages 18-22. A second phase will include developing and constructing a community center to house area service providers, medical care, case managers and navigators, and a multi-purpose facility for recreation, education, meetings, conferences, plays and concerts.

Continuing its investment in housing initiatives as part of its basic living needs grant portfolio, the Foundation awarded $200,000 to NB Housing Partners as it transitions from a motel-based model to long-term space for its First Footing program. Renovations are underway at the former fire station on Loop 337 in New Braunfels for use as a permanent facility to house the city’s population experiencing homelessness.

The Salvation Army of New Braunfels was awarded $100,000 for its Home Sweet Home program, which provides services to assist people to move from homelessness to transitional and stable housing. They were also provided funds to help with a mission planning study to assess how best the agency can serve the community.

The Foundation also awarded basic living needs grants to Comal County Habitat for Humanity, Comal County Senior Citizens Foundation, Connections Individual and Family Services, Family Life Center of New Braunfels, Family Promise of Greater New Braunfels, Helping Hands Food Pantry, Provisions Outreach – the Bulverde Food Pantry, New Braunfels Food Bank and STEPS.

“During this grant cycle, we were fortunate to fund impactful work being done for our community through nonprofits in three of McKenna’s strategic initiative areas: hunger, housing and services for people with IDD,” said McKenna Foundation CEO Alice Jewell. “Our nonprofit community is growing and strengthening alongside our community through the development of infrastructure that provides for residents’ needs. We envision a community that cares for everyone in all ways and makes investments in people through partnership with these nonprofits.”

The Foundation’s board approved the grants during its June meeting.

McKenna’s basic living needs grant portfolio is designed to award funding to nonprofit organizations that assist individuals and families in crises with prevention, intervention and services that lead to decreased dependence and improved stability.

Funding areas include programs that provide financial assistance, workforce/employability, food assistance, housing instability/assistance and transportation.

Grant application windows for organizations seeking funding in the areas of health, education, family relationships and community development are upcoming. New and returning applicants are welcome to apply.

The Foundation accepts applications from verified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations serving New Braunfels and Comal County residents. In addition, the Foundation maintains a geographic limitation that requires grant funds to be used in Comal County.

The application window for grants in health (physical health, mental health, healthcare support services and access to care) and education (school readiness, education access and support, after-school programs and literacy programs) opens June 12, with applications due July 5.

The application window for grants in family relationships (child and youth development, parenting support, abuse/neglect prevention and senior services) and community development (arts programs, parks and recreation and development of public spaces and services) opens August 15, with applications due Sept. 9.

McKenna began making grants to community nonprofits in 2009 and has since awarded over 500 grants to 85 nonprofit organizations serving New Braunfels and Comal County residents.

Last year, the Foundation surpassed the $25 million mark in grant funding to nonprofits, awarding 36 grants totaling nearly $2 million.

Contact McKenna’s grant team at 830-606-9500 or email grants@mckenna.org for more information. Visit the Foundation’s website at www.mckenna.org.

Big Brothers Big Sisters recruiting volunteer mentors in Comal, Guadalupe counties

June 7, 2023

Big Brothers Big Sisters helps children realize their potential and build their futures. But we can’t do it without volunteers.

With 31 children in Comal and Guadalupe counties awaiting a match — 23 of those Little Brothers — volunteer mentors are needed to step up more than ever.

Some kids today are growing up without the support and guidance they need to be successful. Without access to positive role models, they often fall prey to the dysfunctional cycles of poverty, delinquency, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, failure and incarceration.

The Comal & Guadalupe counties branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas is inviting potential mentors to find out more about the program during a mixer on June 20 from 5:30-7:30 pm at Screaming Goat Yard and Tap, located at 4 Sun Valley Drive in Spring Branch.

According to Rianne Sykes-Wenske, director for the Comal & Guadalupe counties branch, the program has seen a 300% increase in the last two years.

“This is an awesome community,” Sykes-Wenske said. “So many great people are mentors in our program. Our program is successful because of our volunteers. We really have something special here – not only do these kids get a mentor, they become part of the BBBS family.”

The program in Comal and Guadalupe counties has seen remarkable success in the last two years. According to Sykes-Wenske, 100% of the matches are still together after one year. Additionally, 100% of students in the program saw promotion to the next school grade level in the last year.

The movement started in 1904 when Ernest Coulter, a New York City juvenile court clerk, observed how many fatherless boys were coming through his courtroom and recognized they needed a positive adult role model to help them stay out of trouble. He recruited the first 50 volunteers, marking the beginning of the Big Brothers movement.

The Comal & Guadalupe counties branch started in 2001 to change the lives of children for the better, forever.

For more information and to RSVP for the June 20 event, visit www.bigmentor.org/comal-guadalupe-counties or email rsykes-wenske@bigmentor.org.

Brauntex Theatre to host suicide prevention event in September

June 5, 2023

The Art Deco-styled Brauntex Theatre in Downtown New Braunfels is well known for hosting various events, including films, musical and theatrical productions.

But in September, the Brauntex will host an educational event on a critical community mental health topic: suicide prevention.

In 2011, Sam Eaton gave himself an ultimatum — on Christmas Day, he would either end his life or never think about suicide again.
“I wrote goodbye letters and boxed up my belongings because I believed my life was meaningless and disposable,” Sam says on his recklesslyalive.com website.

In 2020, he published his first book entitled “Recklessly Alive: What My Suicide Attempt Taught Me About God and Living Life to the Fullest.” The book became a No. 1 Amazon best-seller.

On Sept. 13, Sam will share his story to equip and empower the New Braunfels community to engage in real and honest conversations about mental health, depression and suicide. The presentation is free and open to the public. The Walmart Foundation, Downtown Rotary Club of New Braunfels and Sissy Preston sponsor the event.

Maryanne Navickas, the theater’s education and community outreach director, said the idea for a suicide prevention program came as a successful program on dyslexia occurred earlier this year, involving students from area school districts and their parents.

“One of our board members had mentioned to us that she would love for this gentleman to come whose written a book,” Navickas said. “She said it would be great for him to come and speak about suicide prevention. We got in contact with his people, and we’ve got him.”

But Navickas also wanted to include local mental health agencies to participate in the event. That’s when a collaboration with MAP Comal, or Mental Advocacy Partners, started.

“Going to the MAP meeting was instrumental in seeing what’s out there,” she said. “It just opened my eyes. I was looking for something like this.”
MAP Comal is an online and face-to-face resource providing an accessible, confidential connection between those in need and the professionals at local partner organizations who offer help. MAP Comal partners share resource materials, coordinate services and plan community-wide mental health events. The group meets at the McKenna Center monthly.

“Being in this meeting and hearing everyone speaking about how involved they want to be in the community, I felt we needed to be part of that in some way,” she said. “We are a nonprofit, and we have people coming in for performances because we believe the arts are important and want to keep that alive. But we also want to use the Bruantex to make the New Braunfels community feel like a community.”

Plans for the evening are in the works that could include information booths or a panel discussion on mental health issues. Those plans are in the formative stages and will be finalized as the Sept. 13 date approaches.

MAP Comal was created after the McKenna Foundation established a mental health initiative in 2015 to identify community needs, service gaps, and funding priorities. The initiative convened stakeholders, nonprofit organizations, school districts, law enforcement, civic leaders and parents.

For more information about MAP Comal, visit MAPComal.org. For more information about the Brauntex, visit brauntex.org.

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 988lifeline.org. Call the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team of Comal County for local support 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.