First Footing community center near completion, guests get first look at refurbished facility

December 28, 2023: NB Housing Partners’ First Footing program is near completion of a years-long journey to provide a permanent community space to serve New Braunfels residents experiencing homelessness.

The organization hosted a recent open house to let guests get a first look at the new facility, a renovated former fire station at Loop 337 in New Braunfels that will act as a crisis housing and outreach center containing a comprehensive intake process connecting individuals to community resources and housing opportunities.

Officials with NB Housing Partners said the 1970s-era building requires some installations, such as a fire suppression system, before participants can occupy the facility. Still, they remain hopeful for a January move-in date.

“Anytime there is a change, even if it’s something that you are looking forward to, it still has its own unexpected things and adjustments,” said Kellie Stallings, executive director of NB Housing Partners. “Our team and our participants know that and are starting to plan ahead for that. We’ve been asking participants what they want to see and what they think are reasonable expectations for participants who seek help on their journey toward housing. They’ve been giving us some good ideas of things they think they should be responsible for and ways we can help them more effectively.”

In early 2023, NB Housing Partners entered a 25-year agreement with the City of New Braunfels to lease the former fire station. The site will provide case management, basic needs, meals, medical care, behavioral healthcare, budgeting, employment/job assistance, benefit application assistance, housing navigation and planning, and congregate crisis housing (shelter).

First Footing staffers develop a housing plan with each participant. Housing navigation and housing startup costs are provided in partnership with the Crisis Center of Comal County. Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Centers will offer mental health services, counseling and life skills assistance.

Since its establishment in February 2021, 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.

The Salvation Army of New Braunfels will provide meals at the new facility with additional support from New Braunfels Church of Christ, Elks Lodge, New Braunfels Food Bank, SOS Food Bank and Peace Lutheran Church.

The facility’s medical exam room will be utilized for wellness checkups and healthcare visits. The goals are to improve preventive healthcare, address medical needs that accompany prolonged exposure to weather elements, detect and address acute or chronic health issues and reduce the overuse of emergency healthcare services.

Healthcare is provided weekly through Acadia Medical Mission, with offsite appointments offered through Volunteers in Medicine, America’s Best Eyecare and local dentistry practices.

The congregate sleeping space will provide rest for about 40 individuals at a time, with more served to preserve life safety when the outdoor temperature drops to 45 degrees or below.

An onsite skilled daytime and overnight team is alert and ready to provide a listening ear and offer suggestions to improve sleep for participants as needed.

The team also welcomes those returning from work. Participants show proof of their work times before entering the building after 10 p.m.

The facility also includes a bathroom/shower area, a television and computer room and a laundry room.

Although NB Housing Partners has established partnerships with nonprofits, businesses, faith leaders and housing developers, the organization also needs the public’s help.

The program urgently seeks donations of personal care items, such as brushes and combs, sleep masks, shower scrunchies, bath towels, deodorant and shower shoes.

Food items, such as coffee, dry cereal, and snack items, are welcome, as well as cleaning and household supplies, toilet paper, and transportation items, such as adult skateboards, adult bicycles, and ride-sharing gift cards.

Program participants also welcome H-E-B, McDonald’s, Walmart and Walgreens gift cards. For a complete list, click here.

Donors can leave items at the McKenna Events Center at 801 W. San Antonio St.

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 830-272-5020 ext 6.

NORAD is Ready to Track Santa’s Flight for the 68th Year

December 21, 2023: The North American Aerospace Defense Command is ready to track Santa on Dec. 24, for the program’s 68th year. NORAD monitors and defends North American airspace 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. On Dec. 24, NORAD has one additional mission: tracking Santa Claus as he makes his way across the globe, delivering presents to children.

The NORAD Tracks Santa website ( launched on Dec. 1. It features Santa’s North Pole Village, which includes a holiday countdown, games, movie theater, holiday music, web store, and more. The website is available in nine languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, and new this year, Korean.

The official NORAD Tracks Santa app is also in the Apple App and Google Play stores, to count down the days until Santa’s journey on mobile devices. NORAD Tracks Santa will also be available on digital media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and X, and on contributor platforms, Amazon Alexa, Bing, SiriusXM, and OnStar.

Trackers worldwide can call 1-877-HI-NORAD to ask our live operators about Santa’s location from 7 a.m. CST on Dec. 24 to 1 a.m. CST on Dec. 25. Also, website visitors will see Santa’s flight from 5 a.m. CST Dec. 24 to 1 a.m. CST Dec. 25.

The modern tradition of tracking Santa began in 1955 when a young child accidentally dialed the unlisted phone number of the CONAD Operations Center upon seeing an newspaper advertisement telling kids to call Santa. The Director of Operations, Colonel Harry Shoup, answered the phone and instructed his staff to check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole.

Thus a tradition was born, and continued when NORAD was formed in 1958. Each year since, NORAD has dutifully reported Santa’s location on Dec. 24 to millions of children and families across the globe.

McKenna Foundation marks 15 years of grantmaking

December 21, 2023: Community members, partners and friends gathered earlier this month to join the McKenna Foundation in celebrating a milestone – 15 years of grantmaking to nonprofit organizations in Comal County.

The Foundation began making grants to community nonprofits in 2009 and has since awarded more than 500 grants to 85 nonprofit organizations serving residents. Over 15 years, more than $28 million in grant funding has resulted in strengthened and new programs and nonprofit assets that bolster the strained social infrastructure of this growing community.

Broken down, the Foundation has gifted $726,630 for community development programs, $1.14 million for capacity building programs, $2.75 million for education programs, $2.97 million for family relationship programs, $3.58 million for physical health programs, $4.6 million for mental health programs, $5.89 million for capital funding programs and $6.96 million for basic needs programs.

“We are in the people business, the best kind of business there is,” said McKenna Foundation CEO Alice Jewell, addressing celebration attendees. “We have the ability to impact the entire community — from those in the most vulnerable situations to the people with the resources to care for them.”
In 2023, the Foundation gifted more than $2.1 million in grants to 42 nonprofit organizations in Comal County, serving 72,133 people.

Some have asked what this celebration tonight is all about – the answer is easy, Jewell said
“This celebration is about people,” Jewell said. “The people who built McKenna Memorial Hospital over its 54-year history as patients, staff and leadership. The people with the vision to negotiate the sale of a premiere hospital system and create an entity whose sole mission is to improve the lives of people. The people who took that Hospital and expanded and enriched its offerings for a more holistic opportunity for health care right here in New Braunfels. The people who, this very day, are committed to carrying on a legacy that is passionate and intentional. Those people are you. Physicians, clinicians, social workers, board members, volunteers, leaders, friends.”

The Foundation also oversees the McKenna Events Center and the Children’s Museum, which opened on April 1, 2006. Since then, those offerings remained a community need through which McKenna has served thousands of residents as a community partner.

“The grantmaking, Children’s Museum and Events Center are executed every day by an incredible staff team here at McKenna, who make this operation possible and impactful,” Jewell said. “Our culture here is one of caring for people first, and I am so grateful for their dedication to each other and our mission.”

The Children’s Museum has seen nearly 1.2 million visitors and the Events Center has hosted about 9,000 events.

Jewell also recognized Bill Morton, who was the Chair of the McKenna System Board of Directors, as well as prior Foundation chiefs Tim Brierty and Jerry Major.

The beginning of what would become the McKenna Foundation goes back about 70 years to when population growth prompted the need for a full-service hospital to serve the New Braunfels area.

Although two attempts in the late 1940s to establish a county-funded hospital in New Braunfels failed, a group of business and civic leaders led by Howard McKenna kept pursuing that vision.

The group set out to privately secure the funds to build a new hospital. Along with a host of peers, Mr. McKenna persuaded the city in 1951 to support health care for its residents by providing a site for the proposed Hospital. The city leaders and other individuals organized a fundraising effort in 1952, often going door to door to ask residents for their support.

Mr. McKenna’s vision became a reality when New Braunfels residents donated more than $500,000 for the project, equivalent to nearly $5.9 million in today’s dollars, augmented by a $280,000 Hill-Burton grant.

Construction began in October 1952, and a grand opening celebration for the new 40-bed New Braunfels Hospital occurred about a year later. The original structure, which still stands as the central core of the Hospital, opened its doors to patients in November 1953.

In 1973, New Braunfels Hospital changed its name to McKenna Memorial Hospital in honor of Howard McKenna, who served as president of the Hospital’s board of trustees for over 20 years.

Tremendous growth came to the Hospital during the following decades, including several multimillion-dollar facilities and equipment expansions. What began as a small community hospital became a nationally recognized regional healthcare provider. The McKenna Health System found its place as a vital part of New Braunfels and Comal County, providing effective programs, services, and resources that benefit the health and well-being of the community.

The Hospital operated as an independent facility until 2008 when the board opted to sell McKenna Memorial Hospital to a system with resources that could expand the service line to the growing area. The sale to Christus Santa Rosa Health Care occurred on Jan. 31.

Genifer Rucker began her 30-year healthcare career as a transporter for the radiology department at McKenna Hospital, now Christus Santa Rosa Hospital. She currently serves as the Hospital’s president.

“McKenna is my family’s hospital,” Rucker said. “I feel so proud now that I’ve been asked to come back and lead and preserve the legacy that McKenna and all of you have participated in. I feel very obligated and very proud to preserve the culture, compassion and quality of care we provide for this community.”

The hospital sale brought two significant benefits to the New Braunfels community: the assurance of quality health care by Christus and the funding to create the McKenna Foundation, whose mission is to advance the well-being of the greater New Braunfels community.

“The McKenna family is one that is expanding every day, with one of my favorite branches of the tree being our nonprofit partners,” Jewell said. “Over 15 years, we have met some real characters. We fell in love with you and the work that you do serving people in this community. You all know that we are here for you — to support you from the front or the back or walk alongside.”

Following veterinary exam, Santa’s reindeer cleared for Christmas flight

December 18, 2023: In a joyful announcement for children and animal lovers alike, the American Veterinary Medical Association has declared that Santa’s reindeer are healthy and all clear for their magical Christmas Eve journey.

This follows a thorough health examination by AVMA President Dr. Rena Carlson and Ashli Selke, RVT, CVT, immediate-past president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America, who traveled to the North Pole earlier this month for an in-person exam of Santa’s team of nine reindeer.

“After a full examination and review of their medical records, I’m pleased to say that Santa’s reindeer are healthy, in great shape and ready to fly on Christmas Eve,” Dr. Carlson announced.

The reindeer’s annual exam includes a health check about a month prior to their Christmas Eve flight to make sure they’re healthy and not showing any signs of disease—such as brucellosis, tuberculosis or chronic wasting disease—that can affect their ability to fly, or threaten the health of other animals or people.

“While this may be an out-of-the-ordinary visit, ensuring that these magical and magnificent animals are fit for their important journey reflects the vital work veterinarians and their teams perform every day around the world to ensure the health and safety of animals and people,” Dr. Carlson said.

“It’s such an honor to be part of this special tradition,” Selke said. “Examining the reindeer, from their iconic antlers down to their cloven hooves, is a reminder of the diverse and fascinating work that veterinary health care teams are called on to provide.”

During their visit, Dr. Carlson and Selke conducted a series of comprehensive health checks. They closely inspected the reindeer’s fur for any signs of parasites or lesions and examined their eyes and noses, emphasizing the importance of these exams in maintaining animal health. “It’s fascinating how reindeer have adapted to the harsh North Pole climate, from their hollow fur, which allows them to trap and retain heat, to the mass of tiny veins in their noses that help circulate blood to keep them warm—and in some deer, give their noses a red glow,” noted Dr. Carlson.

The examination also included a thorough assessment of the reindeer’s legs and hooves, crucial for their extensive journey. “Reindeer are incredible travelers, and ensuring their legs and hooves are healthy is vital to make sure they’re up for the big flight ahead,” Selke said.

In addition to presents for children around the world, Santa is required to bring with him an official “North Pole Certificate of Animal Export” that allows him to freely cross borders and ensure health officials that his reindeer pose no threat to animal or public health.

Dr. Carlson and Selke will make a follow-up trip to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to provide a final pre-flight checkup and to inspect the reindeer upon their return on Christmas morning.

For kids who want to help the reindeer on their journey, Dr. Carlson recommends leaving a plate of graham cracker reindeer cookies, their favorite snack, for Santa to feed them between stops.

Dr. Carlson’s and Selke’s work is consistent with the role veterinary health care teams play every day to ensure the health of animals, people and the environment across the globe. Far from treating just dogs and cats, veterinary health care teams work with all kinds of species, in all types of environments, to make the world a healthier place for all forms of life.

While unavailable for comment due to his busy work schedule, Santa issued a statement, saying, “Without my reindeer there simply would be no Christmas. Proper veterinary care ensures that, year in and year out, my team and I are able to deliver presents to boys and girls around the world. Dr. Carlson and Ashli are definitely on the ‘nice list’ again this year.

“Ho, ho, ho,” Santa added.

Communities In Schools, RecoveryWerks! receive year-end McKenna Foundation Impact Grants

December 12, 2023

Communities In Schools and RecoveryWerks! each received an unrestricted $10,000 Impact Grant from the McKenna Foundation, highlighting the end of a successful 2023 grant-gifting season.

The announcement of the awarding of the grants came during the annual Christmas Breakfast at the McKenna Events Center on Dec. 12.

The Foundation previously asked nonprofit partners to nominate one of their peers. This year, however, the Foundation invited the public to participate in selecting two deserving nonprofit organizations serving Comal County to receive grants. The Foundation received more than 3,300 nominations from members of the public.

In addition to nominating an agency, the Foundation asked participants to include a statement supporting their nominee.

RecoveryWerks! provides recovery support services for teenagers and young adults experiencing problems with substance use.

Through state-certified peer recovery support specialists, they provide counseling, peer coaching, support group meetings, sober social activities, role modeling and accountability to help young people discover the freedom of life without the effects of mind-changing chemicals.

“RecoveryWerks! stands out as an organization deserving special recognition due to its unwavering commitment to supporting individuals in their journey towards recovery from addiction and mental health challenges,” an individual wrote in their nomination statement. “Through their innovative programs and empathetic approach, they’ve created a nurturing environment that fosters health and empowerment. Their dedication to destigmatizing mental health issues and providing accessible resources reflects their profound impact on countless lives, making them a beacon of hope within the community.”

In addition to working with teens and young adults, RecoveryWerks! provides similar support to family members, ages nine and above, who have a loved one struggling with substance use disorder.

Staffers work with family members on how to enable recovery versus enabling addiction. The agency maintains a 12-step support group meeting for parents and grandparents, while other counselors have a 12-step support meeting for the teens.

The agency also offers a 12-step support group meeting for brothers and sisters who are not using between the ages of nine and 17. Everybody in the group gets tools on how to help enable recovery.

“When we started this, there was such a big stigma, and I didn’t know how things would work out in New Braunfels, said Program Director Joanne Daxon to breakfast attendees. “We did start up with such a small group, and I am just honored to be part of RecoveryWerks! I’m totally grateful.”

Communities In Schools of South Central Texas celebrated its 30th anniversary this year in its mission of supporting and changing the lives of area students.

What started as a program serving five schools with a $393,000 budget in 1993 has grown to 55 schools in three counties with a $5.6 million budget.

CIS places highly trained professional site coordinators inside the schools who have relationships with students and work hand-in-hand with the school to help identify students’ needs. Schools, businesses and community agencies work with site coordinators to support students and families.

Site coordinators provide specific resources: one-on-one mentoring with a caring adult, counseling and supportive guidance, food assistance, clothing and shoes, rent and utility assistance, behavioral and academic support, and linkages to community resources.

Through individualized interventions and a family of support, students traverse a personal journey of hope, goal achievement and meaning in their lives.

In nominating CIS, one person wrote that the agency “continuously goes above and beyond to do whatever it takes to help students and families with all the challenges in their daily lives.”

“Additionally,” the individual went on, “the mental health crisis in our schools is not getting better, and with the assistance of CIS, the students are shown tools and coping skills to help them navigate the big emotions students need help with.”

Many of the youth CIS serves are from families experiencing poverty, substance abuse, and poor mental health – a home environment that is not conducive to healthy living and an excellent moral compass. All CIS services and programs support the goal of providing safe and healthy environments for students at school and home for our community’s good.

“What an opportunity to hear back from our constituents, then to also be recognized in front of my peers,” CEO Chris Douglas said to breakfast attendees. “I am blessed to be here – it will be 27 years. It’s just amazing work, right? Working in a nonprofit – there’s nothing like it…this money means a lot to us this year.”

During the 2021-2022 school year, CIS staff members, mentors and volunteers served more than 39,000 students in 55 schools in the New Braunfels, Marion, Comal, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City and Seguin school districts.

As part of its school-based programs, CIS provided 4,448 students with intensive ongoing services during the 2021-2022 academic year; 239 students received mentor services, and 186 students received clinical counseling.

McKenna began making grants to community nonprofits in 2009 and has since awarded nearly $30 million in grant funding to nonprofit organizations serving New Braunfels and Comal County residents.

This year, the Foundation gifted more than $2.1 million in grants to 42 nonprofit organizations in Comal County.

Visit the Foundation’s website at

Inaugural Tree of Angels ceremony honors local violent crime victims, families, friends

December 11, 2023: Many anticipate the joyous events that make up the holiday season. However, those affected by violent crime or the loss of a loved one, can find this time incredibly challenging.

Families and friends of victims of violent crime gathered at the McKenna Events Center on Dec. 6 for the Tree of Angels ceremony, a meaningful Christmas program held explicitly in memory and support of victims of violent crime. The New Braunfels Police Department and the local law enforcement and justice community organized the event.

The Tree of Angels allows communities to recognize that the holiday season is a difficult time for families and friends who have suffered the impact of a violent crime. It was the first time the New Braunfels community hosted a Tree of Angels ceremony.

“My heart is both heavy and hopeful,” said Delilah Reyes of the Thriving Heart Crisis Center, addressing attendees. “The holiday season is often filled with joy and celebration. It can also be a time of profound difficulties for families and friends of those who have lost their loved one to an act of violence.”

During the invocation, Bishop Michael Franklin, president of the MLK Association, cited the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The special event honored and supported surviving victims and victims’ families by making it possible for loved ones to bring an angel ornament to place on a Christmas tree.

“We would like to dedicate this tree tonight to victims who have lost their lives to violent crime or are missing,” said New Braunfels Police Department crime victim liaison Lisa Sargent. “Tonight, we honor them and recognize the void left behind and the impact that is left on the families, friends and our community,”

Members of the New Braunfels Police Department Honor Guard escorted each family to the tree to place their angel ornament.

Vanessa Paulini, a crime victim liaison with the Comal County Sheriff’s Office, read a proclamation issued by Comal County commissioners. The New Braunfels City Council also issued a proclamation recognizing the event.

The first program was established in December 1991 by Verna Lee, executive advisor of People Against Violent Crime in Austin. Since then, the Tree of Angels has become a tradition in many communities.

A candle-lighting ceremony also was part of the service, with New Braunfels Police Chief Keith Lane, District Attorney Jennifer Tharp and Comal County Sheriff Mark Reynolds lighting candles representing peace, hope and healing.

“These candles represent a journey we are all taking,” said NBPD crime victim liaison Priscilla Drozd, introducing the candle-lighting ceremony. “It’s not by choice, but of circumstances, and in the darkness, we can find light.”

In addition, event organizers set up a lighted display containing the names of violent crime victims and a table for those wishing to bring a photo of their loved ones.

Below the names of the crime victims, the lighted board states, “Your wings were ready, but our hearts were not.”

Performing on guitar, NBPD Lt. Joe Robles provided music for the event, leading attendees in singing “Silent Night” to end the service.

The Tree of Angels is on dislay at the New Braunfels Police Department headquarters on West San Antonio Street through the holiday season.