Brauntex Theatre to screen doc exploring the impact of social media on children, effects of technology on the brain

Feb. 21, 2024

Are you using social media or is social media using you?

Maintaining balance and protecting our well-being has become increasingly difficult in this digital age, where technology and connectivity are integral parts of our daily lives. The relentless flood of notifications, messages and information can lead to feeling overwhelmed and isolated.

On Feb. 27 at 7 p.m., the San Antonio Council on Alcohol and Drug Awareness will host a screening of “LIKE: A Documentary About Finding Balance in Our Digital World” at the Brauntex Theatre in New Braunfels. This film will encourage us to contemplate the effects of social media and technology on our lives. It offers strategies for achieving balance and wellness.

The documentary delves into how algorithms influence our online behavior, from the compulsion to respond to notifications to manipulating our behavior to garner more “likes.” It provides guidance and diverse perspectives on navigating the digital world, drawing on young people’s and their families’ experiences, supplemented by expert insights.

The film introduces the concept of JOMO – the Joy Of Missing Out, promoting the benefits of occasional disconnection. Maryanne Navickas, the theater’s Education and Community Outreach Director, stated that the screening is part of a continuous effort to give back to the community.

Navickas invites the community to learn about the current state of social media and its impact on students and adults.

“We will provide resources that will benefit them,” she said. “We hope they will acquire some knowledge to safeguard their children and themselves from IT devices and social media.”

The evening will also feature a panel discussion from subject matter experts, providing insights on social media trends, monitoring a child’s online activity, and what parents should be vigilant about to protect their children.

Resources from local nonprofit organizations, including Mental Advocacy Partners – Comal County, San Antonio Council on Alcohol and Drug Awareness, Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Centers, InMindOut and Communities in Schools will be available in the lobby at 6 p.m.

“MAP Comal is pleased to support a community mental health education event such as the LIKE screening and panel discussion,” said Kristen Fain, program officer for the McKenna Foundation and coordinator of the Mental Advocacy Partners Comal Coalition. “We hope this event will help families proactively address their mental health needs and engage with community support systems.

The film is a product of iMPACTFUL, a Los Angeles-based company specializing in creating award-winning, evidence-based film programs for schools, businesses and nonprofits.

Admission is free, but seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. You can reserve your seats at ourl.io/OGS24. You can view a trailer of the film on YouTube at ourl.io/0Emgi.

For more information about Mental Advocacy Partners Comal, visit mapcomal.org.

New sauna amenities ready for seniors at 7Ten Activity Center

The new sauna at the 7Ten Activity Center is a relaxing feature that is available to seniors, veterans and disabled adults who are members of the Comal County Senior Citizens Foundation.

The sauna, located in the locker rooms for men and women, can help individuals enjoy the benefits of heat therapy, such as better blood circulation, less stress and more detoxification.

The Center’s executive director, Ken Lowery, said clients have given him a lot of positive feedback on the new amenity.

“Our clients are saying there won’t be long before there’s a waiting list to use the steam room,” Lowery said. We’ve completely renovated the steam rooms. We tore out the old and brought in new tile, flooring, drains and steaming equipment. It’s all in concrete now, so it will not deteriorate.”

The sauna is one of the many attractions at the 7Ten Activity Center, which used to be the YMCA building. The Foundation bought and renovated the 20,000-square-foot building a year ago and moved from its old location across the street. The Center’s executive director, Ken Lowery, says the aim is to make the building a modern and versatile facility for senior residents.

The Center offers a variety of activities for seniors, veterans, and disabled adults who want to stay active and engaged. The building contains administrative offices, a central area with three to four separate rooms, outdoor pools, locker rooms, and exercise spaces.

The central area has tile flooring and movable walls, allowing different configurations and uses. Groups can use the rooms for meetings, family gatherings and special events, generating income for the Center, which supports vital programs such as Meals on Wheels and wellness initiatives.

The Center offers a variety of programs, services, and activities for its members. A large room for arts and crafts is at the back of the building. Daily activities include card games, bingo, bean bag tournaments, dominoes, and craft classes. The Center also organizes bus trips and tours to different places, allowing seniors to explore and have fun.

The Center has an exercise area that overlooks the outdoor pool. It includes traditional equipment like treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines. It also has Echelon Reflect home gym mirrors, which provide virtual personalized training sessions for senior clients.

The Center is committed to the Meals on Wheels program, which serves about 14,000 meals each month to senior residents in Comal, Guadalupe, Wilson, and Karnes counties. The meals are free for the clients. The Center also offers a pet program covering home-bound clients’ veterinary care and food.

The Center was established in 1985 and supports seniors and disabled individuals aged 18 and older. The Center has expanded its services over the years and now offers a range of programs for its members.

The Center is proud to partner with the McKenna Foundation, which recently granted the Center $50,000 to support its senior nutrition program in Comal County. The program addresses food insecurity, hunger, and social isolation among senior residents. It includes initiatives such as Meals on Wheels and congregate meal programs offered at the Center.

For more information about the Center and its memberships, call 830-629-4547.

Herald-Zeitung: New Braunfels ISD unveils renovated Gateway building to help serve special ed students

Febuary 12, 2024

The New Braunfels Independent School District and the Rock Haus Foundation recently celebrated the completion of a newly-renovated building, specifically designed to support students in the school district’s Gateway program. The Gateway program serves students aged 18 to 22 with special needs who have completed the campus-based portion of their education. It prepares them and their families for life after school, including aspects such as employment, volunteerism, recreation, transportation, and social events. The renovated building, located at 511 E. North St. in New Braunfels, will be home to this important program, with an expected move-in by Gateway during the 2023-24 school year.

Read more here.

AP: A record number of Americans can’t afford their rent. Lawmakers are scrambling to help

February 7, 2024

The latest data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, released in January, found that a record high 22.4 million renter households — or half of renters nationwide — were spending more than 30% of their income on rent in 2022. The number of affordable units — with rents under $600 — also dropped to 7.2 million that year, 2.1 million fewer than a decade earlier.

Read more here.

Texas Tribune: In the Texas Panhandle, a nonprofit is fighting rural child care deserts

In the Texas Panhandle, a nonprofit is fighting rural child care deserts

In the Texas Panhandle, a nonprofit is fighting rural child care deserts” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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FRIONA — The economy in this Panhandle town of about 4,100 people has long rested on the backs of its working-class residents, who for decades have dutifully filled the ranks at meatpacking facilities, school buildings and other vital businesses.

But city officials noticed a shift after the COVID-19 pandemic. Fewer residents were interested in taking in-person jobs at companies in the town. One key reason: It was too difficult and costly to find child care.

For about as long as anyone can remember, Parmer County, where Friona resides southwest of Amarillo, didn’t have a single day care center. Parents were largely paying the price through long morning commutes to far-flung child care providers in the region. According to the National Database of Childcare Prices, the cost of child care in Texas can range from $6,000 to nearly $11,000 annually.

The rise of remote jobs and telework during the pandemic made day-to-day life a little bit easier. Afterward, many Friona residents, 73% of whom are Hispanic, seemed reluctant to take jobs at the business that kept the town running. And for some parents, the high cost of child care forced them to make difficult decisions about whether they could continue living or working there at all.

“We determined the problem is not that people didn’t want to work, it’s that they don’t have the means to afford child care,” said Leander Davila, Friona’s city manager.

From mental health treatment to primary care doctors, the Panhandle has starved for critical resources that are largely out of reach for people in the far corner of the state. When it comes to lacking child care within driving distance, however, the problem is not exclusive to the Panhandle. Data from the Center of American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute, shows 63% of rural families in the Lone Star state live in a child care desert.

Happy Tribe Academy daycare is seen Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024 in Friona.
Happy Tribe Academy day care is seen Wednesday in Friona. Credit: Mark Rogers for The Texas Tribune

Maureen Coffey, an early childhood policy analyst for CAP, said day care centers often close in rural communities because low enrollment prevents them from bringing in enough revenue to operate. And with the rising cost of child care, Coffey said families reach an inevitable breaking point where one parent drops out of the labor force to take care of the children.

“These are issues that are entrenched and systemic and underlie the entire child care sector,” Coffey said. “So we have to address the root sources of our issues in child care if we want the situation to stabilize and improve.”

Coffey added, “By taking families out of the workforce, we’re hurting businesses in the Texas Panhandle.”

In Friona, though, parental relief — and a potential economic solution for the city — arrived after the Amarillo Area Foundation provided a grant for more than $114,000 to the City of Friona to open a day care center in town. The foundation, which is a nonprofit that focuses on addressing health and economic challenges in the Panhandle, worked with the city on its mission. In November, the Happy Tribe Academy opened.

“I’ve noticed the need for years here, especially with the Cargill plant and other employers in Friona and surrounding areas,” said Mariza Licerio, the center’s director.

The center is located in the town’s former Girl Scout building. Some renovations were needed — including a $16,000 roof. They received an additional $45,000 from the foundation through a fund gifted by Cargill, the beef processing facility, for that and other work.

The academy has started small, something Licerio is grateful for. She and her small crew take care of 11 children, three of whom are there part-time. Their curriculum consists of the basics — colors, shapes, numbers — as well as time for lunch and crafts. They are accepting children as young as six weeks old through school age.

There is still room to grow, though, as the building is large enough to house up to 42 children. Licerio said six more people reached out to her since the start of the year, which makes her excited for the future. Some aren’t even Friona residents — they’re from nearby towns — which proves to Licerio how needed child care is in the region.

Mariza Licerio, Director of Happy Tribe Academy daycare, poses for a photo in one of her classrooms Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Friona.
Mariza Licerio, director of Happy Tribe Academy in Friona, poses for a photo in one of her classrooms. Credit: Mark Rogers for The Texas Tribune

“There were faithful nannies and some babysitters, but not a day care,” said Licerio, who is fulfilling a lifelong dream by opening one in her hometown.

Davila said the day care will open the door for more opportunities in his hometown. Friona’s business owners have become more diverse in recent years, and he hopes the day care will help continue that trend.

“We’ve been able to bridge that gap and bring people who already loved this community together,” Davila said. “In order to make change, it’s going to take some time, and we’re in it for the long haul.”

The Amarillo Area Foundation also awarded funds to Claude, 96 miles northeast of Friona, to address the same issue last year. Keralee Clay, senior vice president for the foundation, said their investment is to ensure families in the Panhandle have the support they need to continue working and sending their children to safe learning environments.

However, Clay said, it needs to be a multi-pronged effort that includes financial help from other communities and businesses.

“We know we cannot fund a child care center in every community and solve this problem,” Clay said. “We’d love to, but that’s not the systemic change we need. We need to help communities understand that this is affecting everyone.”

When it comes to solving such a large problem — about 51% of all people in the U.S. live in a child care desert — Clay said there will also need to be some kind of help from state lawmakers.

“There are some changes that can only come from Austin,” Clay said.

Last year, the Texas Legislature had an opportunity to approve a $2.3 billion proposal that would have funded child care providers. The proposal was left out of the final budget.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/11/texas-panhandle-childcare-desert-friona/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Your voice matters: McKenna Foundation invites public input on community needs assessment survey

January 26, 2024

UPDATE: The deadline for participating in the survey has been extended to Feb. 23.

The McKenna Foundation invites the public to share their views on the needs of New Braunfels and Comal County by participating in a community needs assessment survey.

Public input on the eight-item survey will help the Foundation shape future investments in area nonprofit organizations for the community’s benefit.

The items cover public transportation, child abuse and neglect, housing programs, mental health, and child care, and the participants are asked to rate their importance and satisfaction levels.

“We began our journey as the McKenna Foundation as students of the community, which is a role that will never change,” said McKenna Foundation CEO Alice Jewell. “How best to invest resources needs to be informed from multiple perspectives, so we make an impact on the community’s biggest needs.”

To participate in the survey, go to www.mckenna.org and click on “2024 Community Needs Survey.” The survey is available for public input until Feb. 16.

The Foundation conducted a similar survey in 2018. Participation in the survey is anonymous. For any inquiries about the study or its purpose, email the Foundation at grants@mckenna.org.

McKenna Events Center accommodates over 900 events, Children’s Museum attracts nearly 125,000 visitors in 2023

January 23, 2024

In 2023, the McKenna Events Center in New Braunfels became a hub of activity and impact, hosting over 900 events and welcoming nearly 125,000 visitors to the Children’s Museum.

Guided by the McKenna Foundation, the Events Center hosted 960 events in 2023, including meetings, job and resource fairs, training sessions, educational workshops, and fundraisers. This is a sizeable increase from the 736 events held the preceding year.

In 2023, the Center donated more than $330,000 in room rental costs. Fundraisers organized by the Foundation’s nonprofit partners raised $1.5 million for the local community. The Center’s reach expanded to 166 organizations in 2023, up from 130 the previous year.

“We are honored and humbled that McKenna Events Center has become a true community space,” said Lindsay Morgan, Events Center manager. “Our partner organizations know we are an accommodating meeting resource where people come to learn, share and grow. We are proud to include community convening in the McKenna Foundation body of work.”

Serving nonprofit organizations, civic groups, local schools, government and churches, the McKenna Events Center in New Braunfels is committed to benefiting the residents of New Braunfels and Comal County. This service is an integral part of the Foundation’s mission to enhance the welfare of the New Braunfels community.

Since 2006, the Foundation has offered meeting and event space at its West San Antonio Street facility at minimal or no cost.

For inquiries regarding venue details and reservations at the Event Center, representatives of nonprofit or community organizations are encouraged to contact the Foundation via email at events@mckenna.org.

Throughout 2023, the McKenna Children’s Museum experienced a notable surge in foot traffic and revenue, setting a new record for admissions and membership sales.

An impressive 123,085 individuals visited the Museum in 2023, marking a 9% upswing from the previous year and eclipsing the 2022 record of 111,965 visitors. Nearly 11,900 of the admissions were field trip guests.

Admission sales reached a new peak, reaching $582,649 in 2023, surpassing the 2022 figure of $523,221. The Museum also achieved record-breaking membership sales, totaling $202,393, breaking the 2022 record of 185,372. Memberships are at a record high of 1,613 families. Gift shop sales totaled $209,517.

At the Museum, children are immersed in art, creativity, science, technology, culture, health and history, engaging with educational exhibits meticulously crafted to stimulate learning and foster knowledge acquisition.

Creative learning classes have increased the daily average participation to 13 kids. After-hours special events are growing in popularity, averaging more than 150 attendees.

“I would like to express my gratitude to the city of New Braunfels and the surrounding areas for their consistent support,” said Isabel Martinez, the Museum’s operations manager. “Our achievements would not have been possible without their contribution. I would also like to acknowledge the Museum team for their unwavering commitment to maintaining a safe and secure environment for our families. Their dedication to providing excellent customer service is truly commendable. I am excited to break records in the upcoming years.”

McKenna curated this distinctive hands-on experience to equip children with the tools necessary for nurturing their well-being. Within the Museum’s confines, children embark on exploratory journeys in a secure and nurturing environment while parents actively participate in their children’s educational journey.

The entry fee for individuals aged 12 months and above and adults is $8 per person. The Museum welcomes school excursions all year round, and comprehensive information is available by calling 830-606-9525. All children must be accompanied by an adult aged 16 and above.

The Museum operates from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, observing closures on Sundays and major holidays. For supplementary details and access to an events calendar, visit https://mckennakids.org.

Texas Tribune: Homelessness in Texas on the rise amid high housing costs, federal estimates show

Homelessness in Texas on the rise amid high housing costs, federal estimates show

Homelessness in Texas on the rise amid high housing costs, federal estimates show” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

For 24/7 mental health support in English or Spanish, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s free help line at 800-662-4357. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.


The number of Texans experiencing homelessness is back at pre-pandemic levels, federal data shows.

Homelessness in Texas grew by more than 12% in 2023, in line with national trends, according to estimates released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last month. More than 27,000 Texans did not have a permanent roof over their heads when advocates and volunteers across the country walked Texas streets on a night last January to conduct the Point-in-Time Count annual estimate of people experiencing homelessness. About 43% of those — or some 11,700 people — lived on the streets.

Low-income households in Texas now face significantly higher rents than they did prior to the pandemic — and no longer have the pandemic-era safety net afforded by federal rent relief funds and pauses on evictions that aimed to prevent landlords from ousting tenants who couldn’t make rent. Those factors have contributed to an overall increase in homelessness, homeless experts and advocates say.

“We’re in a huge affordability crisis,” said Eric Samuels, president and CEO of Texas Homeless Network. “There’s a lot of people out there at risk of homelessness. And if they fall into homelessness, we have a lot fewer units to help them escape homelessness.”

Homelessness rose in nearly every demographic group measured by the Point-in-Time Count estimate. The number of unhoused veterans and families with children grew in 2023 by 19% and 4.9% respectively. More Black and Hispanic people experienced homelessness than in the previous year.

Experts and advocates noted some bright spots.

Efforts in major Texas cities aimed at quickly getting people experiencing homelessness into new housing and connecting them with support services helped reduce chronic homelessness, which fell year-over-year by about 9%, estimates show. Someone experiences chronic homelessness when they have been unhoused for at least a year or multiple times “while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability,” according to The National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Meanwhile, the state’s overall population of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness — meaning they slept in outdoor spaces like encampments or other places people aren’t meant to live — grew by 6.5%, but fell in places like Dallas and Houston.

The Dallas region saw double-digit decreases in the numbers of people experiencing unsheltered and chronic homelessness last year, which local advocates attribute to a $72 million initiative launched in 2021 to rehouse people and families experiencing homelessness.

The push, dubbed the R.E.A.L. Time Rehousing Initiative and fueled in part by federal pandemic relief funds, relies on close collaboration between dozens of nonprofits who work in homelessness response and a network of landlords willing to give the unhoused a roof over their heads, said Sarah Kahn, CEO of Housing Forward, the lead agency in charge of tackling homelessness in Dallas and Collin counties. When city crews clear homeless encampments, outreach workers offer to connect people with housing and services, she said.

That approach has worked, Kahn said. In October, the initiative reached a goal of placing 2,700 people experiencing homelessness into new housing — and aims to house 6,000 by the end of 2025.

“It’s just important to remember that this work is hard,” Kahn said. “I know it feels slow to a lot of the public and a lot of people are wondering why we’re not making more progress than we are. I think the most important thing to remember is we have a proof point of what works and we have to keep investing and scaling those proven solutions if we want to see those numbers continue to go in the right direction.”

In Houston, federal pandemic relief funds supercharged yearslong efforts to reduce the region’s homeless population by placing those experiencing homelessness into apartments before providing them with support services — efforts Dallas officials took inspiration from when crafting its strategy to address homelessness. The region’s Community COVID Housing Program, buoyed by federal relief dollars, has housed or diverted from homelessness nearly 17,000 people since it launched in October 2020, according to Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless. Last year, the region’s population of people experiencing unsheltered and chronic homelessness fell by 17.3% and 3.7%, respectively.

But federal funds that paid for the program are set to expire by the end of the year, said Ana Rausch, vice president of program operations for the Coalition for the Homeless, leaving policymakers and those who work in homelessness response to figure out how to fund at least some aspects of the program after that money runs out.

“We have to continue to invest in housing if we want to continue to see a downward trend in our homeless numbers,” Rausch said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/11/texas-homelessness-estimate/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Homeless Coalition seeks compassion bag donations for annual Point-in-Time count

January 16, 2024

The public is invited to assist the Comal County Homeless Coalition and Texas Homeless Network later this month as the organizations prepare for the annual “Point-in-Time” count, which aims to provide a snapshot of individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Comal County over one day.

Every year, local agencies and organizations conduct a Point-in-Time (PIT) count to determine the extent of homelessness in the community. The survey is conducted throughout the state and the country.

The Coalition hopes to help the community better understand the needs and resources available to unhoused neighbors. Two-person teams of trained volunteers will conduct surveys of people experiencing homelessness in selected areas over one 24-hour period.

Survey participants will receive a compassion bag containing much-needed food, hygiene and safety items provided by the Seeds of Love non-profit organization. The Coalition is seeking donations of items for the compassion bags.

“Community support and awareness for this project are so important, not only in terms of community engagement but also to create awareness and understanding about this very vulnerable population in our area,” said Bethany Benson from Gruene United Methodist Church and a member of the PIT Count Committee.

The count helps non-profit agencies and organizations understand how homelessness changes over time across numerous variables such as economic conditions, societal factors and policy advancement. It also allows organizations to spread awareness, engage and build relationships with unhoused neighbors.

To donate items to be included in the compassion bags, contact Benson at bethany@grueneumc.org or visit https://www.signupgenius.com/go/5080E4CACA62CA64-46113202-homeless#/

To learn more about the count, visit www.thn.org/texas-balance-state-continuum-care/data/pit-count-and-hic.