Atascosa Citizens in Action (ACA) in 5th year of community assistance

As Reported in the February 5, 2020 edition of the Pleasanton Express News:

In February 2015, organizational meetings began for what eventually came to be known as Atascosa Citizens in Action (ACA).

Little was it known what was coming in Atascosa County. What was happening was an era of amazing cooperation among like minds.

While attending a meeting those present find themselves in a world of service and accomplishment.

Among non-profits and those in other community endeavors, you have representatives from Safer Path, Community Council of South Central Texas (CCSCT), Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG), Jamie’s Ranch for Special Kids, Atascosa County Child Welfare Board (ACCWB), Camino Real Community MHMR Center, Atascosa County Animal Control Center, Atascosa Christian Assistance Ministry and others.

Needs prevailed immediately after ACA was formed. There was the need for a new home for Atascosa Family Crisis Center (AFCC), now named Safer Path. AFCC was ‘stuck’ in the growing business corridor of West Oaklawn in Pleasanton at that time. A property was found to accommodate that need. That property needed to be redesigned and repairs made and that was accomplished.

Bob Byrd, a Navigator, and participant in ACA saw the need for a Skate Park. That became a component of the newly developing River Park on the Atascosa River in Pleasanton.

Greg Leach, Pleasanton Parks and Recreation Director, a participant in ACA, coordinated an effort to design a community park with various amenities including a splash pad, picnic areas and sports venues. The first phase of the River Park has been completed and the city is moving on into the next phase.

Roger and Sheri Mitzel, developers of Jamie’s Ranch, a recreational adventure park for special needs individuals and others, located near McCoy, sponsored its first prom, spring style dance at the Civic Center in Pleasanton in April 2019. Students from various schools were bussed in for a special time. Jamie’s Ranch will be doing the same thing this year in April and hopes to make it a two-day event.

Bobby Deike, Executive Director, Community Council of South Central Texas, Inc. (CCSCT), said, “It is common for CCSCT staff, throughout the Agency’s 23-county service area, to be involved in Inter- Agency meetings. These meetings are comprised of mostly the commu- nity based organizations within a city or county. The Atascosa Citizens in Action Committee is far more involved with local elected officials and community leaders, taking time out of their schedule to hear first-hand available resources for their citizens. The enthusiasm in the room for partnership and support of making Atascosa County the best place to live is amazing.

“As a result of CCSCT’s participation in ACA, the opportunity to partner with Safer Path Violence Shelter occurred in 2019. The result of this partnership was the award of $450,000 Transitional Housing Grant to serve victims of violence over a 3-year period. In addition, ACA provides the vehicle to promote CCSCT services, learn about opportunities for outreach, involvement in community events and build new partnerships.”

Jessica Tom, with Atascosa County Child Welfare Board and Safer Path, said, “ACA was started as a grant writing committee, but has grown to be so much more. The information I gather in one hour is very valuable. Not only have I learned about the various nonprofits in our area, their purpose, and their activities, but I have also met many of our community’s leaders. Anytime I meet someone new, I invite them to attend our meetings to build their network and find others who can help achieve their mission.”

Rhonda Williamson, Safer Path Executive Director, mentioned, “ACA has been a place to connect with other leaders in our community and connect needs with resources. Because of these connections, Safer Path was able to secure $985,000 in grants to open and run a domestic violence shelter to serve our area. We meet and talk about what the needs are in our area, and what projects or programs might help those needs, and then strategize how we might bring those plans to our area. There is so much collegiality and support in this group that it’s made every member’s individual success feel like an ACA success.”

Pastor Johnny Arrington, First United Methodist Church, said, “One of the joys of ministry, for me, is to have the blessing to see people working side by side for the good of all. The ACA has been a wonderful example of working together and what can be accomplished if we just do that. I have had the honor of sharing a prayer to begin the ACA meetings. That in and of itself is no tremendous contribution, many in the meeting could do the same. My faith is constructed of many things that I believe offer me the best opportunity to be my best. Prayer is a key part of the building of my relationship with Christ. To be a part of a group of “like minded” people in our community to share our hopes and to work together for our community and, in particular, those in need of assistance, gives me hope. I believe the ACA is truly an example of the heart and hands of Christ being lived out. Realizing there are challenges, either for or against public prayer, every person in attendance, regardless of their spiritual beliefs, has been gracious and receptive to starting our time together in prayer. I share these brief thoughts to simply say, my faith celebrates that with putting our Lord first and basing our conversations of serving our community upon unity in God’s blessings of hope and strength, together we can make a difference for good. What a joy to simply share a prayer and knowing that every time we gather we took the first step in faith.”

Meetings of Atascosa Citizens in Action have been conducted from 1:15 p.m. to around 2:15 on the second Thursday of the month at the Civic Center in Pleasanton. Meetings have been held on the third Thursday a few times when scheduling conflicts have occurred.

To begin meetings, there is always a prayer said, most often by Pastor Johnny Arrington, Pleasanton First United Methodist Church.

Those attending list their names on a sign-in sheet along with their phone number and email. The following month, copies of the previous month’s attendees are given to those in attendance for their information. This is helpful since there is always communication among different entities at the meetings who want to help with others’ projects and community endeavors.

Meetings have been held from early 2015 and into 2020 with the most recent meeting being held on Thursday, January 9. I, Leon Zabava, was elected to chair the group when it began operations in early 2015.

ACA has had organization representatives from throughout Atascosa County at its meetings along with Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) reps from San Antonio. Gilbert Lafuente, Outreach Coordinator for Congressman Henry Cuellar is a frequent attendee at the meetings.

Pictured, from left, are Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Safer Path Family Violence Shelter Executive Director Rhonda Williamson, ACA President Leon Zabava, CCSCT Executive Director Bobby Deike and Outreach Coordinator for Henry Cuellar’s Office Gilbert LaFuente. NOEL WILKERSON HOLMES | PLEASANTON EXPRESS