Barrio Academies, coordinated by the 21st Century Leadership Center at St. Mary’s University and supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, will collaborate with under-served residents of the West Side of San Antonio toward further discovering and implementing their know-how and leadership skills necessary to improve their lives and their neighborhoods.

With support from a new two-year $100,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the 21st Century Leadership Center will conduct the nation’s first barrio-based leadership schools developed specially for the Hispanic community.

“We want to reach out to people at the grassroots level and to have them act as catalysts and collaborators for the renewal and social transformation of their communities,” said Andrew Hernandez, executive director of the 21st Century Leadership Center.

“Some leadership styles, skills and competencies already exist, but we must improve and build upon these leadership assets for true structural change to occur in impoverished neighborhoods,” said Hernandez, an experienced community organizer who also is an ordained Methodist minister. To coordinate this effort, he has enlisted the services of Don Arispe (BA ’83), a social worker and social justice instructor by training, as a community leadership facilitator.

West Side residents will be recruited for the first Barrio Academy class in partnership with the staff of the Father Albert J. Benavides Learning and Leadership Center under the direction of Paul Herrera. The first academy is scheduled Sept. 16 in conjunction with the Dies y Seis celebration activities at the center. The center, at 515 Castroville Road, is owned and operated city of San Antonio’s Department of Community Initiatives.

There is no registration fee and persons must be at least age 18 to enroll. Participants will collaborate with other residents and facilitators to design the curriculum. Four Barrio Academies will be held each year in hopes of connecting with 100 neighborhood residents.

Formally called “A Resident-Driven Strategy for Community Based Leadership Development,” the St. Mary’s program will be implemented as per the Casey Foundation’s Making Connection initiative, which represents a 10-year investment begun in 1999 to improve the outcomes for families and children in 22 tough or isolated neighborhoods across the country. Families in these neighborhoods often lack access to the skills and opportunities that lead to secure, family-supporting jobs.

In addition to the Barrio Academies, which will be one of the principal leadership vehicles for Making Connections work in the West Side neighborhoods, the 21st Century Leadership Center is facilitating a Community Leadership Collaborative, consisting of 20-plus non-profit organizations operating in and round the West Side that will explore collaborative leadership opportunities each month. In addition, the 21st Century Leadership Center has established a Learning Community, which in essence is a think tank comprised of scholars, practitioners and residents who convene around the issue of community-based leadership development.

For more information, contact Andrew Hernandez at (210) 431-6797
or email: or Don Arispe at (210) 431-8080 or e-mail:

Based in Baltimore, Md., the Casey Foundation was established in 1948 by Jim Casey, a founder of United Parcel Service, and his siblings.

Back to top