Renovation to be made possible through federal funding

The St. Mary’s University Family Life Center, a mental health clinic and classroom serving the West Side of San Antonio, will receive a much-needed renovation with the help of a three-year, $875,000 federal grant secured with the assistance of Congressman Joaquin Castro.

The Family Life Center, built in 1958 as the residence of a religious order and located north of the main campus at 251 W. Ligustrum Dr., is now the University’s home for training counselors and therapists for professional practice. The renovation will encompass updating technology infrastructure for teletherapy, classrooms, patient therapy rooms, faculty offices, patient areas, security and building access.

Renovations to the Family Life Center will benefit future students of the Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program. Read more about Asia Robinson, pictured above, and other Counseling students in this story.

“At the Family Life Center, we are the front porch of the University. We encounter about 500 families a year for services,” said Dan A. Ratliff, Ph.D., outgoing Chair of the Department of Counseling and Human Services, and Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy. “Part of this funding is to make the building more hospitable for people who come in for traditional face-to-face counseling. Part of this is to create the equipment and technology to extend our services to other satellite sites in the District 20 area. We are graduating counselors who will be able to provide services in a really innovative way to expand the benefits of our mental health services out into the community.”

The renovation will include:

  • Modernizing the building exterior, including replacing windows and installing a remote entry system
  • Upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning for greater efficiency
  • Improving the building’s interior, including widening doors to increase accessibility, modernizing window treatments for energy efficiency and improving Wi-Fi access
  • Purchasing equipment to support tele-mental health services in the building and for four remote locations, such as primary care medical practices

“The Family Life Center is a place that provides both professional training for future counselors and mental health services for the University and the community at large,” said Shawn L. Spurgeon, Ph.D., Associate Professor and incoming Chair of the Department of Counseling and Human Services. “We appreciate Congressman Castro’s advocacy and the work of the grant committee. These updates will further enhance our efforts to address the growing mental health needs of our community.”

Castro advocated for the inclusion of 10 community projects, including the renovation of the Family Life Center, in the Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus appropriations bill.

“For years, St. Mary’s Family Life Center has provided San Antonio’s West Side with affordable mental health services while giving their students real-world training experience,” Castro said. “I was proud to secure this funding to help update the center’s infrastructure and expand telehealth services. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed deep disparities in access to health care, and with this renovation, St. Mary’s is taking an innovative approach to reach our city’s underserved communities.”

The population profile of District 20, which Castro represents, has among the greatest disparities in mental health care in the U.S., according to the grant application.

“It follows our Marianist mission to reach out and offer help to the community,” said Moonyeen O’Phelan, Ph.D., Clinical Administrator for the Department of Counseling and Human Services. “What strikes me most is the effort, empathy and desire for us to provide a space that is safe, strong and dignified for the folks who will come to us for help.”

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