A west-side arts group got an astonishing surprise Saturday morning when a woman who had given smaller gifts in the past showed up with a check for one-million dollars.

Cheers and tears of joy greeted the announcement by Coyote Phoenix, who told the delighted crowd at the MujerArtes womens’ art cooperative the gift could be used for a wide variety of projects.

Graciela Sanchez, who accepted the gift on behalf of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, said nobody has ever handed her a check that large.

“One-million dollars for an organization like ours, that is community-based, is a surprise!” Sanchez laughed “It's the icing on the cake!”

“Having to get five or ten or twenty dollars at a time is very helpful but it takes years, and even this project, just raising the money from beginning to end has taken seven years, so a million dollars moves a lot faster and allows us to do so much more,” Sanchez said.

Several hundred people had showed up at the group’s new workshop for a grand opening celebration. Their new building was constructed with an old method.

They used adobe for the structure, and they said it is the first compressed earth commercial building to be approved by the City of San Antonio for more than 150 years.

The leadership team at the Esperanza said they hope that since they have proven the compressed earth process can be used successfully, they want to expand their project. They also want others to follow their lead.

They would like to see the environmentally friendly concept used to build affordable, durable homes in San Antonio’s poorest neighborhoods.

Sanchez said “We want to say how can we bring adobe back? How can it be affordable and then there’s sustainability, the fact that we don't have any air conditioning in there. It's already cool because of the nature of how adobe works.”

The guests who showed up for the house warming party found a heart-warming celebration instead.

Esperanza supporter Esther Guajardo said “I had tears in my eyes! It was like, it's such a blessing. It's wonderful.

We at the Esperanza have struggled, politically and culturally and to see that support, the community support is just wonderful. I don't even have words for it. It's just great and I'm so proud to be part of the Esperanza, part of the ‘buena gente’ here.”

Arthur Gallegos said he came to the party because he loves adobe construction, having spent the first five years of his life in an adobe home.

“It's like going back home. I would love to live in an adobe house because it's a beautiful structure and it's so good, and they're cool. They're energy conservative. It's just great to be here, to have that here,” Gallegos said, calling the big gift a bit like Christmas in September.

Janie Gonzalez said her son helped with the construction of the building.

Gonzalez said “That million will go a long ways when you think about the sacrifice of all these individuals over the years that have given back to this community for free. I mean, it just took my breath away.”

Paul Plouf said “As a society, we've started to lose our attachment to community and people are hungry for it.”

Plouf said the crowd was larger than he expected, but in a good way.

“All of a sudden you have people that didn't know this even existed, that are more than willing to show up because look how beautiful it is!” Plouf said.

When the shock of receiving such a big gift wears off, the Esperanza Center will pay the gift forward.

Gonzalez said “That million will support the dreams of not just my children but future generations, to know where they come from, to have pride in their engineering skills, in their artistic skills, in their technology skills and to be part of that.”