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South San Antonio ISD Care Zone helps hundreds during pandemic, inspires neighboring districts to do the same

A local initiative to help community members has been more worthwhile than organizers could have predicted.

SAN ANTONIO — The Care Zone is a quiet, safe space at Athens Elementary where students can sit down with a counselor and share their feelings without judgment.

Six community agencies are housed there: Communities In Schools, Family Services, Rise Recovery, Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, Jewish Family Services-Mission Reach and Clarity. Each organization offers free mental health services and resourses to all of South San Antonio ISD.

Mental health behavior specialist Susan Arciniega said that, as of late, they've been seeing people nonstop.

"It's been hundreds, hundreds," Arciniega said. "Probably about 50 people a week."

Arciniega and her colleagues are helping to guide not just students, but also parents and teachers through a year filled with unexpected challenges.

"We have had students and families alike affected by COVID," Arciniega said. "They're feeling stressed, anxious."

When the Care Zone opened last November, no one expected it to become a necessity in 2020 to the extent that it has. 

"We were set up for something we could handle," Arciniega said. "Once March came, we were busy every day from then on out. The entire summer, nothing shut down for us. Our partners remained opened."

That commitment to care has caught the attention of neighboring districts. Arciniega said they're working with Edgewood ISD and Harlandale ISD to help them create their own Care Zones.

"This collaboration, it's the best news ever. The best part of that is that it's expanding," Arciniega said. "All children, all of them have needs."

For more details on the South San Antonio ISD Care Zone, click here.