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'Bridging The Gap' uplifting east side amid growing violence

Collaborative group of more than 300 is a powerful force for positive change in east San Antonio

The headlines from east San Antonio have been bleak recently, with the body count growing nearly every day due to gang and drug-related violence.

But amidst the horror, there are also powerful prayer warriors at work, doing lots of good.

At St. Philip's Episcopal Church on Pecan Valley, workers are just about finished with a brand new playground project, which will be a gift to the community and available to all.

The church is just a few blocks away from one of the most notorious curb-side drug infestations in the city.

Church members said they hope prayer and play will help turn the tide of tragedy in east San Antonio.

The Martinez Street Women's Center uses art to enrich the lives of kids, painting murals on eastside landmarks celebrating the accomplishments of local leaders.

Gardopia Gardens on New Braunfels Avenue grows hope from the ground up, providing a healthy way for community bonding across generations.

All told, there are more than 300 groups across the city taking part in a collaborative push called Bridging the Gap.

The two-year-old organization began as a way for pastors to network and draw strength from one another, but it quickly grew into a collaborative that also includes businesses, organizations, and agencies.

Salvador Mendez, who has been with the group since it was founded, said there is a way for anyone who wants to help to be involved in the good works of the effort.

"You start to look at things God has given you and say 'I didn't know I could do that.' Well, you never know until you try and Bridging the Gap gives you that opportunity," Mendez said.

Bridging the Gap holds regular meetings in all quadrants of the city and they pray, but they also put their faith to work.

Sunday, for example, Last Chance Ministries helped raise funeral funds for a child caught in the crossfire of gang violence.

Mendez said, “Wherever there's a need and we can meet it, with the 300 different partnerships that we have, we're able to tap into those resources for people, to be able to supply the needs of the community.”

Mendez said the ministry is growing and seeing success because they meet the needs of individuals wherever they may be.

“We always emphasize the love of God. We want people to know they are somebody. You're not a number. You mean something, not only to God but to us. We want to be able to go out there and share the love of God with families that see no hope,” Mendez said.

Mendez said people respond to the concept that there is strength in numbers.

“People say ‘I want to serve but I just don't know where to go.’ But now they know they have a place to connect. As a group, they say ‘I feel like I am empowered more, to be able to do more because now I have your help.’” Mendez said, adding there’s always something to do for anyone tired of apathy.

“It's a lot easier to sit on a chair, sit on your couch, watch television, but when you look back on your life when you get older, and you look and 'what did I really do? How did I really affect people? How was I really able to make a difference?' I think having that opportunity, when you have an organization like Bridging the Gap, it's there,” Mendez said.

December 9th at 9 a.m., the prayer warriors will take to the streets in a door to door prayer walk in the heart of the east side.

Shetigho Nakpodia is one of the leaders of that effort.

Nakpodia said “This is not the end! We just keep moving until we get to where we want to be! It's not over yet!”

“People there are beautiful. They are kind and loving and the blessings of God should be on the east side. We all need to get together and love on these people, talk to the people, encourage the people, tell them it's going to be okay,” Nakpodia said.

Bridging the Gap is easy to find on Facebook.

The playground dedication at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church is Saturday morning from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and they said everyone is invited.

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