Southwest Key Breaking Social Ground
Center aims to tackle unemployment issues in East Austin
Led by young dance groups, an indigenous blessing, and official golden shovels, the latest major project by Southwest Key broke ground Saturday at the service nonprofit's national headquarters on Jain Lane. The occasion was the official first dirt-turning for the organization's "Social Enterprise Complex," expanding its East Austin campus to provide room for its already operating small businesses and to house a technology lab as well as job coaching and training classrooms. "We've already got people doing maintenance work, green energy, and construction jobs," said spokeswoman Jennifer Nelson afterward, "and this will allow us to do more of that work, and also more generally help people find employment." The Saturday celebration, including an all-day "family fiesta" attended by a couple hundred people, kicked off with singing and dancing from some of the children who attend the Southwest Key charter school, followed by congratulatory remarks from organization staff as well as public officials. Board Chair Victor Garza emceed the occasion, and president and CEO Juan Sánchez described the new project as enabling Southwest Key to address Eastside unemployment, "three times worse than in the rest of the city," with the opportunity to use "job training and job counseling to put people back to work." Sánchez acknowledged Roger Joseph as the philanthropist who provided the land for the campus and introduced Pedro Garza, a representative from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which is helping to underwrite the new building. Garza called the occasion a "wonderful celebration of diversity" and emphasized the "public service" aspect of all of Southwest Key's work, a theme echoed a little later by Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez. "The work Southwest Key is doing is truly 'social enterprise,'" said Martinez, "not jobs alone, but jobs with a social impact on the community." Other dignitaries included Johnny Limon of the organization's community advisory council and representatives of Chase Bank and Capital One Bank (involved in the financing). Santos Martinez, already working on campus as a maintenance supervisor through the social enterprise program, told the audience, "Southwest Key gave me an opportunity that has changed my life – and a chance to be somebody."
See a video of the groundbreaking ceremony and fiesta in the sidebar below.