The Ella Austin Community Center gets a makeover and changes its life

The center has been serving East San Antonio families for generations, so it’s time for a long overdue upgrade.

SAN ANTONIO – It’s a grand old lady in need of a facelift.

The Ella Austin Community Center has been serving East San Antonio families for generations – so it’s time for a long overdue upgrade.

$23 million in municipal bonds and funds are poised to bring transformative change to the venerable institution, and city leaders want to know what the community wants most moving forward.

A public consultation process is underway.

The building is already being renovated, so it is largely vacant. The kids who were squealing in daycare have moved on for now.

Non-profit organizations that have taken up residence in the building get by with temporary accommodations.

The hum of the community has been replaced by the roar of power tools.

And the place that has meant so much to so many for so long is becoming a new safe harbor.

Linda Tippins, a longtime community servant, said she has been a fan of the center since she was a little girl and remembers well Ella Austin, the center’s namesake.

Tippins said when the old Ralph Waldo Emerson School took on new life, it was only natural to name the center for Ella.

“She was the first person to have an orphanage here on the east side for black kids and Mexican American kids. There was no place to go,” Tippins said, adding that the commitment to build a better community is alive and well. even now.

“What is Ella Austin? We’re all Ella Austin,” Tippins enthused.

“I’m so excited about this because what’s coming for Ella is that the community has a chance to say this is what we want to see Ella in her future,” the president and center CEO, Beverly Watts Davis.

The future looks bright, thanks to the wide variety of programs taking off here.

“Over time, Ella has had up to 85 programs running here,” Watts Davis said.

Programs like Public Allies, a division of Americorps, where young adults come to serve and be powerful agents of positive change.

“The community needs a place to go to heal. With all the violence going on here, there’s no place to go to train. For someone to say it’s okay,” said Tippins.

Planners say there may be a performing arts center, basketball courts for children, health and social services and, as always, a place of refuge.

“We want Ella to be a center of resilience so that when things go wrong, people can come for help,” Watts Davis said. “What I like to say is twinkle to wrinkle and cradle to grave, all of these services here in one place.”

The second in a series of public contribution meetings was scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church at 508 North Center Street.

Jill E. Washington