Archive for November, 2010

Is Life without Parole Fair to Children?

An article in yesterday’s paper had the headline: “Life without parole OK for juveniles, Texas court rules” The story is about a 16-year old convicted of killing two other teens.

Here at Southwest Key we run community-based programs that work with juvenile offenders in ways that prepare them to be positive contributing members in their communities after they serve their sentence. But this story raises questions about the very real differences between children and adults and how the courts and the law should treat them. What do you think?

Is life without parole cruel and unusual punishment for a youth?

Do you believe youth convicted of capital offenses can’t be rehabilitated?

Do you believe the possibility of parole should be offered in 10 years? 20 years?

– Narissa Johnson
Ext. Communications Manager

November 19, 2010 at 10:48 am Leave a comment

Ballet East Dance Company – Fall Performances

The Ballet East Dance Company presents original works by Regina Larkin and Juan Flores in its fall performance, “Morning/Midday.” The original piece by acclaimed modern choreographer Regina Larkin explores what can be learned from nature, especially from observing birds — their harmonious existence with other species, behavior on the ground, in the air, on and near the water, and the importance of partnership with a mate.

“Regina’s work is powerful because it draws on deep sources,” says Rodolfo Méndez, director of Ballet EastBallet East Dance Co Dance Company. “It stands the test of time. We’re excited to premier this new piece.”

A solo piece will be presented that was choreographed by Juan Flores, former Ballet East dancer now at the Alvin Ailey School in New York City.

The program also features original work by local choreographers Sharon Marroquín, Melissa Villarreal, Eric Midgley and Sheila Cruz.

“Morning/Midday” will be presented Thursday through Saturday, December 2-4, curtain at 8:00 p.m., and at a matinee Sunday, December 5 at 2:00 p.m. at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Road.

Adults: $12.00
Children and Senior Citizens $8.00

For ticket information, call the Box Office, 454-TIXS.
For general information call Rodolfo Méndez, 385-2838 or email
Visit the Ballet East web site:

— From the Ballet East press release

November 12, 2010 at 8:27 am Leave a comment

Veteran’s Day

Today is Veteran’s Day. And it reminds us that men and women have fought for the ideals America stands for, in fact they were willing to die to protect those ideals.

When we think about the American values that our veterans have been asked to fight for, the first ones we think of are:
1) Freedom to speak our minds,
2) Equal access to the opportunity to build the lives we want for our families, and
3) Ability to engage in the decisions made for our communities through a democratic government.

We, at Southwest Key, thank our veterans for fighting for those values and ideals. We also invite you all to join us in working to ensure that the values they fought to protect are afforded to ALL of our children and that they all have equal opportunity to thrive in communities that foster success.

– Narissa Johnson
Ext. Communications Manager, Southwest Key

November 11, 2010 at 3:22 pm Leave a comment

Narrowing the Achievement Gap

The New York Times’ article “Proficiency of Black Students Is Found to Be Far Lower Than Expected” discusses a new report regarding the achievement gap between black and white students. This gap has a history of being the target of varying attempts at school reform for the last 30+ years. But this new info is showing that “poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty.”

An analysis of the results raises questions about causes other than poverty. In the article, Ronald Ferguson, with the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, states race plays a role in how children’s early childhood development affects their capacity for future success in formal education environments.  The article highlights a case study of the effect of integrating a community outreach approach to reach students. In Baltimore, such outreach yielded a reduction in drop-out rates and increases in graduation rates for African-American youth.

It is exciting that the national focus is moving to take into account the historical and cultural frames in which young people are growing up. But if we attempt to isolate race as a reason and not take into account the totality of the impact of a family living in a marginalized community for decades, we may still miss an opportunity to narrow this gap.

Children growing up in marginalized communities do not have access to the resources that children living in more affluent neighborhoods have – we all know this. But the challenges are not just the quality of teachers, but rather the historical effects of decades of failure to equip those families and neighborhoods with adequate resources.

The key to making change is to be a part of the community and work with these young people and their families so they can have the opportunity to thrive in communities that foster success.

At Southwest Key Programs, after decades of working to keep the doors to opportunity open for young people who were already caught in the juvenile justice system, we wanted to find ways to keep children from entering those systems in the first place. We wanted a solution that would empower families to create opportunity for themselves with the belief that, once empowered to change their own lives, they could then also make change in their communities as a whole.

By going into the community and talking with East Austin residents, Southwest Key learned that people  wanted three simple things: education for their children, tools to get jobs that would allow them to provide for their families, and to have a voice in their community. In response, Southwest Key collaborated with other organizations and community organizers to move their national headquarters to the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood, create education and job training opportunities, and build the East Austin College Prep Academy (the first middle school to educate the children in the neighborhood in 20 years).

The goal of the East Austin College Prep Academy is to eventually provide services and education to families from pre-K through high school graduation. By creating this resource for families in East Austin, we may be able to narrow the achievement gap between students from different communities – especially minorities living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

– Narissa Johnson, Ext. Communications Manager

November 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm Leave a comment

True Community Partnership

Did you know that in 2002 we reached out to the families living in East Austin to ask them about their lives?

Dr. Juan Sanchez knew that in order to create the most impactful and sustainable change in communities, you needed to go INTO those neighborhoods and engage with the people who were living there.  In order to create change, you need a true community partnership with the people whose lives you are trying to change.

When asked what would make the biggest impact in their lives the residents of the Govalle/ Johnston Terrace neighborhoods told us:

  • education for our children,
  • jobs, and
  • the opportunity to empower ourselves and be voices in our community.

We are grateful they were willing to share their dreams and be community partners with us so that we could participate by opening doors to opportunity for their children and whole families.

November 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm Leave a comment

Dr. Juan Sanchez Talks with Giving City

The digital magazine and blog GivingCity is the guide to learning about what is happening in Austin and how individuals and organizations can do good in Austin. October’s issue featured a profile on Dr. Juan Sanchez, the Southwest Key Programs CEO.

Readers will note he’s passionate about what he is doing to create change in East Austin and keeping young people from lives that lead them to the juvenile justice system. And while his passion will challenge others, it also challenges them to do better for our children.

November 3, 2010 at 9:21 am Leave a comment

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