East Austin facility fights unemployment


Rebecca Howeth

Galilea, 9 (left), and Raquel, 8 (right), prepare to perform onstage at Southwest Key’s grand opening celebration Saturday. Southwest Key Enterprise recently built a new facility in East Austin to help local citizens improve unemployment rates.

Shreya Banerjee

A program created to educate and keep youth out of jail is aiming to improve job prospects in East Austin and is relying on local feedback to expand educational services for adults.

Saturday was the grand opening of the social enterprises facility to the Southwest Key headquarters in East Austin. This new facility was built as a resource center, providing services such as adult GED classes and job coaching to reduce the unemployment rate of East Austin. In addition, people interested in starting their own local business can use the space for training their employees or other services they need.

Southwest Key was created in 1987 by Juan Sanchez in San Antonio as an alternative to juvenile jail. Southwest Key now has more than 55 programs in six different states and serves 6,000 youths per day.

“We help educate kids so that they can reach their dreams, but we also focus on helping adults because kids can’t succeed without having successful adults around them,” said Ryan Hutchison, director of development for Southwest Key.

Southwest Key has also opened several small businesses, such as Southwest Key Green Energy & Construction and Southwest Key Workforce Development, as a way to provide the citizens of East Austin with jobs. These businesses will be housed in the new social enterprises complex.

Southwest Key moved its headquarters to Austin and focuses on East Austin and specifically the Govalle/Johnston terrace.

“One of our main goals here to change the dynamics of the community, and one way we do that is by communicating with the citizens and asking them what changes they want to see,” said Daniel Hinojosa, career services adviser for Southwest Key.

Through this method, the citizens of East Austin conveyed their desire for better education for their children and better job prospects for the adults, he said. As a result, Southwest Key built a new middle school, East Austin College Preparatory, in 2008 and began production on the social enterprises building that opened Saturday as well as expanding their job programs.

“Instead of coming and saying ‘This is what you need,’ we want the residents to play a role in the changes,” communications director Layla Fry said. “We want to provide services that can help all parts of a family so that citizens can be employed and live in East Austin.”