Good Samaritan CEO works to improve lives in West Side neighborhood where he grew up

Simon Salas’s window to the world is framed in a decades-old building on Saltillo and 19th Southwest Street. Every working day, after settling into his office, he overlooks the part of West Side Barrio where he was born and raised.

He sees fathers with their young children, walking on their sides, heading under tree limbs outstretched to Good Samaritan Community Services, as mothers, fathers, and their children did in the 1970s. He sees women and men at the corner bus stop, waiting for the main transportation to their jobs, like his mother who rode to work at Luby’s in the North Star Mall. It sees ordinary people bearing the unseen burden of striving to provide a better life for their loved ones.

As President and CEO of Good Samaritan, Salas is invested in resourcing at the center that plays a large role in the 78207 zip code.

Salas, 64, said: “Our mission is to support, strengthen and help individuals empower themselves. There is a constant flow of support from church partners and parishioners who believe in supporting our neighbours. There is something to be said for the continuity of goodwill.”

Salas is the fifth CEO of Good Samaritan since its inception in 1939 in downtown St. Mark’s Episcopal Community House. By 1951, it had developed into a health intervention agency in an area with high rates of infant mortality, homicide, poverty, and disease. Services offered by the nonprofit, known as “Good Sam,” include a child development center, family development services, after-school and summer enrichment programs, and a nationally accredited senior center.

Simon Salas, a Columbia University graduate and CEO of Good Samaritan Community Services, recently spoke with teens at the nonprofit organization, which provides programs to support children, seniors and low-income residents in the West Side neighborhood where he grew up.

Simon Salas, a Columbia University graduate and CEO of Good Samaritan Community Services, recently spoke with teens at the nonprofit organization, which provides programs to support children, seniors and low-income residents in the West Side neighborhood where he grew up.

Ruben Gerstad/San Antonio Express News

For the past four years, Salas has overseen the services that support the neighborhood which are very different from what they were when he grew up there. Salas remembers the traditions the school was proud of, the pride of the school and the success stories of those who left and returned to the then wasteland. He remembered how families put up farewell banners in the front yards of young men who were sent to fight for their country more than 8,900 miles away in the Vietnam War.

In the 1970s, Salas played basketball with his cousins ​​at Good Sam, not far from El Paso and Southwest 24th Street, where he lived with his grandparents, brother Mike and mother Margarita “Margie” Garza. She did not graduate from high school, but she always urged her sons to stay in school. In subsequent years, she earned her GED and business certification.

“Her education was delayed, but it wasn’t always,” Salas said.

A child who loved books, he read encyclopedias that his family bought from a street vendor. The volumes, from A to Z, have opened new worlds for Salas during a time when the United Negro College Fund’s motto, “Mind is a terrible thing to waste,” was more than a phrase—it was the motive.

To bring money for his family, he worked in a Piggly Wiggly grocery store starting at 4 p.m. and ending between 11 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., stocking merchandise and working as a checker at a cash register. He would get up at five in the morning to do his homework and do more studies at lunch, and often fell asleep.

Simon Salas, a Columbia University graduate and CEO of Good Samaritan Community Services, talks with teens at the nonprofit's building.

Simon Salas, a Columbia University graduate and CEO of Good Samaritan Community Services, talks with teens at the nonprofit’s building.

Ruben Gerstad/San Antonio Express News

In 1974, while at Kennedy High School, he met Hispanic students from San Antonio who attended Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and Princeton universities. They were affiliated with the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, or MEChA, part of a movement to recruit high school students of Mexican descent to attend Ivy League schools.

Salas took their advice and applied it to many people. When he opened his acceptance letter from Colombia, he was shocked – he had been awarded a full scholarship.

“It was like being born again,” Salas said. “It was hard to understand.”

That year, he was one of dozens of Hispanic graduates from San Antonio who attended universities on the East Coast. Columbia sent him to a three-week camp in upstate New York to prepare for college life. The first semester was difficult. Being a voracious reader saved him, he reads one book a week, which keeps his scores high.

After graduation, he began his tireless career in New York City for more than two decades. On Salas’ first day at the New York City Board of Education, his boss, Ed Sermer, walked out, and the first thing he said was, “It’s time to start looking for your next job.”

Vincent T Davis, a 22-year-old Air Force veteran, began a second career as a journalist and found his purpose. Watching and listening across San Antonio, he finds exciting tales to tell about ordinary people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.


Sermer’s statement threw him for a second, but he soon realized that his boss would teach him everything he knew so that Salas could broaden his horizons.

In 1998, Salas, his wife, and two children moved to San Antonio to be closer to the family. Neil Lane, a former Good Samaritan chairman, brought Salas to the nonprofit, where he was vice president and board member from 2010 to 2016. He said Salas brings a level of sophistication and credibility to the agency.

“He’s one of the kids who opened the door and went through,” Lynn said. “His journey is a unique service journey that enriches this community. It was the longest long shot. With all that mental strength, he helps children who are no different from himself.”

Lynn said Salas’ focus on learning is seen in Good Sam’s educational programs, especially for young adults.

“God did not only put the gifted and the talented in the affluent neighborhoods,” Lynn said. “It’s not that he lacks kids who are able to go to college, it’s that we miss those kids.”

During his freshman and high school years, just as others connected with him, Salas traveled to high schools in San Antonio, Houston, and Chicago, where he spoke to students. Now in Good Sam, he offers this opportunity to the residents of his old neighborhood.

“I have a wonderful life,” Salas said. “This is what I want every child here to have – to believe they can do whatever comes to their mind. No one should be held back by circumstances. They must be strengthened by their aspirations and dreams. This is what must motivate them. We must do what we can to help people to realize their dreams.”

Salas is reminded of this responsibility every day. He realizes this in his visits to children, teens, parents, and seniors who benefit from the nonprofit’s services. Hanging on the wall Bernic Longley’s painting of a little girl covered in pink and purple, pencil in hand, focuses on studies that could lead to a brighter future.

One of Salas’s joys is seeing active little ones every time they walk through his window in a zigzag line. He makes his day when they raise their hands in the air and wave as they enter Good Sam, a safe place of growth, opportunity, and promise.

vtdavis@express-news.net

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