Alexa M. Johnston
In June 2019, Cordillera Ranch resident Jeff Schwarz had been considering how he could better love his neighbor. He was often approached by newcomers to Kendall County on how to get involved in charitable organizations and knew he wanted to provide a way to make that easier. This ultimately led to the idea for the Kendall County Giving Connections website — a comprehensive list of nonprofits in the local area.
“I’ve always been a helper and empathetic to others,” Schwarz said regarding his desire to help the community. “Part of that is my religious upbringing…credit my mom for that, and part of it was seeing my dad’s work ethic, how he approached responsibility. He was Boerne’s City Administrator for 25 years and essentially held the keys to the city. When someone’s lights went out, our telephone rang. My dad lived by the mantra ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ and I’ve tried to live my life that way, too.”
While other lists of nonprofit services already existed, Schwarz envisioned taking it a step further and creating a more dynamic site. In November 2020, he began to detail his plan for the site and spread the word. Robin Bull was the first to join the project, offering her information technology background, which earned her the role of website designer. A few months later, Lisa Brown teamed up with the group, bringing with her not only her public speaking and press-writing skills but her knowledge of nonprofits, including how to depict valid organizations from others. Around the same time, Hayden Schwarz, Jeff’s son, also signed up for the project, sharing creative ideas for the site and his knowledge of current technology tools. The four principals first gathered in June 2021, hashing out initial ideas for the new venture, and each contributing not only their talents but unwavering dedication to the cause.
“I’ve worked for nonprofits for over 15 years,” Brown said of her previous experience. “When Jeff mentioned to our Bible Study Group that he wanted to pursue this website project, I jumped right in. It was a natural fit for me as I knew the inner workings of a nonprofit and I have helped design several websites.”
The project originated as a seemingly simple but comprehensive resource for residents who were new to Cordillera Ranch to discover how they could become involved with local nonprofits. However, it quickly evolved into a much more robust website, including becoming a source for nonprofits, individuals in crisis and residents throughout Kendall County. The team of four pored over an estimated 500 entries, verifying and documenting their information to create individual pages for each nonprofit, religious organization and community-based organization, while ensuring viewers could easily locate the organization through consideration of multiple viewpoints.
Various volunteers, including Jamie Angelich and Carmel Widner, pitched in to proofread and contribute to the effort, and a group in the Cordillera Ranch neighborhood, nicknamed the Charity Chicks, also helped in the early stages. Paul Giguere, Kendall County Behavioral Health Initiative Project Director, was working on collecting information on services provided for behavioral health in Kendall County and learned of the KCGC project. Giguere and J. Schwarz then shared information back and forth, cross-referencing organizations and services to verify what the other might be missing.
“Jeff wanted to provide an opportunity for his neighbors to get connected with nonprofits either donating, volunteering or supporting,” said Giguere. “It started out, from my perspective, that he was looking for this opportunity to create this connection. Then it became this incredible platform for all living in our county who are looking to learn about services in and around the county. And it’s pretty incredible. Contributions from individuals who truly care about others is one of the wonderful elements of living in Kendall County.”
Like most projects, the KCGC wasn’t met without its own set of challenges. Early into the endeavor, the team hit a roadblock in gathering information on their intake form for nonprofits. Since many organizations were not familiar with the project, the responses received ended up being very few. The group decided to pivot, create the web pages themselves and locate the information on public sites, verifying the information on the backend. In total, the team volunteered an estimated 1,200 hours (and counting) for the project. Additionally, there were some groups they had to say ‘no’ to (primarily those whose mission did not support the residents of Kendall County or were for-profits), however, J. Schwarz noted this overall was not a problem. Bull also ran into some technical obstacles with the website, as the scope of the website expanded but she was up for the task.
“My career was in IT, starting as a software developer, and then I became a business analyst. I worked on an in-house development team that developed and maintained the point-of-sales software for Rent-A-Center stores,” Bull said of her IT background. “I haven’t been in that role for a little over 10 years, and I didn’t work with internet apps or websites. The rapid advancements in technology, as well as the differences working with various tools and programming languages has been a challenge but has been fun for me.”
At the heart of the mission, the website was created with the community in mind. It’s a wealth of information for those looking to donate either their time or financial resources and equally, those searching for assistance. Beyond the individual users, it also serves as a vital resource for the organizations themselves to better serve the community. The team hopes to continue to get the word out that this resource exists and keep the content up-to-date.
“Every citizen in our community now has access to everything they need to thrive in Kendall County,” Staci Almager, Chief Executive Officer for Hill Country Family Services, said. “Our agency staff uses the Kendall County Giving Connections website every single day to help families in crisis. This will benefit everything we’re doing locally. Our ability to move forward with our initiatives due to accurate information has saved us months of time. We will achieve our goals so much more quickly thanks to Jeff and his team.”