As a longtime resident of San Antonio, Damaris Cavazos Fike wants to see her city flourish like any other San Antonian. And with her own experience always in the front of her mind, she realizes what many others do: education and training is key.

So Damaris after 17 years of full-time ministry changed her path to another nonprofit role and joined the staff at San Antonio Education Partnership, an entity aimed at helping provide access and tools for success in education.

“Our ultimate goal is really to help individuals’ economic mobility. We are here in San Antonio, the
third most impoverished in the top US cities,” said Damaris, a 2020 graduate of Wayland’s campus there. “If we really want to see San Antonio thrive, we have to ensure that our families and individuals have the ability to grow economically, and a lot of that takes education and certification, so they can get the jobs that pay higher wages and be in the industries that are in high demand.”

It was a time in her own life when Damaris was seeking growth both professionally and financially that she found the opening in development work at SAEP and jumped at the chance to make a difference in the organization that was part of her own story to earning her Wayland degree. She serves as director of community partnerships and engagement, involving both fundraising and marketing for the organization that has been a pillar of the community for nearly 35 years.

Looking back

Damaris followed the traditional path out of high school, enrolling at a Christian university in another town. But after three semesters, things weren’t going as she’d planned, and the cost was a burden. After that, her path took her several places before landing in San Antonio. It was in San Antonio she later finished an associate’s degree at the International Academy of Design and Technology all while working in full-time ministry at a local church, CityChurch San Antonio and loving her role.

But when Damaris and husband Robert had their first daughter in 2016, she said a switch flipped inside and she felt a deeper motivation to complete her degree. But just as she had earlier, the process felt daunting as a first-generation student needing to navigate all her options.

“Here I was at 30 years old in 2018, working full-time at the church, married and had a daughter. I ended up at the city’s Café College, a one-stop-shop for all things college advising,” Damaris recalls. “I made my way there, met with an advisor and shared my situation, telling her I wanted whatever degree would get me there the quickest. The advisor had several recommendations but really thought I should consider Wayland. She gave me an idea of what would transfer and the credits for life experience, and I could see the finish line. I thought, ‘I can do this.’”

And she did. She attended night classes and some hybrids, juggling family life with her education for a few years and wrapping up the degree in February 2020, just a month before the pandemic shut down the world and days before she gave birth to her second daughter. Admittedly one to shy away from the spotlight, Damaris nonetheless felt pride at her accomplishment and that her daughters would know that hard work was possible.

Looking ahead

With this great experience behind her, Damaris was proud to bring her skills and passion to SAEP and to help them stay strong in their mission to provide college access and success and to reinvent itself in the changing city landscape. The organization has several programs to accomplish this, including advisors at 41 high schools in the San Antonio area. The aforementioned Café College is a city-contracted service that provides an extra measure of assistance for prospects and current students.

“They can help with filling out the FAFSA, career exploration, college advising, applications, and work with non-traditional students, and international or undocumented students. They take all the information, and based on that individual’s journey, they can make recommendations on next steps,” Damaris said, noting that this can include training and certification programs as well as traditional higher education. “The dedicated advising program provides continuous support through the journey.

SAEP also gives out $2.1 million in scholarship aid to local students attending one of the local higher education partners to help remove the financial barriers that prevent so many from pursuing degrees. Recipients, enrolled in college, are then part of the Scholar Success Program that follows them and provides mentorship and connection to resources to help students persist to complete their degree. That may even include emergency funds to help with expenses such as unexpected school expenses or transportation that can inhibit degree completion.

Though she no longer works in the front-line ministry, Damaris sees her role with SAEP as a way to serve people and still make an impact alongside her coworkers who share that same passion. She desires for the Kingdom of God to be reflected on earth, where people are thriving and living with purpose. Currently, however, the demographics of those in San Antonio earning degrees does not mirror the ethnic demographics of the city.

“This is really helping people at a disadvantage to access the same education that others have been able to access. But it doesn’t stop there; it’s for them to be able to persist throughout,” she says. “With those degrees or certifications, they can move up in employment, sustain their families and pour back into their communities as well.”

For Damaris, the role allows her to live out her own purpose of seeing the intrinsic value in all people. It’s something her husband and three daughters – Thea, 7, Ruth, 3, and Avi, 16 months – both inspire and support.

“I originally studied cultural missions, which is sharing the gospel to different cultures. Though I don’t do that with preaching or teaching, I would like to think I do that through how I serve and love people now,” she says. “It may not be my degree, but it is my calling.”