A lunch attracted the director to the center when he was a student.
By Sandy Cordell
Just across the street from this college, at West Dewey and Belknap places, a weekly hot potato lunch and lecture attracts students to learn about current topics.
Wesley San Antonio, formerly known as the United Methodist Student Center, has served this campus since 1957.
The center has provided spiritual guidance and renewal to students and faculty for over 60 years, according to the center’s website at http://saumcm.org/sac.
“It’s like a family away from home. They are welcoming and accommodating, Alyssa Shaner, former student and education sophomore at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, said. “Some of my best stories and memories while at SAC are here.”
The center employs three part-time and one full-time employee.
A hot potato is what brought program coordinator J. Alex Ruiz to the center.
“A friend asked me if I wanted to go to a lecture. I was reluctant. He said they have potatoes, so I went to the event. I have been part of the organization ever since,” Ruiz said. This was in 2012.
“The Hot Potato discussions have been central to a lot of what we do. It offers professors an opportunity to speak outside the classroom.
“It brings people from the community, whether it be the mayor, local politicians or city council,” Ruiz said.
“It gives people an opportunity or a forum to talk about hot button issues,” Ruiz said. Discussions have remained civil, he said.
“Even when we had panels with pro and con sides, the students have responded to it with the decorum I expect from adults and rational minds,” Ruiz said in an interview April 24.
The yearly budget of the center for the potatoes with all the toppings is around $200. Potatoes are prepared each week by the staff.
“People also sit around to discuss the issues afterward. Some students will sit with the professors or other speakers to have a more in-depth conversation,” Ruiz said.
Or in the case of an organization that does things for the community, students will want to volunteer with the organization that was presented at a Hot Potato event.
Some students get very animated about wanting to serve organizations like Magdalena House, which serves victims of human trafficking and domestic violence as they transition back into society.
“It touched some students, I know it has for me. Any way we can help we will,” Ruiz said. “And if it means offering a platform of what they do, perfect, because it brings awareness and gives people the opportunity to volunteer, which is something more people should do.”
“Every Hot Potato event has the potential for volunteers,” said George Bradley, board chair of the center and pastor of Jefferson United Methodist Church.
“I can’t imagine one Hot Potato event that doesn’t open an opportunity door somewhere. The question is, is it here in San Antonio, Austin or D.C.?” Bradley said.
The center also has a nurse available from 10 a.m.-noon most Thursdays.
“There are so many things the nurse can help with. Students can ask her questions. Everything is confidential,” Ruiz said.
This service is new to students and they are seen on a walk-in basis.
The center is making more connections this semester with the student advocacy center and the Victory Center on campus by finding ways to better serve the students and the community, he said.
“We have worked with Habitat for Humanity, Joshua Builds and Project Home Front. We try to engage the students in service,” Ruiz said.
“This is a commuter school. It is reaching students who are trying to improve themselves, who are from every age range and background,” Bradley said.
The center has worked with just about every denomination and religious background on service projects, he said.
“Not because it’s religious, but because they wanted to do something good. That is the best thing about it becaue people from all backgrounds get excited about becoming involved,” Ruiz said.
The selection of topics for Hot Potato lectures is a collaboration among Dr. Robert Zeigler former president of this college; political science Professor Asslan Khaligh; and Ruiz.
“We all work together to bring professors and outside groups,” Ruiz said.
“Professor Khaligh will bring a long list of names and ideas. Dr. Zeigler will bring public officials and people from his church and academics. And I will bring organizations more on the awareness side of things,” Ruiz said.
“We have had such a diverse range of people on both sides of the aisle and different religious background speak,” Ruiz said.
The Wesley has partnered with NPR for panel discussions. The turnout for the event was so large, it was held in the Fiesta Room of Loftin Student Center.
The topic was interfaith relations and how people can work together despite religious differences.
“We want to make sure certain topics stay relevant, “Ruiz said. “Hot Potato events re-energize people’s attention toward subjects that do matter.”
“Where else can you have a presentation, where it’s not just, I’m going to talk and you’re going to listen?”
Students leave with something to think about and maybe a passion to go do something good, Ruiz said.
“We are addressing people whose minds are exploding with new intellectual development,” Bradley said. “Campus ministries helps people stay connected to God and find a place of safety.”
For more information about the center, call Ruiz 210-733-1441.