ServeSa: Bringing hope to San Antonio’s refugees from across the globe


ServeSA serves refugees who have resettled in San Antonio from over the world. (Brittani Rogers/

ServeSA serves refugees who have resettled in San Antonio from over the world. (Brittani Rogers/

SAN ANTONIO — After seeing a video online of struggling refugees in need of assistance to assimilate into the San Antonio area where that they have been relocated, Emmanuel Roldan decided to jump in and do something.

Roldan, 22 and a full-time student, decided to start an organization, ServeSA, to aid refugees and immigrants of limited means who need help adapting to life in this Southwest U.S. city.

“Our main focus is to really empower individuals and different organizations to serve the community they are located in,” Roldan said.

When the organization launched in January of 2010, mainly worked with homeless individuals. But after it opened a center, Haven for Hope, in May of last year, its primary focus shifted from the homeless to refugees.

Currently, ServeSA provides services to about 100 refugees and immigrants between the ages of 14-21, and to about 10 to 15 families through donations it raised in 2010.

The organization does not currently have nonprofit status, but is working toward acquiring it by the end of this year, which would allow donors to provide tax deductible contributions, Roldan said.

The group serves refugees who have resettled in San Antonio from over the world – countries such as Thailand, Somalia, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Nepal and Iraq. There are approximately 1500 refugees living in the San Antonio area, according to ServeSA.

“We began working with the refugees after I saw a video on; I was made aware of refugees living in the city who had literacy problems and poor education,” Roldan said. “This video broke my heart, to see people living this way right next door.”

“We work with a refugee community here in San Antonio and we work with them by meeting their needs on different levels, whether it is emotional, material, spiritual,” he added.

“Literacy and education are definitely big problems. A lot of (the refugees) don’t know how to read or spell their name.”

The refugees are not in the U.S. illegally but under “refugee” status with a special visa. The United Nations and other organizations like the International Red Cross and the Organization for International Migration (OIM) helps them relocate to the U.S. and other countries.

“We help with the adjustment process,” Roldan said. “Some of them have been here from two weeks to two years, and a lot of them don’t know about American culture so this tutoring/mentoring program will help them learn the things they need to know to live in San Antonio,” he said, adding that  “adjusting is very hard; even the people who have been here for a year or eight months still need help.”

ServeSA’s main goal thus far has been to help the refugees by teaching them to read and write, or by teaching them the basic things they need to function day to day in this country.

The organization is focusing on raising awareness among the public about the work of ServeSA.

“Awareness is key. I bring awareness to my circle of friends, and then go to a broader network, like the people at my church, and the people at UTSA,” Roldan said.

“I let people know that they do have something to offer,” said the University of Texas San Antonio student.

Supporters are encouraged to establish personal relationships with the refugees by spending time working as volunteers with the organization.

“Instead of just donating money, the members donate their time, which in most cases is more effective,” Roldan said.

“We want to know their names, hear their problems, and just be able to listen to them,” he said.

To find out more about ServeSA visit the website at

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