Philanthropist Kymberly Rapier is conflicted: She wants to encourage others to give, but she isn’t comfortable talking about herself. “I wasn’t brought up to brag,” she says.
Inside and out, her house — built around the turn of the last century for a West Texas cattle king — speaks for her. A onetime formal parlor is furnished casually; her living room looks lived-in, and her several rescued dogs and cats come and go as they please. At the curb in front of the grand entrance, a brand-new beige KIA is parked, ready to be given to a scholarship recipient, complete with insurance coverage. “What good is a scholarship if you can’t get (to college)?” Rapier asks. “And what good is a car if you can’t afford the insurance?” Rapier has become known for philanthropy during the past two years, but she’s been committed to helping others all her life. Her first experience with charitable giving came at age 5, when she started a lemonade stand at a block party. “I gave all the proceeds to the Muscular Dystrophy Association,” she remembers. “I didn’t even know what it was, but I knew they needed the money more than I did.”
More recently, she and her husband, George Rapier, M.D., have made big news with even bigger donations: $2.2 million to SAMMinistries, San Antonio’s largest provider of services to the homeless; $2 million to Boysville of Texas, a home for children in crisis; $2 million to Morgan’s Wonderland, a special-needs theme park; $1.5 million to Communities in Schools of San Antonio, a program for at-risk youth; $1 million to City Year San Antonio, an agency that seeks to reduce the dropout rate; and $1 million to the Healy-Murphy Center, which provides services to youth in crisis, as well as other large gifts to the Animal Defense League, Boys and Girls Club and the 100 Club of San Antonio, an organization that supports families of peace officers and firefighters who have been killed in the line of duty. In many cases, these donations were the largest in the benefiting organizations’ history; sometimes they came in the nick of time, providing operating funds to keep programs alive in an ailing economy. The Rapier charities help society’s most vulnerable, especially at-risk youth, the elderly, the disabled and homeless animals. “My passion is mostly education, children and animals,” says Kym Rapier. “George’s is seniors.” To provide high-level help, they have set up three foundations for giving. The newsworthy gifts of the past two years came from the Blake, Kymberly and George Rapier Charitable Trust, established in 2006 and named for the couple and his late son. Kym’s Kids is a college scholarship program founded in 2010, and the Rapier Educational Foundation, another scholarship program, is administered by the San Antonio Area Foundation. Her husband, as chairman and CEO of WellMed Medical Management, the largest primary-care provider for seniors in this region, also was instrumental in establishing the WellMed Charitable Foundation.
While the couple had given as much as $1 million a year through the Rapier Trust and had donated separately and together before its creation, they had done so with minimal fanfare, often anonymously. With the larger gifts of the past two years, the couple went public, presenting oversize checks in ceremonies with cheering crowds, mariachi accompaniment and balloons sent aloft. More than once, Kym Rapier has crossed out the printed amount on the check and written in a new, larger sum. It’s not because the Rapiers crave attention. “We came out as philanthropists because we want giving to be contagious,” says Kym Rapier. “Almost everyone can donate something, whether it’s money or time.” She does both, as chief executor of the trust, guiding spirit of Kym’s Kids and founder/president of Silver Life Fitness, a WellMed subsidiary that provides no-cost fitness classes to older adults. Fitness has been important to Rapier as long as she can remember. An athlete at Churchill High School, she was offered eight volleyball scholarships to colleges and chose to play as a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she was a spiker for the Roadrunners. At that time, she planned to become a veterinarian, she says, “but I got into the health-club business at 17 and never left.” As a fitness instructor and personal trainer, she worked her way up to management. “I wanted to be a good manager, so I always went the extra mile,” she says. “It was not just all about business to me. I wanted to make a difference in the way people lived their lives.”
When she opened her own gym, Family Fitness, on the South Side, Rapier says, “That was a check on my bucket list.” As its name implied, the gym offered activities for everyone, including cheerleading, boxing, martial arts and senior fitness, with day care provided for the convenience of busy parents. Rapier threw herself into the business, working as much as 18 hours a day. “It was tough,” she says, “but I had a goal, to make the gym successful.” Some of her employees from those days are still with her. “When you spend that much time at work, you get to be friends with the people you work with.” One of the most satisfying parts of her work was observing transformations among the people who used the gym. Most memorable was her future husband: “George walked in after seeing our booth at a health fair,” she remembers. “He looked real sad, and his shoulders were slumped.” As Dr. Rapier continued to work out at Family Fitness, she says, “We became friends, then business partners.” Together for the past 11 years, the Rapiers married seven years ago and “remarry” each year, usually at some exotic destination.
“It took me until I was 32 to find my soul mate,” says Kym Rapier. The large-scale giving the couple has become known for was a mutual decision, but as she recalls, “I had to bring him along.” As a gym owner, she had been a supporter of St. Peter’s and St. Joseph’s Children’s Home and of Boys and Girls Clubs, providing martial-arts lessons to youth. She also had participated in the Adopt-a-Family program of Family Services Association. Each year, she would supply holiday gifts to a needy family. “I’d pull up to a house the size of this room,” she says, gesturing at the living room in her Monte Vista home, “and there would be a mom and dad and four or five kids living there. They’d have nothing for Christmas except what we were bringing them.” Those experiences left her with a direction for her later philanthropies. “Although I didn’t have children of my own, I knew I could help a lot of other kids,” Rapier says. Her signature program, Kym’s Kids, is literally a dream come true. “I dreamed about it one night and woke up the next day, ready to go,” she says. At present, the program, which provides scholarships to college or technical school, has recruited 106 low-income students in eighth grade and above through the Carver Academy, KIPP San Antonio and Communities in Schools. Kym’s Kids supports participants with tutoring and opportunities to do community service required by the program.
“People have to be taught to give if they’re going to make giving a habit,” says Rapier. Recently, she met a priest who ministers to a low-income community in Peru; she’s planning to send a group of Kym’s Kids there on a mission trip. “It gives the kids a chance to travel to a developing country and see that they can be of service to people whose needs are even greater,” she says. The first Kym’s Kids to graduate from high school are about to move on to college, where they will continue to receive scholarship and other assistance. “We’ll see them through college,” Rapier says, “and we’ll keep giving them chances to do more (community-service) hours.” To date, she has met many, if not all, of the current Kym’s Kids and has hosted weekend gatherings for them at the couple’s home on Lake Travis. As a donor, she likes to stay personally involved with the organizations the couple support, making frequent site visits. “It gives me more ideas,” she says, smiling. Going to homeless-services center Haven for Hope, for instance, prompted her to add an additional $200,000 to the Rapiers’ SAMMinistries gift to aid Furniture for a Cause, the organization’s retail furniture store that supports its homelessness-prevention program.
With an assistant, Rapier personally reviews most requests for funding by the couple’s charities. Besides the headline gifts, the Rapiers also have made donations in a range from $500 to $100,000. “It could be something as simple as a need for canned goods or as much as a whole new building,” she says. She makes her decisions based on the urgency and importance of an organization’s needs, especially at a time when many are facing cutbacks in state funding. Ultimately, she says, “It comes down to a gut feeling: What is the right thing to do?” With responsibility for her business, Silver Life Fitness, as well as taking an active role in the couple’s philanthropies, Rapier says, “There is no typical day.” She’s usually up at 4 a.m. and on the go from then on, attending meetings or charity events that might stretch on into the evening. To avoid burnout, she and her husband try to keep Fridays and weekends for themselves, including frequent trips for scuba diving off Belize, the Galápagos Islands or in the South Pacific. They also enjoy water- and snow-skiing together, and they share most pursuits, “except for my sky-diving,” she says, smiling.
Meanwhile, she still has plenty of plans for their philanthropic future. One of her dreams is to start a no-kill animal shelter, where no animals would be turned away or euthanized unnecessarily. She currently has four dogs, three cats and three ducks — who live poolside in the back yard — plus two fish tanks, but wants to help homeless animals on a bigger scale.
Rapier has other ideas for new and continuing philanthropies and looks forward to carrying them out. “What do we need all that money for?” she asks. “What are we going to do with it?” There’s an adrenaline rush to giving, she says: “That’s how I get my reward.”