A Passion for People
By Dawn Robinette
Photography by Siggi Ragnar
Ask Asia Ciaravino to talk about herself, and she’ll tell you about children in need at SA Youth, the nonprofit where she serves as President and CEO, working to empower San Antonio’s high-risk youth and young adults to achieve their full potential by providing quality educational programming in a safe environment.
You’ll also hear about the team she works with, a talented, dedicated group of individuals doing everything they can to ensure all San Antonio youth and young adults have equitable access to educational opportunities, graduate from high school, and become successful community-minded adults, regardless of circumstance.
She’ll gush about her family, husband Tony and daughters, sharing how amazing they each are before regaling you with loving stories about her parents and siblings, a family of servers who all give back in some way.
“I really would like to call out my team, how proud I am of them. And my friends, my tribe is really important, my family. I don’t talk about myself very much. I’m more of the person that is the listener, solving the problem. When I’m asked to talk about myself, it’s always weird,” she explains. Yet every story she tells reveals a part of her heart and the passion that fuels her commitment to helping others.
“One of my biggest philosophies on life is just shut your mouth and listen just for a second. People are going to give you everything that you need to know about them and where they’re at in that space.”
“From the time I was very little, I was gathering people together to create. And I knew that what I wanted to do in my life was give the voiceless a voice and tell the stories of people who didn’t have the ability to tell them themselves. Creating conversation for me was really important and also affecting change.”
“Coming from a background of people who were activists and people that saw the world in a different way, I wanted to do that. I knew that whatever happened in my life, I was here to serve on this planet. Holding people up is a big part of who I am—helping people become the best self they could possibly be. That’s always been really important to me.”
Ciaravino has been a part of the nonprofit community for 19 years, giving her a unique perspective on the needs laid bare by COVID.
“Right now, the landscape is worse than I ever thought it would be. It’s overwhelming the amount of need there is,” she explains. “Everybody thinks it’s gone away, and it hasn’t. The need is even more deep and profound.
“I don’t even think we know half of the impact and problems that we’re about to unearth in the next couple of years. The kids that we serve that are socioeconomically underprivileged; they already started down here. They were already way behind in terms of focus, money, attention, value in the community. And now you layer something like this on top of it. Everyone is suffering. I don’t know how people catch back up.”
SA Youth works exclusively with children in South San Antonio Independent School District. “Sometimes it’s really hard to explain to people why they should care about a kid in south San Antonio. You should care about them because they’re human beings. They all deserve a chance to be successful. They all deserve to have help when they’re struggling. I could talk about it for 100 years because it makes me so frustrated and angry.
“Everyone deserves a chance to be successful. That’s why I’m so passionate about the work that we do at SA Youth. And even people that seem like they have everything could be falling through the cracks at any moment. Everybody has issues, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve somebody to reach down and hold their hand and bring them up.
“We find kids all over the city of San Antonio that school just didn’t work. Or maybe they got bullied or whatever happened, and we can bring them in, get them their high school diploma, and do leadership training with them. I feel so honored to be a part of this work.”
That work is what continues to fuel her. “I’m not inspired by money, status, or brand names. I want to be able to help. What inspires me is seeing people grow and finding their true voices, and being authentic. I’m really fired up by changing and growing our community and helping everyone to be the best that it can possibly be. That’s what drives me every day.”
She stays ready to help others by focusing on herself. “Health is your foundation for everything in your life. If you don’t feel good every day, if you’re not taking care of yourself, if you’re not drinking water, if you’re not exercising, if you’re not like looking at yourself every day and saying, ‘I love you, you’ve got this,’ you’re not going to be prepared to do anything. You have to be your driver, and you can’t rely on others to do that for you.”
For Ciaravino, that’s making sure she’s out in nature every day. She starts every morning with a run. “That’s kind of my church – being outside. McAllister Park is a place that I feel grounded.”
That grounding, and true connection to herself, is something she encourages in others. “The biggest piece of advice that I would give others is to really, truly show up as your authentic self. And that’s really hard to do, especially as a woman. It’s taken me a long time, longer than I like to admit, that I could really embrace and be authentically 100% me. But when I talk to women about being leaders and the kind of growth that they want for themselves, I always push them to be authentic because you’re the best at that.
“There’s no one else that’s going to be better at being you than you.”
“A lot of people try to push themselves to be an extrovert or be bubbly or be whatever everyone else expects them to be. We’re just human beings, and we’re all super different, and we need all kinds of people. So show up as you, give what you have to offer, and don’t look around you. The comparing game is a really dangerous end point. It won’t help you grow; it won’t help you invest in others.”
Being herself and accepting who she is is something Ciaravino has grown into. “I’d tell my younger self to enjoy the moments more, embrace your fire and embrace your talents. I didn’t realize the strengths I brought to the table.”
The idea of going all in, in spite of the risks, is another tenet she embraces. “My philosophy is to go big and make those mistakes. It’s worth it to go full force in. Even if you mess up, even if it’s all a failure, you’ll learn so much by putting all of your heart and soul into something.”
“I tell our team all the time about failure, how important it is and how much of it shapes us. And I joke, ‘I failed ten times today already, and I’m still here.’ If you can approach life with that kind of abundant passion and movement and fire, go in that direction. Something’s going to stick. Stop trying to be perfect, please. Everyone. Perfection is the killer of any innovation that we could ever have in our lives. Please stop trying to be perfect. Trying to do your best is good enough.
“You’ve got to have fun every day. Make fun of part of your work. We spend way too much time in our work every day not to be fun and have levity and have joy and have laughter. We take ourselves way too seriously. Let’s just have some fun. Yes, we can get work done. Yes, it will be good. Does it have to be perfect? No, but it can be excellent. That’s not necessarily perfect, though. And we should all be okay with that.