Viola's Grace of Giving
Many are the opportunities to change the course of a life by lending a helping hand.
Viola Barrios' history of entrepreneurship and personal charity guided the creation of the foundation in her name. Immediately after Viola Barrios' death in April 2008, her children, Louis, Diana and Teresa, established Viola's Huge Heart Foundation in her honor. Their purpose was to continue the work that was so important to her in life: enabling people to help themselves. Early in life in her hometown of Bustamante, Mexico, Viola saw two human conditions that stayed with her for life. Much of humanity is born to a life of disadvantage and even destitution. But the spirit to rise above it is the driving force for personal achievement. Out of these observations came her conviction that many are the opportunities to change the course of a life by lending a helping hand.The difference she made in the lives of others was profound because, without hesitation, she addressed the opportunity when she saw the need to help.
Devoutly Catholic, her unselfish generosity was the expression of her belief in the practice of Christian Charity, as the highest form of love for our fellow men, women and children. Her children and the beneficiaries of her donations attributed to her a huge, generous heart. That is how the foundation came to be named Viola's Huge Heart Foundation.
The Foundation, therefore, is the continuation of her charity. It raises money and serves as a direct channel for donors who wish to enrich their community by funding the education of talented and academically ready, hard-working young people. Foundation scholarships give them the opportunity to live up to their academic potential without being affected by their family's financial circumstances. It's a helping hand that can be multiplied many times because many are the opportunities so near us.
After the death of her husband José in 1975, Viola became the sole breadwinner for their children: Teresa, who was 17; Louis, who was 15; and Diana, who was 12. Her most marketable skill was the culinary art she began cultivating as a young child, first by observing and later by assisting her mother, her grandmothers and her aunts in preparing daily and special-occasion meals. Viola staked her start in business with $3,000—that's all she wanted to risk—plus her hard work, on her belief that other people would love her home-style Mexican food as much as her own family did. In 1979 she cobbled together some mismatched tables and chairs, equipped a kitchen and opened a little restaurant in an old building at 1033 Avenue B and Jones Street downtown. Despite its many shortcomings, including ramshackle decor and scarcity of available parking, San Antonio beat a path to the door.
Diana remarked later that her mother set high standards for her cuisine, "knowing that when your ambiance is humble, the food had better be good." The fact that Viola managed to relocate Los Barrios a few months later to a former Dairy Queen on Blanco Road north of downtown speaks volumes about the quality of the food.
Today, the restaurant bears no resemblance to its former life as a Dairy Queen. With Viola, Louis and Diana working as a team, the décor was transformed, and the building was artfully enlarged several times to accommodate the overflow crowds of Tex-Mex food lovers. In growing numbers they queued up to join the noontime and evening devotees. In the early 1980s, "Esquire" magazine named the restaurant "One of the best new restaurants in America." Three times, Los Barrios made "Hispanic" magazine's list of best Hispanic restaurants in the country. In 2004, the family opened a sister restaurant, La Hacienda de Los Barrios on Redland Road north of town.
A FAMILY TRAGEDY: The "Spirit of Forgiveness"
In early 2008, with much anticipation by the Barrios family, construction on a brand new and much deserved new house for Viola was almost finished. The new home was built next door to her daughter Diana’s house. She never moved into that home. She moved into a heavenly mansion. On April 23, 2008, an intruder broke into Viola's house. Viola lost her life. Louis, Diana and Teresa lost their mother. Customers lost a beloved restaurateur. San Antonio lost an extraordinary woman.
From the darkness of tragedy came light. Louie professed forgiveness for the young man charged with his mother's murder. His sisters did the same. The electronic media carried the story and the San Antonio Express-News ran this front page headline: "Spirit of Forgiveness."
The family's response moved the city and left thousands in awe. In the midst of their grief, Louis, Diana and Teresa created a foundation to help women, especially young girls, who are facing major obstacles. Today, Viola's Huge Heart Foundation awards full scholarships every year to select academic achievers with a heart for service.
Abigail Issarraras, a junior at Incarnate Word High School, received the first scholarship. She excels in the classroom and in extracurricular activities and immerses herself in volunteer work. In the summer, for example, she serves at a camp for children and adults with special needs.
Daniela Portillo, a sophomore at Providence Catholic School, is the most recent scholarship recipient. The daughter of a single mother, Daniela aspires to a career in medicine, maintains good grades and volunteers at Metropolitan Methodist Hospital.
Daniela and Abigail are grateful for their full tuition scholarships. They say Viola has inspired them to serve -- and to serve with all their hearts.