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A San Antonio transportation routing supervisor is set to play Mother Ginger in the city ballet’s upcoming production of The Nutcracker.

Katelyn Saenz of the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) is among eight front-line workers honored with the role for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each honoree performs on a different night during the Christmas show’s run. Saenz plays the part on Dec. 10.

“As we return to the stage this year, we cannot be thankful enough for those who have been on the front lines during the pandemic and continue to serve our community each day,” says Evin Nicole Eubanks, chief executive officer of Ballet San Antonio. “Mother Ginger is the iconic character of The Nutcracker that we perform each year, and we can think of no greater people to fill this celebrity role than representatives of those who have, and continue to serve on the frontlines.”

“I was very shocked and surprised I was selected,” Saenz says. “I couldn’t believe out of all of the nominees that they would select me. I think this opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime thing that will be fun to look back on for the rest of my life.”

But her boss, SAISD’s transportation director, Nathan Graf, doesn’t think it should be that surprising.

He credits her with undaunted service to economically disadvantaged families that relied on food deliveries during the height of the pandemic, with the city on lockdown and the school district teaching kids at home over the internet. On a typical day, the district delivered 25,000 home meals during the lockdown on her watch.

“She made her way to work every day to ensure that our 100 food delivery school buses were properly scheduled, staffed, and full of food to deliver to our families at home who were unable to safely make it out of their homes,” Graf wrote in his nomination statement pitching Saenz to Ballet San Antonio. “Katelyn even made sure that families whose children were on special diets received the specialized food that was needed to sustain these children too.”

She got her start at SAISD five years ago as a dispatcher before working her way up to routing supervisor.

“The whole pandemic was a surprise,” she says. “You never think you are going to go through something like that and then to actively have to think ‘Where do we go from here? What can we do to still service our students? What do we need to put into place to safely transport them?’ The lesson I have learned from the pandemic is to stay flexible and open to anything that may come my way. Instead of saying ‘No, I can’t do that,’ think ‘Maybe I can and here is how.’”

Saenz worked from home only after she and her family fell ill with COVID-19. Her husband, Andrew, got sick enough to require hospitalization.

“I was pretty sick with COVID and, unfortunately, I brought it home to my whole family,” she says. “My husband was the worst, though, with underlying health conditions. He had to go to the hospital and had developed pneumonia. Work was great, though, by allowing me the time off to recover and to work from home as needed until my family fully recovered.”

The ballet selection committee wrote in its statement about Saenz: “We chose Katelyn because we loved how she made it a priority to ensure kids, who were all distance learning at the time and not under her direct care, were guaranteed a meal each day. It’s clear that she puts others first and has an inviting spirit, even when times are tough.”

Saenz is excited, but nervous. Nothing has really prepared her for this role.

“I was in dance as a small child, but nothing that I think will really help with this performance,” she says. “I am very nervous about the upcoming performance, but as a supervisor I have done many training events speaking to a large crowd for our department, so I hope that will make me a little more comfortable on stage.”

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