J.C. Hester House Sparks Future Aspirations with County Connections Grant

Children participate in an activity at Julia C. Hester House, a community center in Houston's Fifth Ward on July 26, 2023. Hester House was awarded a $20,000 County Connections grant in 2023. Funding for the County Connections Project is provided by Harris County and administered by the Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids or CASE for Kids, a division of Harris County Department of Education.

Every student’s idea of a summer well spent is different. For incoming fifth grader Karli Win, summer camp at the Julia C. Hester House is an opportunity to participate in new experiences and sharpen her skills in the classroom. During a recent field trip to Prairie View A&M University, it was an inspiration for the possibilities ahead.  

Karli Win creates a catapult during a hands-on activity with the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

“I want to go there now! I really enjoyed seeing the campus with my friends and visiting the dorms,” Win said with a smile.  

This year, Harris County Department of Education’s (HCDE) County Connections Youth Summer Initiative awarded J.C. Hester House a $20,000 grant to supplement the needs of its students. Funding for the enrichment curriculum is approved by Harris County Commissioners and administered to vetted programs by HCDE’s Center for Afterschool, Summer, and Enrichment for Kids (CASE for Kids).  

In the heart of the Fifth Ward, J.C. Hester House partners with community members for an eight-week program that keeps pre-K to fifth-grade students engaged in literacy and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities.   

Every week throughout the summer, the camp’s more than 40 students enjoy visits from the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Harris County Precinct One Constable deputies, and the Harris County Public Library’s Curiosity Cruiser. The mobile library offers a free book every week to each student in the camp. The collaborations positively influence students, expose them to career opportunities, and provide a nurturing environment for learning and growth.  

“We try to keep their minds stimulated throughout the summer,” said Ashley Khan, the youth service manager at J.C. Hester House. “This program isn’t just a refresher course. It’s where we challenge our students and prepare them for the next level.”  

Khan describes the 2023 County Connections grant as essential to their program.   “I’m not sure we would be able to keep the doors open without the help of CASE for Kids and the County Connections grant,” said Khan. “We consider it a privilege to help our kids.”  

Grant funds allowed the program to supplement staffing, purchase materials and supplies for activities, and create field trip opportunities to places such as Discovery Green, Lake Houston Wilderness Park, and the visit to Prairie View A&M.

“Our kids are young, but they already have college on their minds,” exclaimed Khan. “This grant allowed us to expand our students’ minds to a world outside of Fifth Ward. They were excited to visit Prairie View A&M, and that gives me hope for their future!”  

To prevent learning loss between academic school years, known as the “summer slide,” Khan works with district teachers to gauge where her students need extra help and provide daily instruction on reading, writing, and mathematics. The curriculum proves successful for students.  

“I was struggling with long division when I got here, but not anymore,” said Win. “We’ve been doing minute math problems, and they really helped. Now when I go back to school, I won’t get stuck on as many problems.”      

J.C. Hester Houston Youth Development Manager Ashley Khan helps a student create a catapult.

J.C. Hester House’s youth development program imparts valuable skills and knowledge to benefit students in the upcoming school year and exposes them to paths for a brighter future.

“I’m always helping my friends with their work, so I’m going to be a teacher like Mrs. Ashley,” Win smiled. “They make learning fun here, and I want to do that for students one day.”

To learn more about County Connections, visit hcde-texas.org/county-connections.

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