HOUSTON – If it takes a village to raise a child, the Center for Urban Transformation in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward is part of the new “village” headquarters.
“We’re not heroes in this effort. We are teammates, and we enjoy the work we’re doing,” said Henry Clemons, pastor at the nearly century-old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in the Fifth Ward and one of the “village” leaders.
Pleasant Hill Ministries, the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, Houston Habitat for Humanity, Legacy Community Health and the Berg and Androphy law firm founded and sit on the Board of Directors for CUT.
They teamed up with the Houston Independent School District and administrators at several Fifth Ward middle and high schools in mid-2019 to launch CUT’s first major initiative, the Juvenile Justice Diversion Program, offering students arrested on minor charges, or at risk for arrest, and their families a second chance.
“We cannot consistently put a Band-Aid on issues that affect our children,” Clemons said. “We must deal with it holistically.”
The 60 middle and high school students enrolled in the inaugural year of the program were evaluated and offered everything from access to laptops and Wi-Fi, therapy and employment advice, to food and hygiene products and free legal help.
“It’s life-changing,” said Viola Moore. “I got my son back This is a new beginning for us, as a family.”
“(Without the program), I believe my son would have got himself in more trouble, went back to jail or even lost his life,” she added. “It was very bad.”
An HISD review of the first year of the program found that attendance rates at school for the 60 students enrolled jumped, on average, from 77% to 82%, and in-school suspension dropped, on average, from 6.8 to 3.8 days per school year.
”It’s not enough to deal with them in the courtroom and get them out of a particular legal system,” Clemons said. “Getting them out of legal concerns, but not dealing with other issues, they’re likely to return to those same problems.”
This school year, a JJD representative said, the program will likely serve a total of 75 students, most of them from Wheatley High School and Reynolds and Fleming middle schools.
Dozens of partners and their generous donations of time and money make the program possible, Clemson said. Those partners include: Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, Houston Food Bank, Houston Furniture Bank and Salvation Army; Houston Public Library, Camp Cardiac, Workforce Solutions, Harris County Dispute Resolution Center; The Harris County DA’s Office, Legacy Community Health, Big Brothers Big Sisters, several churches and many others.
“You’re looking at a complete team of people,” Clemson said. “The truth of the matter is, I think that’s what we all need. … at some point in time, we find ourselves in a hole, and there’s someone who come along and give us a helping hand.”