In 1974, research from the University of Houston School of Social Work on programming with the intent of addressing the needs of Houston’s children, prompted a group of concerned and devoted citizens to establish the non-profit organization Houston Achievement Place (HAP).
HAP serves the community in two major ways. Since its initiation, HAP has served Houston’s abused and neglected children through foster care services, therapeutic foster care, and adoption services. While working with Child Protective Services, HAP serves nearly 160 children a year.
“The focus is children, and helping them be safe, cared for, and equipped with support and relationships in order to succeed,” said Paul Gilford, Executive Director of Houston Achievement Place.
The program has seen a lot of children through the most difficult time in their life and into a new established life with a caring family.
“Just yesterday, there was a married couple who adopted three Burmese children they had been fostering,” said Gilford. “It’s an amazing success story in that these kids have come from very unstable, victimized, and disadvantaged backgrounds and here they find a family that’s going to provide them permanency and love and the things we wish for all of our kids.”
Gilford attributes most of the success of their child placement program to the nearly 30 families that dedicate their lives to making lives better for these children.
In addition to their foster care services, HAP also runs a program called Project CLASS, which stands for Children Learning Appropriate Social Skills.
Project CLASS began in 1997 and only reached small groups of students in four schools. Although HAP realized the need for social skills training in children, the severity of the need was not realized until HAP first initiated the Project CLASS program and saw just how many students could benefit from the program.
Today Project CLASS serves about 30,000 children in 60 schools. Project CLASS is a constellation of training and program initiatives set to music and movements that help teachers and parents strengthen their teaching abilities to improve the social skills of their children and that help children develop core social skills in ways that are engaging, simple, and fun.
“Many of the kids are not learning ready when they go to school,” said Gilford. “There are many reasons for this; you know, 55 to 60 percent marriages end in divorce and what should be happening in the family is not happening in the family. And if it doesn’t happen in the family then it needs to happen in the community, churches, schools and so forth.”
“In a number of respects, what the schools are inheriting these days is not only the need to academically educate these kids but also, by default, to parent our community’s kids,” said Gilford. “So we collaborate with schools to basically equip the kids with core foundational skills: how to pay attention, how to follow instructions, how to have good eye contact, and basically how to e to get along with those around them in order to be learning ready.”
Project CLASS has had tremendous success for the children and teachers in the classrooms. With nearly 50 percent of a teacher’s time being focused on a student’s behavior, Project CLASS allows for most all of that time and energy to be redirected back on education.
HAP is currently in need of new members for their advisory board of directors and voting board of directors.
HAP will also be hosting an inaugural fundraising event at the Westin on December 1 and would appreciate the participation of Leader residents.