HOUSTON - The Julia C. Hester House has been a lifeline for many in the Fifth Ward community for more than 77 years.
“Minorities, in particular, need to be acutely aware that they are the ones who hold up their institutions; they are primarily responsible for that,” says Dr. Ruth Simmons, President of Prairie View A&M University.
The non-profit center offers early childhood education, fitness programs, and senior outreach, mostly for free in an underserved area where COVID-19 has taken neighbors and funding. But Hester House programs, like food distribution, keep going.
Dr. Simmons recalls the place where she spent much of her childhood.
“My parents allowed me to walk those few blocks to Hester House to have access to things that I otherwise would not have had access to. Really, my entire family enjoyed the services- my brothers learned to play basketball there, my sisters and I went to use the library there. We learned to play the piano.”
She went on to become a French professor, attend Harvard, and serve as President of Smith College and the first African-American to lead an Ivy League school at Brown University.
She returned to Houston a few years ago to take on her current role as the first female president of Prairie View A&M.
“During deeply segregated times here in the city, to realize how much I was helped in a very troubled period by so many generous people - I wanted to go back to the place that really nourished me,” she says.
And she didn't come back empty-handed. Her successful siblings, who also went to Hester House, include Clarence Stubblefield who became the winningest high school coach in Houston.
Together, they provided a surprise donation of $100,000 to the place that gave them a head start.
“I wanted to go back to do two things. First, to say how grateful we all are for what Hester House did for us as a family. Secondly, just to say we need this organization, and others like it, continuing because we still have children who don't have resources at home.”
Hester House says the donation will help keep their programs going. The auditorium will also be renamed after Dr. Simmons’s parents, Fannie and Isaac Stubblefield.
“You made a difference in my life, and now it's my turn to try to help your institution,” adds Simmons.
She hopes the donation will encourage others to make sacrifices and reach back to help sustain civic services, and possibly nurture a young person like her into a better future.
To learn more about Hester House, click here.