The Hester House stands as a beacon of hope for Fifth Ward community

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The Julia C. Hester House has been a gathering place that the Fifth Ward community has relied on for 76 years. Now, the center is turning to the community for help, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hester House was established in honor of Julia C. Hester, with the goal of uplifting the Fifth Ward community and its residents. The community center, which is a known staple for the neighborhood, provides meals, health, education and welfare programs for those in need.

"Centers like us make sure communities like the Fifth Ward continues to exist and thrive, despite COVID-19," Andrea Sankey, the director of development said. "We want to see the Fifth Ward community continue to thrive. We want to preserve the culture of this historically black community, while also welcoming and continuing to welcome the increased diversity that we're seeing in the area."

When the COVID-19 crisis hit Houston, the center had to close its doors for two weeks and change their strategy.

Recently, through the partnership of Harris County Precinct 1 and the Houston Food Bank, a food distribution has started operating from the center's parking lot. Volunteers on bikes also delivered some of the meals straight to elderly residents and families in the neighborhood on Tuesday.

Ashley Cohn, born and raised in Fifth Ward, said she started volunteering at the center while in college to help the children who rely on the center as an educational resource.

"It drew me to the kids because I grew that personal connection with some of them and also me being there helped them improve in their education, skills, sportsmanship," Cohn said.

Sankey said the Hester House is staying afloat right now, but it is not officially open to the public yet. The staff is hosting virtual learning classes and programs currently. However, Sankey said the need for food, job resources and essentials continues to grow. The Hester House is in need of volunteers and donations to help meet the needs of the community it calls home.

"We are grateful for the partnerships we have," Sankey said. "In order to expand, in order to continue to make the pivots that are necessary, not just for the short-term but the long-term effects of COVID-19, it's going to take funding. It's going to take partnerships."

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