A Beacon of Opportunity
At the end of the ceremony on Friday, October 24th, the buzz of intermittent conversation crescendoed into the roar of applause. The energy in the room was palpable throughout the morning’s remarks—community members had gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the recently constructed Wellness Center at the Julia C. Hester House, a 71-year-old nonprofit community center in the Fifth Ward. Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee and state Rep. Harold V. Dutton, Jr., alongside board members and community leaders, cut the ribbon to commemorate the center’s opening.
The 24,535-square-foot Wellness Center—which includes a gym, a weight room and an enclosed, five-lane, 25-meter pool—was constructed with a Texas Health and Human Services Commission $4 million grant secured by Dutton, whose roots are deeply embedded in Houston’s Fifth Ward community, where he grew up in Kelly Courts. As a child, he spent countless hours at the Julia C. Hester House, which he would later end up leading as executive director—he is now serving his 15th term in the Texas House of Representatives. Lee, who also participated in the Hester House programs when he was growing up, also raised funds for construction of the Wellness Center.
“For many of us, our Hester House membership cards were our admission to a ‘brighter future’ simply because we felt safe and secure in knowing that the staff cared about our welfare,” said Lee, who proudly states that the Julia C. Hester House served as a home away from home throughout his childhood. “Hester House taught us youngsters skills in the pool, on the field, on the court, in the classroom, as well as social skills for both mind and body.”
“Hester House will again serve as a beacon of opportunity to teach, train and expose our kids to a quality environment that will help prepare for quality adult lifestyles,” he added.
Through a partnership with the Hester House, Lee’s Precinct One will incorporate some of its youth and seniors’ programs at the community center. Senior citizens can enjoy exercise classes, weight training, water aerobics and Learn to Swim sessions while youth members can participate in basketball, Learn to Swim and other programs.
The Hester House—named after the late Julia C. Hester, a teacher who opened her home to neighborhood youth—opened in 1943 on Lyons Avenue and about six years later moved to 2020 Solo St., where it continues to operate in a renovated main building, as well as in the Wellness Center.
“Our programs’ main focus is to provide services and activities that promote and enhance wellness and alertness of both body and mind,” concluded Lee. “Plans are to have the Hester House serve as a starting point to provide positive resources with an array of relevant services that will enhance the quality of life for youth, teens, young adults and senior citizens.”
“With the addition of the state-of-the-art Wellness Center that includes a gym, indoor pool and weight room, Hester House is well equipped to serve the community,” he added. “It’s still the Julia C. Hester House—only more enhanced.”