HOUSTON – Recently, Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee andState Representative Harold Duttonparticipated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly constructed Wellness Center at the Julia C. Hester House. The Wellness Center’s main objective is to, “be utilized to improve the quality of life in the community.”
The Julia C. Hester House is a 71-year-old nonprofit settlement house and community center in the Fifth Ward area. Since its origin the community center has maintained one true mission. That Pre-mission has been to, “enhance the quality of life in Houston’s Fifth Ward and surrounding communities through programs and services that promote self-empowerment.” Furthermore, “it provides youth and senior services, as well as family and social services.” Although the Hester House has remained true to its mission, the services offered to many youth throughout the years has superseded it. Insomuch that great athletes, musicians, politicians, leaders, teachers and a plethora of other talents have walked through the doors of the Hester House.
Even now over three-score and ten years later, the Hester House is still continuing to lay foundations for the Fifth Ward community and neighboring youth. The opening of the Wellness Center which is a 24,535-square-foot facility has only added to the enhancement of the center that has served to be a revitalization tool for the Fifth Ward community. The Wellness Center includes: a gym, weight room and an enclosed, five-lane, 25-meter pool. This addition was provided for by a $4 million grant from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission secured by Representative Harold V. Dutton, Jr.. Dutton is especially grateful for the completion and opening of this facility for more reasons than one. He is one of the successful individuals that has came through the doors of the Hester House and knew how instrumental the center has played throughout the years to a slew of individuals. As Dutton embraced the podium his face was adorned with great delight and joy. He stated in response to the $4 million grant that he was able to attain that he’d told many, “We are going to build a community with this money.” Dutton went on to reveal that “We are going to start with the Hester House. But what we are building is not a building. What we are building is not an enclosed swimming pool. We are not building a health-and-fitness center. What we are building is community because I believe Hester House is the start of a rebuild of this community.” The gymnasium at the Wellness Center has been named in honor of the representative, it is the Harold V. Dutton Jr. Recreation Center.
Representative Dutton did not stand alone in his glee for the grand-opening of the Wellness Center. Harris County Precinct One’s Commissioner El Franco Lee, also a product of the Hester House was at the joyful occasion. Commissioner Lee reminisced back in the day when, “As kids, with our membership card in hand, we fully enjoyed the lifestyle at Hester House with the aid of strong and caring mentors.” He continued, “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 said. Lee’s Precinct One has also assisted in raising funds for the project and been an integral part of the constructing of the Wellness Center. For, it is through a partnership with the Hester House and Lee’s Precinct One that the it 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. Youth can participate in basketball, Learn to Swim and other programs. Additionally, the campus now also includes a 9-acre Boyce-Dorian Park that Precinct One now maintains. The pool located within the Wellness Center was named the Robert Tapscott Aquatic Center in honor of a former Hester House athletic director.
The opening of the Wellness Center proved to be a major success as well as a historical one. Amongst some of the accomplished leaders that the Hester House has produced was another success story. The center’s own Chairman, Mr. Charles E. McCloud he was raised only a couple of blocks from the settlement home. He informed the gathering that the center has always been a place for positive activities within the community. He said, “We grew up there. We played there. We did everything there. It’s been a difficult journey to get to where we are. But we have so much to be thankful for.” Additionally Executive Director, Mrs. Daisy Stiner exclaimed that the, “Hester House has a rich history in this community. It has been on the forefront of providing and meeting the needs of residents of Hester House, particularly our youth and seniors. This new building is just another example of the resource we will have available to continue the good work that’s been started.”
About the Julia C. Hester House
The intended name for the organization was to be the Houston Negro Community Center of the Fifth Ward. The name was inherited by a great teacher that during a harsh generation for African-Americans, took the time to unwillingly and selflessly devote her life and time to the Fifth Ward community.
The late Julia C. Hester was a teacher, who passed in 1940. In an era, where some may still have considered it a crime for Negroes to be educated; she went against the odds. Instead she opened up her home to youth within the community and educated them. Her efforts did not go unnoticed, as the center was named in her honor. What residents in the Houston and surrounding areas have come to know as the “Hester House” was originally opened on Lyons Avenue in 1941 by, “bi-racial committee”.
However, it was not until 1943 that the State of Texas assisted in the efforts that the group had established. Thus creating the Julia C. Hester House. It is important to denote that the settlement house has very historical values and ties to the Black community and has been that way since its inception. The Julia C. Hester House was the very first Black organization to receive funds from what most Houstonians know as the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast, yet in those days it was Houston’s Community Chest. As time went on and the community center begin to grow, help more and more individuals within its community and receive more funding change eventually came with those exertions. Hence, in 1949, the center was moved to 2020 Solo Street into that the organization had to pay rent to but instead into a facility that cost $150,000, where it is located today.