Story by Hope Goldman. Video by Jennie Trejo. Photos provided by Heart House.
Dallas Doing Good has had the privilege of partnering with the Communities Foundation of Texas for North Texas Giving Day over the past few years, but this year, we are doing it Texas BIG. It is the 15th anniversary of the largest community giving event in the nation, so we have selected 15 organizations to highlight leading up to Giving Day on September 21. Early giving kicked off on September 1.
Using education and relationships as tools for success, one local nonprofit is committed to helping those with the odds stacked against them– refugee, immigrant, and low-income children in the Vickery Meadow neighborhood of Dallas.
Heart House provides a safe place where students can study after school and in the summer. They provide academic programming and enrichment through hands-on STEAM-based and literacy-based activities.
Beyond that, Heart House is committed to helping these children with the emotional aspects of all they are dealing with and offers social-emotional learning opportunities such as breathing exercises and yoga.
“There is so much need,” says Heart House Executive Director Shannon Hendricks. “So many kids, regardless of their socioeconomic status, are currently facing many social-emotional issues, especially coming out of the pandemic. We’re seeing academic gaps as well, but when you compare that with the other experiences that the children in Vickery Meadow have encountered, such as fleeing their home country or continuing to live in impoverished conditions, that just surmounts the amount of trauma and academic gaps they have.”
Heart House has positioned itself to be the support that so many families in the area need for their children to thrive and succeed educationally, relationally, and emotionally through their mobile, after-school program, and summer learning program.
Using guiding principles for trauma-informed care, Heart House has created a model of learning that addresses the Head, the Heart, and the Hands (H3) of every child they are entrusted to care for.
“Our day begins when the kids get out of school,” Shannon says. They make sure the kids get an afternoon snack, time for play before and after learning activities, age-appropriate help with their homework, a guided learning activity (such as an art project, a science experiment, a literacy task, etc.), and some mindfulness activities before the kids are picked up three hours later.
Summer months follow a similar format, with two exceptions– Heart House replaces homework with projects such as career exploration days, and the program extends to four hours a day.
Remaining flexible and yet consistent is a top priority for Shannon and Heart House, especially in the midst of ever-changing needs. “We see different apartment complexes having a higher concentration of refugee kids due to the agencies that help them locate housing,” Shannon says.
According to Shannon, the competitive housing market in Dallas makes it so that placing agencies are having challenges finding homes for refugees, and that changes the neighborhood demographics. “Keeping up with that as an organization and learning how we can be fluid enough to shift with (these changes) and yet concrete enough to be relevant and discoverable by the clients that need us (is a huge challenge),” she says.
Many of the families who use the programming Heart House offers find them through their placing agencies or word of mouth. For others, Heart House finds them.
“We are canvassing the neighborhoods in the areas where we are having programming this year,” Shannon says. Heart House will be posting flyers at nearby apartment complexes and schools. They will also be hosting events outside the Vickery Park Ranch Library, raising awareness for those who would benefit from the after-school programming.
Children are welcome to stay in the program from kindergarten all the way through eighth grade, which makes consistency and quality in teachers and volunteers all the more important. Because the teaching staff is small, leadership is able to dedicate specialized attention to the strengths and weaknesses of each individual teacher and can bring in training specialists to focus on specific skills for each teacher.
“It’s very impactful both on the programming and the kids to have consistent adults in their lives,” Shannon says.
As Heart House gears up for the school year and North Texas Giving Day, consistency and partnership are crucial themes for Shannon. She believes North Texas Giving Day is a great opportunity for the nonprofit sector, especially the smaller entities, to increase their visibility.
“For those who know about us, please share about us. Let friends know that you’ve chosen Heart House to give to. Every gift, no matter how small or how big, matters,” Shannon says.
Shannon says that your gift this North Texas Giving Day could help provide anything from a snack for a child all the way to curriculum resources and well-trained teaching staff that work with the children.
“Our donors are investors,” Shannon explains. “I want them to develop a relationship with us, and I want to develop relationships with them so that they can see first-hand the impact their dollars have on what we’re doing. We get our kids here from kindergarten through 8th grade so that consistency really goes a long way.”
Heart House is excited for what their future holds as they sit down under the new leadership of Shannon and plan for future years. In the midst of changes and challenges, Heart House is committed to remaining relevant and present in the lives of the children and families they serve.
They are looking for community members to partner with them in their mission of using education to combat poverty and promote equity, and they welcome you to join the mission.