Community of Resources
Filling the gaps in HISD schools
If you’re a Buzz reader, you most likely read the magazine in your home, maybe sitting in a comfy chair, maybe with a drink and a snack. Or maybe you stand over the kitchen counter, flipping through the pages before making dinner.
Just around the corner, closer than we think, there are thousands of HISD students who don’t have food in their kitchens. They might not even have a kitchen to call their own.
That is what prompted two book-club friends, Kay Wasden and Anne Furse, to found Community of Resources Houston. COR is a nonprofit dedicated to providing HISD schools and students with basic needs like toothpaste, underwear, and bath soap.
Kay, an accomplished pianist and accompanist for groups like Houston Grand Opera and Rice University, says Covid set her down the path of creating the nonprofit. “That first year,” she says, “there was nothing at all going on in music. Then, the kids were getting ready to go off to college.” Ben is now a junior at The University of Texas at Austin, and Kate is attending medical school in Boston. Like so many new empty-nesters, Kay says, “I was looking for something.”
She found herself at a book-club gathering, talking to other moms about the college-prep books sitting around their houses. “They are quite expensive, so we thought we would give them to a needy school. I volunteered to take them.”
A Meyerland resident, Kay reached out to Westbury High School and Fondren Middle School. She was directed to “wraparound resource” specialists. “I didn’t know anything about this, but it’s a term HISD uses to talk about the people who help with nonacademic issues and needs affecting kids’ academics, like if they didn’t have access to Wi-Fi, or if parents died during Covid, situations like that. If a parent was incarcerated. It’s kind of a new concept to address these needs. After Covid, every HISD school currently has one.”
Anne Furse volunteered to help Kay deliver the books. “We were introduced to two wraparound specialists, we toured the school [Westbury], gave them the books. They asked if we would like to get involved, and we asked what was needed. They had some ideas, and we got EHS and Shell to donate some computers.” (Kay’s children graduated from Episcopal High School, and her sister-in-law Carol Wasden is Director of Admission and Financial Aid there. Her husband Fred is retired from Shell.)
A week later, the freeze of 2021 happened. “One of the wraparound specialists we met texted me in all caps WE NEED FOOD AND WATER,” Kay says. “They had families suffering. I showed the text to my husband, and we were both taken aback. Of course we brought stuff over to Fondren [Middle School], and then Westbury.
“Then we asked the schools What do you really need? They said hygiene supplies, socks. Fondren asked us to collect dress shirts and ties, because there are kids who’ve never had access to those. Now they have sort of a clothing pantry, where parents can come if they have a job interview or a funeral or something like that.”
In June 2022, Kay and Anne officially created COR Houston as a nonprofit to benefit underserved HISD schools and students. “We doubled our volunteers from two to four,” Kay says, adding that her friend Nancy Hosman wanted to help, and Nancy’s friend Kathleen Holt joined soon after. Another friend, Anne Hutton, signed on to help with bookkeeping.
“We did a lot of research as we went through the nonprofit application process,” Kay says. “We asked questions like ‘Is this worth doing?’ and ‘Is anyone else doing this?’ We decided it was worth pursuing. Nobody is filling in the missing pieces for each school. We’d be filling a gap.”
When COR began, HISD had 274 schools, with 254 of them being Title 1, meaning 40 percent or more of students qualify for free lunches. “There are only 20 HISD schools that are not Title 1,” Kay says. “Isn’t that shocking?” At 183 of the schools, at least 90 percent of students qualify for free lunches.
Today, COR serves more than 90 schools. “Ideally,” Kay says, “we will be in all of the 183 schools by the end of the year.”
The COR team is looking for more support. “We are constantly applying for grants,” Kay says. Kathleeen hosted a big Christmas party last year and asked friends to bring items on schools’ wish lists. They collected thousands of items to donate. “When we get money,” Kay says, “we buy things on the lists and give them to the schools that need it.”
Iveth Reyes has been a wraparound specialist at Braeburn Elementary for five years. “We have a lot of immigrants who have just arrived,” she says. “If a parent loses their job, they won’t qualify for food stamps if the children aren’t citizens. It’s nice to be able to fill those needs without asking for documentation.
“With insecurities at home, we see behavior issues at school. When the children see ‘these people are helping me not just with homework but also that I’m getting fed at home and have warm, clean clothes,’ they feel safe here. We see improvements. Not miracles, but improvements.”
Kay says one specialist sent her photos of a child’s feet in the “before and after” shoes. “There was such a huge difference in size,” Kay says. “I wondered how that poor kid was even walking before.” Another specialist reported that a little boy was given a small can of playdough. The teacher told him he could bring it home, and he teared up and said, “I can keep this?”
“It’s so easy to give stuff,” Kay says. “We live in an area of town in a city where so many people have an excess of stuff. When we were first asked for deodorant, I thought I have five in my drawer. I have a bunch of toothbrushes.
“Stuff doesn’t fix everything. But it’s an easy thing to fix.”
Community of Resources: By the Numbers
In its first year of operations, COR distributed:
17 inflatable beds and bedding
818 bags of rice and beans
1,431 cans of food
1,712 cans of deodorant
2,054 pairs of underwear
2,411 pantry staples
7,050 feminine hygiene products
$100 will provide:
1 inflatable bed with bedding OR
4 food packs of pantry staples OR
9 pairs of shoes OR
100 pairs of underwear OR
10 deodorants, 20 bars of soap, and 12 tubes of toothpaste
$5,000 will provide:
100 food packs of pantry staples, 525 pairs of underwear, and 15 inflatable beds with bedding OR
450 pairs of shoes OR
500 cans of deodorant, 200 uniform shirts, 100 pairs of pants, 200 bars of soap, 200 tubes of toothpaste, 300 toothbrushes, and 200 pairs of socks
To learn more about COR Houston, see corhouston.org. To donate items or volunteer, email [email protected] to arrange a pick-up or drop-off. Some most-needed items are new deodorant, shampoo, and conditioner, toothpaste, unopened packs of underwear (all sizes), and new tennis shoes (sized kids’ 12 to 5 and adult 5 and up).
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