Extra Credit

Spotlight: 3 Nonprofits Enriching the Lives of Local Students

Local nonprofits provide enriching cocurricular programs to Houston’s youth through art, nutrition, and literature.

By Brianna Benitez, Jessica Lodge, and Alexia Partouche Published in the Fall 2022 issue of Houstonia Magazine

While schools across Houston do their best to offer students access to an inspiring, high-quality education, a lack of resources, systemic barriers, and other challenges disproportionately affect Houston’s underserved communities and students. To ensure that younger generations have the foundation they need to pursue an equitable and sustainable lifestyle, a variety of nonprofits have stepped up to assist communities with cocurricular programs across the city. 

Through art, food education, and literary programs, these local educational nonprofits are just a few of the organizations working to enhance the lives and outlook of all Houston-area students and their surrounding communities.

Kids at Recipe for Success learn about nutrition and cooking.

Recipe for Success

The culinary arts may not be the first thing that you think of when it comes to pre-K through fifth-grade extracurriculars. But Houston-based nonprofit Recipe for Success is changing that. Founded in 2005 by Gracie and Bob Cavnar, the nonprofit aims to combat childhood obesity by helping children foster a healthy relationship with their food every step of the way, from the garden to the plate.

“In 2006, the surgeon general advised that the easiest path to better health was simply to eat more vegetables,” Gracie Cavnar says. “Over the last 17 years, we have worked to help people do that by designing, testing, and activating our full vision of programs, which have touched and changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people of all ages in Houston and beyond, particularly children.”

The foundation’s signature program, Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education, guides kids ages 4 to 11 through the entire food cycle by partnering with local chefs, gardeners, and nutritionists. Children learn the basics of nutrition, how to create flavor combinations when cooking, and how to prepare their own healthy meals and snacks. The benefits extend far beyond the immediate experience. Children who participate eat up to 30 percent more vegetables, cook more often at home, and pay better attention in class than their peers.

With such an impact, it’s no surprise that Recipe for Success was recognized by former President Barack Obama and has expanded across the country. Thirteen elementary schools host Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education in Houston, and you can always campaign to add yours to the list through the foundation’s affiliate program. 4400 Yupon St

 

HTX Art is on a mission to give access to quality art education to disadvantaged youth.

HTX Art

With exhibits and outdoor art blooming across the city, it’s no secret that Houston is home to a diverse and robust art scene. However, while art may be easy to find across the city, it’s not as easy for all communities to access a quality art education. With a mission to empower Houstonians creatively, Veronica “Roni” Cabrera-Moreno launched HTX Art, an organization providing art programs to disadvantaged youth across the city.

Growing up in Eastex-Jensen, Cabrera did not enjoy access to quality art education in school. Still, she began creatively expressing herself after her artistic father died when she was 12 years old, and she later became a working artist in her own right—she’s the creative force behind several large murals across Houston. 

Cabrera started her empowerment initiative in December 2020 through the Art Bus, a school bus that she and her family remodeled to function as a mobile art studio. The bus, which features stools, easels, and art supplies, travels to underserved communities across Houston. More recently, the bus has appeared at city events, including Freedom Over Texas, and it raises funds for community outreach in part by serving as a rental for special events and parties. 

In 2021, Cabrera and her family were featured on the Kelly Clarkson Christmas Special and received a $100,000 donation to expand the work of the Art Bus. With the funding, Cabrera launched Art in the HEART, a brick-and-mortar community art center in Eastex-Jensen that provides creative resources and also functions as a space where families and seniors can express themselves through art. During the center’s grand opening May 28, Mayor Sylvester Turner proclaimed the date as Art in the HEART Day.

Cabrera continues to provide opportunities for underserved communities by ensuring that arts and cultural experiences remain present and accessible across Houston. Just keep an eye out for the big yellow Art Bus in a community near you. 8321 Jensen Dr

 

Writers in the Schools (WITS) initiatives include in-class creative writing residencies, free bimonthly poetry slams, open mics, workshops, and summer-long creative writing camps across the greater Houston area, in partnership with the Rice Early Literacy Center. 

Writers in the Schools

As technology continues to change, the world changes with it. An unfortunate side effect of an understandable increase in STEM-based educational programs has been a loss of emphasis on the fundamental importance of reading and writing—in some cases, limiting the creative spaces for kids to express themselves and their experiences.

“As our precious, resilient children adapt to our changing environment and bring their full selves to school, with all their potential and vulnerability, we want to welcome them into a creative, innovative place of good,” says Angela Flowers, Writers in the Schools (WITS) executive director. “Wonderful creative spaces bring magic and healing and voice and power to our children. It’s that important.”

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this fall, the WITS program is helping K-12 students get back to the basics. With a mission of revolutionizing the literary arts, the program educates students in the art of writing, encourages them to continuously practice the skill of storytelling, and helps create opportunities for innovation. By emphasizing critical thinking and supporting the work that teachers and students are already doing in the classroom, WITS aims to evolve the way that reading and writing are taught to foster competency, self-expression, and joy. 

The group’s initiatives include in-class creative writing residencies, free bimonthly poetry slams, open mics, workshops, and summer-long creative writing camps across the greater Houston area, in partnership with the Rice Early Literacy Center. Students can also be part of the award-winning youth slam poetry team, MetaFour Houston. 

At base, it comes down to sharing the power of stories and storytelling to transport and transform. Thankfully for Houstonians, we still have our WITS about us, and they’re here to help. 1414 Sul Ross St

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