By Alanté Millow, Howard University News Service
Posted 12:50 PM EST, Sat., Nov. 12, 2016
Several homeless children offered to pump D.C. resident Karin Walser’s gas in exchange for any spare change in 1989. She didn’t have any cash. So she offered to take them to the zoo instead. This act sparked the creation of Horton’s Kids, a nonprofit organization built to empower at-risk children in southeast D.C.’s subsidized housing apartment complex, Wellington Park.
“We meet the basic needs of children: we provide about 35,000 meals per year, we provide vision screenings, we provide coats in the winter, and meals at Thanksgiving and hats in the summertime,” said Billy Fetweis, development director of Horton’s Kids.
Children are provided hands on help, such as tutoring and mentorship, to help them succeed in their education. The same opportunities Walser once offered, like field trips, are still given to the children as enrichment to broaden their horizons.
Horton’s Kids started with Walser and her friends volunteering their time to mentor and tutor these children and has since expanded to a community resource center in the Wellington Park community. Built with bulletproof safe materials, children are safely provided meals, school supplies and access to computers.
“We work with some of the most at risk children in Washington D.C. and empower them to graduate from high school ready for college, career and life,” Fetweis said.
Since these programs have been implemented, the Wellington Park community has seen a significant change.
According to Fetweis, Horton’s Kids works with about 500 children in the neighborhood, many of whose families’ income does not surpass $10,000 annually, and the program’s high school graduation rates have more than doubled the neighborhood’s average.
Horton’s Kids partners federal agencies that provide space for programs free of charge, as well as help recruit volunteers. The organization was offered space in the Rayburn House Office Building in 2001, and was invited to use the space for a third tutoring day by the United States Department of Education in 2004. Ten years later, Horton’s Kids was offered a partnership with the Department of Transportation to provide evening tutoring specifically for the older youth in the community.
“We’ve all worked hard to expand our organization, so we can reach more children and give them even more resources to use,” youth development director of Horton’s Kids Jina Simmons said.
Though Horton’s Kids has expanded into an organization with several staff members on board, volunteers are still essential to community outreach.
“We still get hundreds of volunteers every year,” Fetweis said. “We definitely retained that volunteer spirit that is so central to where our identity began,” he said. Those interested in helping out at Horton’s Kids are encouraged to visit their website at https://www.hortonskids.org/.