‘This is full circle’

The death of a mother changes everything. So when Angela Phillips’ grandmother died, the family stability of her mother and her eight siblings was in jeopardy.

Phillips' great-grandmother stepped up and cared for the children. But she needed help, so she turned to Buckner Orphans Home in Dallas. The family loaded up in the car each Sunday for years and drove to the campus for a variety of help – anything from food to clothes. 

“That was just a staple for the family to keep it together,” Phillips said. “It really was.”

Thirty years later, Phillips was looking for a place where she could volunteer and help children when she learned about the Buckner Family Hope Center at Reed Road in Houston.

“When I learned it was the same organization, I just said, ‘This is full circle. I have got to serve this organization.’”

Phillips helps children with their homework and reading skills each week during the Family Hope Center’s after-school program. The initiative serves vulnerable children who live with their families as part of the Star of Hope community, which serves the impoverished.

Children who live in poverty are more likely to fall behind their peers academically, especially during the summer break between school years, and the Family Hope Center’s after-school program stands in the gap for the children it serves. Some of the children at the center are reading at least two grade levels below where they should.

As a teacher, dyslexia interventionist and soon-to-be assistant principal, Phillips knows it’s nearly impossible for teachers to fit everything they need to teach in the time allotted. Tutoring helped her children make it through school. Now Phillips is helping others do likewise.

“As a volunteer here, I tutor,” she said. “And it's funny, I walked through the door, and Carson, I've only tutored him twice, he says, ‘I have homework.’ And I said, ‘Boy come on in here, and let's get this homework done.’ But, I have a passion for tutoring. I've always been that teacher that rallied and recruited other teachers to tutor.”

Phillips goes beyond the Family Hope Center to advocate for the children as well, even visiting with leaders at the Houston Independent School District about ways to help.

“These children are living in a shelter,” she said. “They're having trouble reading. That's two horrible strikes. We need to get these children the help.”

The Family Hope Center opened last fall and is learning where students are academically and how to best help. Phillips admits at this point, she’s “drilling and killing” work with the students to help them through the school year. But this summer, large gains will occur.

“I think during the summer we can put some real intervention in place, because I'll have the data; the district has agreed to release the data to me,” Phillips said. “And I can know specifically where they are, and we can work on those gaps over the summer.

“I hope to get students on grade level. And I know that is possible with the right resources and right people in place. I know that it could happen because I've seen it happen.”

Phillips knows each step these children take academically greatly increases their chance at a better future.

“If you can't read, you aren't going to function properly in life,” she said. “You are not going to be a productive citizen, point blank period. So, why not catch it now.”

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