Holiday Joy: When a Child Needs Help This Christmas: Local Children’s Charity Provides for Underserved Kids.
By Clarence Walker
“If a child is stealing your lunch that child is hungry!” said Laura Ward, President and CEO of Houston Children’s Charities(HCC), a nonprofit program. Nevertheless did Ward know that the incident involving the thief who stole her lunch on different occasions would propel her many years later to make the ultimate sacrifices to help children beyond her dreams. In 1996, 25 years, and two months ago, since its founding, the Houston Children’s Charity adapted to the city’s changing landscape, and, the charity always found unique ways to meet the needs of abused children, disabled children, children without clothes, school supplies, toys; all of whom without access to much needed resources. As one of its seven founders, Ward said the story is one of collaboration. This year the Charity group donated thousands of Christmas toys and special gifts to children in need. Now it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Houston, Texas. Laura Ward’s motto is “Our Kids Are Everybody’s Kids.” https://houstonchildrenscharity.org/
The group partners with more than 300 local agencies to find the “children who are falling through the cracks,” she said. When the coronavarius pandemic struck the nation many charity groups faced undaunted challenges. Houston Rockets NBA owner Tilman Fertitta and entertainment mogul Gary Becker hold leadership roles at HCC. Ward is a rock star herself by raising more than $100 million for underserved children. Aside from helping the underpriviledge Ward ranks among the city’s top fundraising executives.
When the coronavarius pandemic struck the nation many charity groups faced undaunted challenges. “The need was more than any of us collectively have been able to meet in the last several years,” Ward explained to news media outlets in the Houston area. Yet despite the shortages the HCC still went the extra miles to make sure children had their needs met.
Annual Christmas Toy Drive(2022)
Houston Children’s Charity has two thriving programs during the Holiday Season. Through the Charity’s Adopt-A-Family and the Annual Toy Distribution, the programs help thousands of families in need in Houston/Harris County including the Greater Houston area. The Adopt-A-Family program has grown tremendously due to the support of the Houston community which allows the charity’s sponsors the opportunity to put their own personal touch on Christmas with face-to-face interactions while making Christmas miracles happen!
Since 2008, HCC has teamed with the U.S. Marine Toys for Tots program to provide toys for underserved children. Since 2010, Houston First Corporation has granted 115,000 square feet of space in the George R. Brown Convention Center to host the program’s Annual Toy Distribution. As a result of both partnerships, HCC has been able to help tens of thousands of children during the Holiday Season. Houston Children’s Charity was founded in 1996 by Ward and seven other people who were already involved in philanthropy but were looking for a more flexibility to address what they saw as the most pressing needs locally, Ward said.
The nonprofit provides clothing through an in-house closet program; it raises funding for the Texas Children’s Hospital; and it runs a donation drive every Christmas to collect toys. Over the years, new programs have been implemented based on needs in the community, Ward said. After years of focusing on collecting toys and clothing, a pressing need for beds spurred the launch of the “A Better Night’s Sleep program.”
“Year after year for about three years, when I would be manning the phones, … so many of the parents would say to me, ‘Could we get a bed?’” Ward recalled. “After about three years of telling people we don’t have a bed program, I thought, ‘Why don’t we have a bed program?’ Because evidently nobody else has one either.” After two to three years of learning the best ways to collect and distribute beds, the nonprofit now has a program in place through a partnership with Texas Mattress Makers that provides beds to 100 children each month. Still, roughly 1,300 children remain on the waitlist, Ward stated.
A mother named Jeanette wrote a heart-touching sentiment on the Charity’s website, “I’m just writing to say thank you so much for the beds. My kids no longerhave to sleep on the floor. They love their beds.”
Houston Children’s Charity website details Laura Ward’s life story:
Growing up in rural Crowley, La., Ward and her eight siblings didn’t have to look far to spot the devastating effects of poverty, especially on their fellow youth. After graduating from LSU, she returned to the impoverished community to serve a brief stint as a librarian, during which time her sack lunch would disappear from her desk drawer on a daily basis. “It was then that I realized we had kids who were so hungry, they would steal to eat,” Ward says. “It was horrific for me, and I knew when I was able, I would work for the children who didn’t have what they needed.”
An integral part of Houston Children’s Charity since its inception in 1996, Ward has visited hundreds of homes to perform due diligence and assess true need. Her staggering observations – from infants snuggled in dresser drawers to trios of toddlers sleeping side-by-side on a single twin-size mattress to grade schoolers huddled into refrigerator boxes turned makeshift cots – directly impacted the development of its much-needed programs, which include “A Better Night’s Sleep,” “Chariots for Children,” “Back2School,” “HCC Closet” and “Toys for Tots.”
On any given month, the nonprofit organization maintains waitlists of up to 800 kids without beds and 80 households in need of safe and efficient transportation. Still, even in a year of pandemic-related challenges, Ward and her team have pressed on. Using a contactless drive-thru system, they have provided over 1,000 beds, complete with sheets, blankets and pillows, to bedless children and 15 wheelchair-accessible vans, at $36,000 each, to deserving families – not to mention, backpacks full of age-appropriate supplies to 3,000 students, clothing to families at no cost, holiday toys to over 12,000 youngsters and more.
“My favorite part of the job is when all of our efforts culminate on a distribution day,” Ward says. “The kids come with their parents, and they are so excited. They jump up and down like most kids do when you take them to a candy store.”
An inspiring leader, Ward has contributed her time and expertise to numerous charitable events over the years, while working with various local philanthropic organizations, such as the Arbor School, Houston Furniture Bank, and the Houston Police Foundation. Among her countless accolades, she has been inducted into the Greater Houston Women’s Hall of Fame, named one of the city’s 50 most influential women by Houston Woman Magazine, designated a “Most Admired CEO” by the Houston Business Journal, and most recently, honored at the Easter Seals Greater Houston’s 20th-annual “Hats Off to Mothers” luncheon.
Recognizing that “need never takes a vacation,” Ward’s unwavering dedication to improving the well-being of Houston’s underserved youth has made her a true champion of the lifelong cause. With contagious enthusiasm and passionate perseverance, she has built an impeccable reputation among an ever-widening circle of loyal advocates and friends.
With six or more people on staff, Houston Children’s Charity relies heavily on volunteers to keep operations moving, Ward said. Those looking to help the organization can fill out a volunteer form or make donations online, she said.
After 25 years, Ward said she hears the calling to help children louder than ever.
“My mission is to care for children,” she said. “That’s what I do and do best.”
Since its founding, Houston Children’s Charity has helped local families in numerous ways, that include the following:
- 245 vans distributed for families of disabled, wheelchair-using children
- 80,000 toys distributed to children every holiday season
- School supplies given to over 40,000 students
- 30,000 articles of clothing, shoes and accessories provided
- $100,000 awarded every year in support of families at Texas Children’s Hospital
- 25,000 children have received mattresses, box springs, frames, pillows and blankets
- Provides support to more than 300 partner agencies across Houston
- More than 3.5 million children impacted in total
On the homepage of HCC, President and CEO Laura Ward mission statement says, “WIth rising costs on everyday needs our families will continue to look to Houston Children’s Charity to support their children. And while the year will bring unforeseen challenges, we know you will be there to support our efforts and our clients because “Our Kids Are Everybody’s Kids.”
Ward ascribes her philantrophy to the incisive words of Mother Theresa, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
Merry Christmas and may God continue to bless all people who gave unconditionally to help those in need during the holidays of 2022.