When nonprofit Summerhouse Houston moved to the Spring Branch District from the Heights in 2019, it was looking forward to having more space at a new 4,620-square-foot building at 1424 Waseca.

“We are so cramped in our current space,” Summerhouse CEO and Executive Director Michelle Howard-Herbein said at the time. “We are so excited to move!”

Board members

Board members

But it didn’t take long for the growing program to need more space once again. This time, they are not planning to move, but instead plan to expand.

Moving to Spring Branch allowed the program serving young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities to increase its member base and add additional critical services, including finding competitive jobs in the community for its clients.

As a result of its successes, Summerhouse is experiencing unprecedented demand for the group’s customized job placement, coaching and employment services.

To meet the demand, Summerhouse started “Employment First: A Campaign for Summerhouse Houston,” an initiative to raise $800,000 for the construction of a second building on the Spring Branch campus.

Kimberly Miller, community relations director for SummerHouse Houston, said the organization has completed the fundraising phase and will begin construction in mid-July. And the construction work will be handled by a local company.

“We have partnered with Forney Construction (8945 Long Point Rd.), a stellar Spring Branch firm, and Q Studio Group architectural firm,” she said.

Summerhouse Houston was founded by Donna Fruge when her daughter, Summer, was finishing high school in a special education program. As she was trying to figure out what should come next for her daughter, Fruge toured programs all over the city. She wasn’t happy with what she saw.

Summer clients

“She wanted better for Summer — a program that offered vocational training, real employment and involvement in the community,” Howard-Herbein said.

From that vision, Fruge and her husband bought a house in The Heights and started “The Summerhouse.” Several of Summer’s friends from high school joined, and the program got a reputation for challenging “the way it had always been done” and grew to capacity quickly, Howard-Herbein said.

Summerhouse and similar programs aren’t just good for the students and families involved. The programs also benefit the business community.

Employers benefit by increasing the diversity of their labor force, inspiring innovation, improving productivity and increasing favorable public perception. In addition, people with disabilities represent a vast consumer market for services and products.

The organization said in its report on the expansion: “Summerhouse Houston is no longer the best-kept secret in Houston. That shining beacon of light in Spring Branch now illuminates a pathway towards greater independence and a more joyful, productive life for more and more young people with IDD.”

Summerhouse Houston
(832) 200-6158
[email protected]

—  by Dorothy Puch Lillig