by Dorothy Puch Lillig
For the last nine years, Houston not-for-profit Summerhouse Houston has been providing vocational training, employment and facilitating community participation among young adults with intellectual disabilities out of a small house in the Houston Heights.
This summer, the organization is bringing its operations to the Spring Branch District, specifically to a new 4,620-square-foot building under construction at 1424 Waseca.
“We are so cramped in our current space,” said Summerhouse CEO and Executive Director Michelle Howard-Herbein. “We are so excited to move!”
Summerhouse Houston was founded by Donna Fruge when her daughter, Summer, was finishing high school via a special education program. As she was trying to figure out what came next for her daughter, Howard-Herbein said, Fruge toured programs all over the city and wasn’t happy with what she saw.
“She wanted better for Summer — a program that offered vocational training, real employment and involvement in the community.”
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.
Monday through Thursdays mornings at Summerhouse Houston are vocation-based. Some individuals have regular jobs in the community; others go in groups of three to four with a staff member to volunteer at local organizations, including MAM, Houston Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, Heights Food Pantry, and Kid’s Meals. In addition, some work at the organization’s on-site business, Shred for Independence.
Monday through Thursday afternoons are focused on learning skills, socialization, and health, while Fridays are fun days when members and staff go out for lunch and explore the town. Sometimes local businesses will sponsor an activity.
Serving young adults ages 19 and up, Summerhouse Houston is funded by donations, foundations and member tuition.
“At our new location, we will be able to serve up to 40 young adults full-time, as well as assist many others who just need assistance with finding and keeping employment,” Howard-Herbein said. “The board’s long-term goal is to open other Summerhouses across the city, as well as to provide residential and housing support.”
The move will also allow the organization to grow its shredding business.
Why Spring Branch? Space and money. Howard-Herbein said the group’s board president found a great piece of land on Waseca that was within their budget. The group loves community involvement and is looking forward to partnering with the Spring Branch community in a variety of ways.
“We love volunteers,” Howard-Herbein said. If you have a skill or talent you want to share or want to work alongside Summerhouse members at one of their volunteer sites, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, Also, Howard-Herbein said, “bring us shredding!” Anyone can drop off one-time shredding for a donation. Visit www.shredforindependence.com to become a business client and schedule pick up.
Howard-Herbein said the organization has many individuals who are ready and willing to work if you are a local business owner or manager and, if you are a nonprofit and need volunteers, give Summerhouse a call.
“We would like to get involved with others in the Spring Branch area. We can sort, stock, fill, price, collate and copy, and whatever needs to be done at your location,” Howard-Herbein said.
Other ways to donate include helping the group plant a garden when they move, sponsoring Friday Fun Day or simply making a donation.