The Apartment Association of Greater Dallas is Going Back to School – For a Good Cause
Since last fall, volunteers from the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas (AAGD) and member companies have been making improvements and coordinating programs at the century-old Sam Houston Elementary School in Dallas, Texas as part of a community outreach program. Doors are getting painted and volunteers are working with much of the school’s predominant Hispanic population through AAGD’s Read with Me Program.
Sam Houston Elementary, Recognized by the Texas Education Agency, is one of the Dallas Independent School District’s oldest schools and is made up of Hispanic children from apartment communities in the Oak Lawn area. About 73 percent of the students do not speak English and live with grandparents or are from single parent homes, according to AAGD. Parent participation at the school, which serves grades K-5, is extremely low.
About two years ago, AAGD volunteers began showing up Sam Houston Elementary, built as the eight-room Oak Lawn School in 1909 in what was then considered far north Dallas, to read to students. Although the school is undergoing renovation as part of a $1.35 billion bond passed by Dallas taxpayers in 2008, volunteers realized that more work needed to be done, not only with the building but with reaching out to students in need.
With the blessing of the school district, AAGD drafted a plan that includes installing built-in book cases in the library, painting, laying carpet and landscaping around the building. Additionally, volunteers are mentoring students, assisting with fund raisers for field trips, and organizing a uniform drive. AAGD President Kin Oldham was “Principal for a Day” last October and each student was given a back pack for Christmas.
“The need is so enormous down there,” said AAGD executive director Gerry Henigsman. “A lot of the properties are older two-stories, and that’s where most of the children come from. Most have language issues. We came back and said, ‘Why don’t we adopt this?'”
This spring, AAGD and its member companies are making aesthetic improvements that aren’t covered by the bond, like painting doors on outside buildings and installing carpet. Contractors are donating labor and materials for projects that should be complete by summer.
Henigsman said that management companies are providing most of the painting and landscape improvements through their maintenance departments. Some companies have made cash donations.
AAGD and its membership are happy to lend a hand, Henigsman said.
“The kids are great,” he said. “Our volunteers have said that the children are so happy to see them. You walk through the school and you create a bond with it.”
AAGD has been involved in a number of community service projects including the Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park, Dallas Children’s Theatre, Bryan’s House, Skyline Ranch, Pennies Helping Police, Flag Pole Hill and the Joppa Project. AAGD also spearheads an annual Christmas toy drive that last year netted the largest contribution ever of 20,000 toys.
“Our members love it,” said Henigsman. “I think our community service projects are some of our most popular things we do. They like giving back. We really believe we can make a difference here. It might be a small difference, but we can make a difference.”