|HOUSTON – On Saturday, August 7, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the official launch of the Bethune Empowerment Center in Acres Home and its first tenant, Communities for Better Health.
This 8-acre tract of land previously served as the Bethune Academy Elementary School and will now be repurposed as a business incubator and vocational entity for the Acres Home neighborhood. The Bethune Empowerment Center will provide Houstonians with access to quality services and amenities, including job training, apprenticeships, skill-building services, small business resources, co-working spaces, and business incubators.
The concept for the Bethune Empowerment Center originated from the Acres Home Complete Community Action Plan, where the Acres Home community strongly indicated the need to repurpose and revitalize the Bethune Academy.
The Complete Communities Initiative, launched by Mayor Turner in April 2017, is focused on improving neighborhoods that have historically been underserved and under-resourced. The initiative’s goal is to advance equity and attract investments in the communities while ensuring that current residents can remain in affordable homes.
«The Acres Home community has spoken, and we have listened,» Mayor Turner said. «The work for this center is just beginning, and the future additions will shape the Bethune Empowerment Center into a beacon of equitable economic development and improved public health.»
The facility secured over $4.5 million for renovations. In February 2021, the City Council allocated a $4.1 million community development block grant (CDBG) to rehabilitate the first phase of construction and approved Houston Business Development, Inc (HBDI) to renovate, operate, and manage the Bethune Empowerment Center.
«Projects like the Bethune Empowerment Center embody our mission at Houston Business Development, Inc.,» said HBDI President Marlon Mitchell. «We aim to foster economic growth in Houston, and the facilities to come at the Bethune Empowerment Center will provide resources for Acres Home businesses and individual professionals to grow and thrive.»
Mayor Turner also announced a $500,000 donation from Reliant Energy to support the Bethune Empowerment Center and its first tenant, Communities for Better Health (CFBH). Communities for Better Health
«At Reliant, we’re committed to powering change in the communities where we live and work by supporting impactful projects like Bethune Empowerment Center,» said Elizabeth Killinger, president of Reliant. «By tapping the strengths of our community members, nonprofits, businesses, and philanthropic partners, together, we can build a stronger and more resilient city for future generations.»
Communities for Better Health will also receive funding from Amerigroup to create a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) double-up program that will enable SNAP-eligible families to double their benefits and support the local community farm.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides financial support to eligible low-income individuals and families to purchase food. Under the SNAP Double Up Bucks program, CFBH will match $30 of SNAP purchases spent on fruits and vegetables. This program encourages residents to buy locally grown farm-fresh produce and provides food access to the Bethune Empowerment Center’s community garden.
«This vital new resource will make produce far more accessible to the people of Acres Home,» Mayor Turner said. «It will help people live healthier lives, support local business owners, and strengthen the community.»
«Better health is about so much more than health care,» said Greg Thompson, President and CEO of Amerigroup Texas, one of the state’s leading Medicaid administrators. «We want to help our members get healthy, stay healthy, and enjoy the day-to-day health that lets them live their lives.»
CFBH will host cooking demonstrations, monthly gardening classes, and the Black Farmer Box community-supported agriculture (CSA) program in partnership with Ivy Leaf Farms and Fresh Life Organics (FLO), a multi-acre farm, and land management consulting company in Houston.
«This community does not take healthy food for granted,» said Kristin Bennett, founder and CEO of Communities for Better Health. «Resources like this community garden and farmer’s market offer people an essential outlet for the food and activities they need to help their families stay healthy.»
«Change can be difficult, but sometimes it can lead to great transformation – to something positive and fruitful – something that will be a resource for the Acres Home Community. It is amazing that although Bethune no longer serves as a school building, it will be able to quite literally put down new roots in this community and uplift it.”
The Bethune Empowerment Center will consist of ten buildings renovated in three phases. Phase 1, comprising approximately 29,000 square feet, includes the renovation of the cafeteria building into a commercial kitchen space and event space that allows for business development, agricultural training, certification, and other culinary arts programming.
The remainder of Phase 1 will include a community garden and several workspaces, including for-lease offices, conference rooms, administrative office space, breakroom areas, collaborative working spaces, and support/circulation spaces.
Construction for Phase 1 will be complete by the end of 2021. Phase 2 and 3 will include additional offices for the business incubators, classrooms, early childhood daycare/after-school care, and conference rooms.
The Bethune Empowerment Center Sowing Seeds community garden officially opened at the community celebration on Saturday and will provide gardening education and fresh produce options for the community through pop-up shops. The community garden will also be the new location for the Acres Homes Farmers Market. The Acres Home Farmer’s Market is hosted bi-weekly at the Bethune Empowerment Center facility on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
«Acres Home is a wonderful community. We work hard and take care of each other. But there’s no question that we need more resources,» said Dr. Donna «Cee» Whitelow, a longtime resident and community leader. «This garden is long overdue, and I can’t wait to take advantage of having it here.»
For more information on the Bethune Empowerment Center, visit https://www.houstoncc.org/.