(Houston, TX) – On April 24, 2023, The Texas Bar Foundation announced their approval of a $25,000 grant to support the Cherish Our Children’s (COCI) Gaining Empowerment in Middle School Program (GEMS), a program dedicated to assisting middle school students that have an incarcerated family member or loved one. Since its inception in 1965, the Texas Bar Foundation has awarded more than $25 million in grants to law-related programs. Supported by members of the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Bar Foundation is the nation’s largest charitably-funded bar foundation.
For more than 20 years, COCI, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, has provided emotional and academic support services to approximately 1,600 high school students with incarcerated family members, helping them graduate high school and attend college, technical training, or military assignments. The record of these students’ post-graduation employment and avoidance of incarceration is exceptional.
The GEMS program targets children with incarcerated family members during the critical middle school years, addressing the complex mix of school, family, and outside influences in a positive and systematic way. GEMS utilizes best practices and evidence-based approaches to build cognitive, social, and emotional development skills among early adolescent students to improve school attendance and performance.
The schools currently offering GEMS are located in low-performing community areas with student populations that are between 86-97% Black or Hispanic and the Census Bureau research predicts that 1-in-5 male students will be incarcerated as adults. Students at the schools GEMS currently service qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program, 21% demonstrate limited English proficiency, and 60-73% of students are at-risk of dropping out.
“We are very grateful for the support of the Texas Bar Foundation. This funding will allow COCI to hire an additional staff member and serve more students and families in need,” said COCI’s executive director, Dwayne Bennett. Bennett adds, “It will go a long way in making positive and lasting differences in the lives of the youth that we serve.”
To learn more about Cherish Our Children and the GEMS program, please visit www.cherishourchildren.org.