Answering Houston’s Urgent and Long-term Needs


Fall 2020 Response Update


The Summary

The onset of COVID-19 this spring required Breakthrough Houston (BTH) to act nimbly in responding to new challenges while ensuring the needs of our students were addressed working within pandemic-related restrictions.


BTH Programs address new pandemic-related needs

As the first U.S. cases were reported, BTH immediately established a response fund and created contingency planning for the remaining school year and the intensive BTH Summer Program.

  • A needs survey was emailed to students and families in March that resulted in BTH distributing grocery gift cards and technological support to assist those struggling with new and urgent needs.
  • 2019-2020 school year programs were wrapped up. Scheduled events, such as a crucial college essay writing workshop, were converted to online platforms.
  • The renowned summer program successfully pivoted to an online platform. 96 trained Teaching Fellows educated, encouraged and supported almost 400 middle school students from across Houston through a five-week program including: rigorous academics, advisory sessions and virtual small group

Of note: Every student requesting technological support (laptops, wi-fi hotspots and/or troubleshooting) received the help they needed, making every participant significantly better prepared to begin their online classes this fall.

  • Fall classes will be held remotely for at least the first semester and will include an advisory curriculum focused on socioemotional learning activities, along with Math and English classes. All classes will be taught by teacher volunteers, many of whom will be returning from the summer
  • Next summer’s pre-program assessments will be adapted to identify and address any additional learning gaps resulting from extended remote

Targeted communications are increased and expanded

An effective pandemic response communications strategy was implemented in March resulting in $85,000 in new funding. Targeted communications have proven effective in that donorship is diversifying and stewardship of legacy donors has been enhanced and is active. The creation of a robust marketing/communication repository enables nimble responses to dramatically changing/urgent messaging needs.


BTH responds to social justice needs

  • Distributed Breakthrough Houston Social Justice Message, June 5.
  • Created and produced Houston’s Virtual Conversation on Race, Resilience & Wellness: Coping with Racial Trauma in the Era of Social Media, July


Progressing with sustainability focus

 1. Building and sustaining relationships with other nonprofit organizations

  • A successful BTH/Breakthrough Central Texas collaborative AmeriCorps proposal results in significant multiyear funding beginning summer of 2021.
    • Funding will cover Teaching Fellow costs and also provide administrative stipend; $750,000. $250,000 annually for three years with opportunity to re-submit.
  • BTH continues its participation in the United Way Education Collaborative and the Post- Secondary Education

2. Donor base expansion through targeted communications to new, existing and lapsed donors

  • In response to the pandemic, BTH’s previous focus on personal outreach gatherings pivoted to well-received pandemic response messaging & general organizational updates, resulting in new donors and strengthened stewardship of existing

3. Improving and innovating special events to increase awareness and revenue

  • Last fall’s successful inaugural fundraising event,Are you Smarter Than a Breakthrough Student?, changed to a virtual To compensate for weakened corporate support, BTH incorporated, what turned out to be, a very popular family element, allowing extended families to participate together (virtually) as teams. Event proceeds were strong, netting approximately 80% of last year’s inaugural in-person event.

School closures are resulting in a loss of learning that will not be evenly distributed across Houston students. Under-resourced students are being profoundly affected. When a student loses out on education, they lose out on a lifetime of future opportunities, including economic benefits such as additional earnings. In effect, we all lose.

Breakthrough programs greatly reduced learning loss this summer alone for nearly 400 Houston students through a successful pivot to online platforms. As we continue our programs online this fall, we remain steadfast in our mission to ensure no student is derailed from a trajectory towards college and lifelong success.