Beacon House (BH) has been serving the children of the Edgewood neighborhood in northeast Washington, DC since 1991. A 2022 Many Hands Partner Grantee, Beacon House has a strong track record of providing a safe place for kids by offering mentoring, tutoring, college readiness, athletic, and enrichment programs—all with the goal of promoting students’ academic advancement and personal growth.

According to CEO and Executive Director Kevin Hinton, the homework help program that the Rev. Donald E. Robinson, a retired DC social worker, started 31 years ago with a dozen kids has blossomed into an array of programs that serve about 400 youngsters ages 5 to 18 each year. Located in the Edgewood Commons affordable housing community, Beacon House welcomes community residents as well as children attending neighborhood schools. Kevin notes the average annual household income in Edgewood Commons is about $12,000. Ninety-six percent of the children are Black and the rest are Latino, he says, adding that BH works with children whose families face a range of needs as well as racial and economic inequities.

Nearly all—93 percent—of Beacon House’s high school seniors enroll in college or trade schools. Its success is the result of its breadth of services, strong community ties, the dedication of its staff, and support from former participants who stay involved. But now, like schools and education programs around the country, BH is working to overcome the learning loss experienced by students as a result of pandemic-related school closures.

Students come to BH after school for tutoring, homework help, remedial work in reading or math, and college readiness sessions. While its mission is focused on academic achievement, it’s the combination of academics and athletics that provides BH’s magic formula. The award-winning athletic program supports the education-focused mission and is a powerful vehicle for youth development.

From a single football team in 1999, BH has expanded to include basketball, baseball, plyometric exercises, and flag football for boys and girls of various ages. Kevin says research into what is now called “the Beacon House effect” has shown the benefits that result from pairing academic and athletic opportunities for youngsters.

Athletics Director Rodney Cephas says current Beacon House kids look to prior BH students as their role models. They notice how the students who worked hard both in school and on the playing field were able to achieve their goals of going to college and succeeding in life.

Rodney is very proud of the hard work BH kids put into their teams and what they’ve accomplished, including a wall of trophies, many regional awards and two national championships. He’s especially proud of former BH participants who have returned to work on the mentoring staff and as athletic coaches, showing their commitment to the Edgewood community and its families.

Hard work happens every day in BH classrooms, too. Education Program Director Kesso Diallo says learning losses from the pandemic have especially affected students in communities like Edgewood with fewer resources. Therefore, she says, when BH returned to fully in-person sessions last September, they went back to their roots—offering extra homework help to get a better sense of what the students needed.

This spring, BH is launching an academic intervention program to assess students’ needs in reading and math and to address those needs on an individual basis, with the support of volunteer tutors from Catholic and Howard Universities. The number of kids participating in BH education programs has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, so Kesso says BH is working to reestablish its presence in the community, letting families know they are fully operating, and also conducting recruitment efforts.

Kesso calls Beacon House a “home away from home” for the children of Edgewood. What brought her to BH, and what she loves about it, is that the community supports and bolsters the child—beyond what the schools can do. Rodney echoes the importance of that sense of community, which he says now transcends three generations of BH kids.

Rodney says he understands the kids in Edgewood because he, too, grew up in a low-income community trying to find some direction for his life. He found it at Beacon House where the children are supported by great staff members and encouraged to achieve academically and athletically, and where he has worked for the last 26 years.

—Stephanie Nealer