The TXCPA Houston CPAs Helping Schools Committee awards up to $50, 000 annually in financial grants to Houston-area schools for educational projects benefiting students. Last year, we awarded two $500 grants to the Bellaire High School Future Problem Solvers Club (Bellaire FPS) to fund materials for the club to use in its community service projects. Now, one year later, we have seen the impact of these grant funds on both the Houston community and on the personal and professional development of local area high school students.
Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) is an international organization headquartered in Florida with the goal of teaching students critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, and decision making. It was founded in 1974 and currently operates in over 37 states in the United States, as well as 14 countries worldwide.
Students can compete in three divisions: junior (grades 4-6), middle (grades 7-9) and senior (grades 10-12). Each year, FPSPI determines various topics relating to business and economics, social and political, and science and technology. Students are invited to compete in four competitive components relating to these topics: global issues problem solving, community problem solving, scenario writing and scenario performance.
During the 2018-2019 school year, the topics included 1) Mission to Moon, Mars and Beyond, 2) Drones, 3) Coping with Stress, 4) De-Extinction, and 5) Food Loss & Waste.
Fresh Hub Project
Last year, Bellaire FPS, founded by sisters and co-presidents Shirley and Annie Zhu, launched the “Fresh Hub” program to end food waste and eliminate food deserts. A “food desert” is an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. Bellaire FPS partnered with several local companies and organizations (including TXCPA Houston), developed a cell phone app, hosted eight Fresh Hub events and served over 650 people living in food deserts. For their efforts, Fresh Hub was named Texas Grand Champion at the FPSPI state level and went on to place first overall at the International Competition in the Community Problem Solving competition.
The Fresh Hub program was a collaborative effort among Bellaire FPS and several organizations. Bellaire FPS partnered with Second Servings, a volunteer organization that picks up surplus unserved food from caterers, hotels, and other regulated food businesses. “To remove liability protection and tax exemption concerns, we turned Fresh Hub into a charity partner of Second Servings of Houston,” said Shirley Zhu. “With the nonprofit’s endorsement, Fresh Hub was able to coordinate food pick-ups.”
Bellaire FPS also partnered with the Houston Health Department to host the Fresh Hub events at the Health Department’s multi-service centers, as they were located in food desert areas. “People living in food deserts lacked access to other basic needs, such as housing, health care, and education,” said Shirley Zhu. “I went to several collaborative meetings and convinced stakeholders to bring more services to the markets.” As a result, Bellaire FPS invited other organizations to join the Fresh Hub events including the Houston Public Library as well as the IMPACT Collaborative, which represents an alliance among approximately 40 organizations working to better maternal health and prenatal care to improve birth outcomes. “Through Fresh Hub, I have met people from all walks of life from recovering drug addicts to single moms,” said Annie Zhu. “The best part is seeing their faces light up as they take home bags of produce.”
Several grocery stores and food businesses contributed to the Fresh Hub program including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, Slow Dough and Bread Man Baking Company. “Growth in Fresh Hub culminated from collaboration with several organizations,” said Shirley Zhu. “By working with Second Servings, Trader Joe’s, student volunteers and the Houston Health Department, we discovered how success in a project relies on a collection of working, moving parts.”
Bellaire FPS developed a smartphone app to help promote the Fresh Hub Markets. “From the first few markets, I learned that most low-income residents had mobile phones and a free data plan,” said Shirley Zhu. “A mobile app would be an effective and inexpensive way to reach them. In order to efficiently get clients connected and promote healthy eating habits, we developed the Fresh Hub app in a tight timeline.”
The app is compatible with both Android and iPhone and includes a calendar of events, a “Recipe Hub” of recipes that can be cooked using food from the markets and an “Info Hub” that includes information on food groups and how to read nutritional labels.
Now in its second year, Bellaire FPS has grown from 35 members to 55 members. Competition topics for the 2019-2020 year include “Living in Poverty,” “Sleep Patterns,” and “Gamification.
Although Bellaire FPS cannot submit the Fresh Hub project for this year’s FPSPI competition, they are continuing to grow Fresh Hub while also tackling other projects to benefit the Houston community. “To improve my understanding of the community, I applied to Houston Mayor’s Youth Council and got selected,” said Annie Zhu. Bellaire FPS subsequently started another project in April 2019, “Readiness Across Mathematics,” which provides free math tutoring and other STEM activities to students in low-income neighborhoods.
You can learn more about Bellaire FPS on their website (https://www.bellairefps.com/). You can also access the Fresh Hub website (https://www.freshhubhouston.com/) to find more about this program as well as volunteer opportunities at upcoming events.
“Not only did the grant provide us the funding for running Fresh Hub markets and participating in FPS competitions, but it also taught us how to handle our finances. High schoolers are often shielded from the intricacies of keeping a detailed inventory of expense; however, through this grant we were able to learn and experience how to manage money.” – Shirley & Annie Zhu
This is an article from TXCPA Houston's Online Magazine called the Forum. Read the full magazine here.
Rubik Yeriazarian is a CPA and is a Principal with Briggs & Veselka Co. He is a member of the CPAs Helping Schools Committee and also serves on the Board of Directors for both TXCPA and TXCPA Houston.