28 Harris County programs receive national recognition at NACo awards

27 Jun, 24

Harris County was awarded the most National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards out of any county in Texas for 28 outstanding programs and services it offers to its more than 4.7 million residents. 

Championed by the Harris County Commissioners Court, these programs span more than 10 categories and won a total of 29 awards. Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones supported these recognized efforts, including a program that connects pregnant women with healthcare, a center that helps incarcerated women, a fund that assists domestic violence survivors, and another initiative that provides free child care. 

“The 2024 NACo awards show that Harris County is a recognized leader both in Texas and the nation,” Commissioner Briones said. “We will continue to innovate and aim for excellence because that is what our residents deserve. These award-winning programs are vital to helping individuals and families during transitional and vulnerable periods of their lives. We remain committed to continuous improvement and to ensuring all residents have access to the resources they need to thrive.”  

Here is an overview of some of the award-winning programs: 

Reducing disparities in maternal health 

At 83.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, Harris County has the highest Black maternal mortality rate in the nation. Harris County Public Health’s Maternal and Child Health Program was developed as a way to lower these devastating rates. The program provides one-on-one home assistance, job placement support, and connects participants with mental health and other services that help mothers access holistic care to help their and their baby’s health. 

Providing tools for rehabilitation 

Texas has more women behind bars than any other state in the country—over 80% of them are mothers. Coupled with barriers to accessing employment, child care, housing, and other life necessities, incarcerated women face many difficulties when re-entering society. Through the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Women Empowerment Center, women receive the tools and resources they need to thrive beyond the walls of incarceration. The Center’s program offerings, which focus on substance abuse rehabilitation, education, mental health, and more, have helped over 100 women have successfully re-entered society to date. 

Funding for survivors  

Since 2023, the Domestic Violence Assistance Fund has helped over 600 households and approximately 1,800 individuals leave abusive situations and regain stability by providing unrestricted financial assistance to survivors of domestic violence. The funding helps survivors cover basic needs and costs such as housing, transportation, childcare, utilities, and more. 

Free high-quality child care 

Early childhood is the most critical period of development. High-quality child care has been proven to give children a leg up in their education, which can lead to better opportunities. The Early REACH program was developed, in part, to ensure more children have access to a better future. The program provides free high-quality child care slots for qualifying families, and helps centers retain qualified staff by increasing pay to $15 an hour. 

To explore the full list of awards, visit the drop-down menu below. 

Early REACH (Raising Educational Access for Children in Harris County)

The Early REACH program is addressing the critical need for accessible and high-quality child care in Harris County by creating a minimum of 800 free high-quality child care slots. The program aims to provide vital support and resources to families and childcare centers. The program includes professional development opportunities for child care providers, quality improvement initiatives for child care centers, and mandates a minimum wage of $15 per hour for child care providers.

Harris County Attorney’s Office High School On-site Career Building Program

The Harris County Attorney’s Office (CAO) partnered with a local high school to connect students with potential future career fields. Students visit the CAO once per semester and are given an opportunity to speak directly with staff to learn about the office and the types of careers in law. Students are also given a tour of the resources offered by the Robert W. Hainsworth Law Library, showing them how to access these legal resources in the future.

Building Civic Champions: The Harris County Precinct 2 Student2Government Leadership Academy

The 2023 Harris County Precinct 2 Student2Government Leadership Academy was designed to help teens foster a culture of service, build character, establish a place of belonging, and develop strong social, emotional, and civic leadership skills.

Biz2Empower Accelerator Program

A two-year-long disparity study conducted in 2020 found only 9.1% of contract dollars were awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs) despite making up 28.4% of the available contractors. Biz2Empower was created in 2022 as a first of its kind, M/WBE capacity building and small business accelerator program in Harris County. Biz2Empower provides training in procurement basics, government contracts, credit and financial viability, competitive bid pricing strategy, and other crucial skills needed to successfully grow and scale a small business.

COVID-19 Eviction Defense Program

Since 2020, there have been more than 225,000 eviction filings in Harris County, and only 2.02% of defendants — less than 4,600 — have had legal representation during that period. In response to this alarming trend and in anticipation of a surge in evictions, particularly due to non-payment of rent resulting from financial hardships caused by the pandemic, Harris County established and launched the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Program in March of 2023. The program aims to benefit both its residents and the community by safeguarding housing, a fundamental right for all families.

Hire Up Harris

Hire Up Harris is a workforce development initiative that connects residents to resources and training opportunities that advance career-readiness for high-quality jobs that pay a living wage, provide benefits, and have the potential for further economic advancement. Harris County prioritizes programming that couples skills training with soft skills development and wraparound support services to best assist underemployed and unemployed individuals.

Growing Resilience: Harris County Precinct Two's Towering Solution to Food Access Challenges

Launched in 2023, the project employs Eden Grow Towers to cultivate fresh produce for residents in food deserts, emphasizing both immediate relief and long-term community resilience. By strategically deploying advanced technology and leveraging staff expertise, the initiative accelerates crop growth and establishes diverse touchpoints for constituents, contributing to local community gardens.

Harris County Climate Action Plan for Internal Operations

Harris County Commissioners Court adopted the County’s first Climate Action Plan (CAP) in January 2023 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030. The County has identified three key focus areas to guide CAP actions: building and energy efficiency, clean fleet and commuting, and sustainable procurement and waste management.

New Harris County Precinct 2 Public Works Maintenance Program reduces service request response time by 93%!

Precinct 2’s Public Works Department is modernizing and reducing its response times by upgrading its technology. Through upgrading to tablets and other software, Precinct 2 can now seamlessly respond to service requests, pinpoint where they are needed most using GPS, and easily document reports. These upgrades prioritize efficiency, transparency, and responsiveness in addressing the maintenance needs of the community's infrastructure.

Domestic Violence Assistance Fund (DVAF)

The Domestic Violence Assistance Fund provides unrestricted financial assistance to survivors of domestic violence via grants to not-for-profit community-based organizations that serve this population. Flexibility in funding allows survivors to cover basic needs to successfully leave abusive situations and seek stability by covering costs for housing, transportation, childcare, utilities, and other needs. Recipient organizations may also use a limited portion of the funds to build organizational capacity to address unmet needs of survivors.

Harris County Sheriff's Office - Women's Empowerment Center

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office opened the Women’s Empowerment Center to house qualifying female incarcerated residents full-time in a holistic approach to gender-specific programming. The Center offers education, self-care, counseling, and job training to provide residents and their families with a better future. The Center has returned individuals to society with tools for coping with substance abuse, addiction, and trauma. Participants have received education and training that has assisted in obtaining a job and housing.

Survivor Services in Immigration Law

Commissioners Court authorized the allocation of $500,000 for the Survivor Services in Immigration Law Program to assist with the provision of direct legal representation for indigent immigrant adults, children, and families who are survivors of crime residing in Harris County.

Harris County's In-House Property Tax Division

The new Property Tax Division aims to address the inefficiencies observed in delinquent property tax collections and expand justice in the tax collection system by reducing fees and other hurdles imposed on taxpayers for late payments. Advantages include flexible payment plan agreements to prevent legal action, elimination of automatic additional penalties, increased notice prior to litigation, and more.

Vendor Payment Dashboards

As the third largest county in the United States, Harris County processes over $4 billion in claims for 15,000 vendors. In 2022, Harris County’s Audit Data Analytic Team developed two related dashboards to ensure County vendors are paid on time.

Access2Health Mental Health Smart Pod

Harris County Precinct 2 has the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the county and inadequate access to medical services. Precinct 2’s ACCESS2HEALTH Mental Health SmartPod is a mobile mental health clinic that brings free services directly to underserved neighborhoods. The SmartPods provide patients information and educational programs that help them prioritize their mental well-being and aims at reducing stigma that surrounds seeking care.

Lead Abatement & Prevention Program

Homes built before 1978 have lead, which has significant negative health impacts, especially for children. With ARPA funding, The Harris County Lead Abatement and Prevention Program plans to abate 360 homes and conduct an additional 20,000 lead level tests over a 4-year period.

Maternal and Child Health

The Harris County Public Health Maternal and Child Health Program (MCHP) was established to improve health and birth outcomes for birthing persons and families. MCHP trains social workers and Community Health Coordinators to conduct one-on-one home assistance, job placement support, and connects participants with mental health and other services that help birthing persons access holistic care.

Neighborhood Nuisance Abatement

The Neighborhood Nuisance Abatement (NNA) program aims to decrease crime and improve public health through proactive efforts, such as securing or demolishing unsafe structures, removing rubbish, securing abandoned pools, removing weeds to prevent pest infestation, and other abatement efforts. ARPA funding in February 2022 expanded the capacity of the NNA program to abate over 1,000 nuisances over four years with a focus on socially vulnerable communities that are more impacted by public nuisances.

Lasting Legacies

Lasting Legacies is designed to empower vulnerable communities in Harris County to take control of their future by providing guidance on estate planning. The Harris County Attorney’s Office created an accessible and understandable program where members of the community can walk away with the information for estate planning, protecting their families’ future.

Parent Workshop Program

The Domestic Relations Office (DRO) is a Harris County department that provides services to families with children under 18 in the Family District Courts. In 2022, DRO began developing educational workshops aimed to help people co-parent better after identifying a need for co-parenting education for divorced, separated, or never-married parents.

Precinct2gether "Beat the Heat" Portable A/C Unit & Community Cooling Centers

The Harris County Precinct2gether "Beat the Heat" and Community Cooling Centers Program played a crucial role in providing relief to senior citizens, veterans, and a select number of disabled individuals during the scorching summer months in Houston. Free portable air conditioning units, informative tip sheets, workshops on staying cool and hydrated, and handheld fans were distributed. Precinct 2 also installed free portable A/C units in the homes of 103 vulnerable seniors, veterans, and disabled individuals.

Precinct2gether Veterans Shuttle Bus

The Harris County Precinct2gether Veterans Shuttle Bus Program is a pioneering initiative that serves as a lifeline for veterans, addressing the critical need for accessible transportation to the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and other essential medical services. By providing free shuttle services with multiple pickup locations, this program has become the primary and most reliable transportation service for veterans, fostering connections among veterans of all ages.

Tornado Relief Home Repair Program

The Harris County Precinct2gether Tornado Relief Home Repair Program delivered free home repair services to senior and disabled citizens who experienced damage from the tornado on January 24, 2024, in Precinct 2.

County Fleet Management Operational Cost Reductions through Technological Improvements

The Harris County Commissioner Precinct 2 Fleet Management System reduced the operation costs of fleet management by digitizing vehicle inspection reporting, which was initially recorded on paper. Precinct 2 maintains a fleet system to reduce accident repairs, increase vehicle mileage utilization, and improved fleet maintenance team performance.

From Parks to Pixels: Transforming Outdoor Spaces with Free Wi-Fi

Precinct 2 provides free public Wi-Fi at its 20 parks, encouraging people to visit the parks while providing free access to the internet for all residents.

Harris County Power BI User Group

In 2022, the Audit Data Analytics team established the Harris County Power BI User Group to improve Harris County’s data analytic teams and improve information sharing throughout departments. After two years, the Audit Data Analytics team has an average attendance of 60+ County employees from 10+ departments attending the meetings monthly.

Agents of Discovery

Agents of Discovery is an augmented reality game visitors can play on their smart devices that has been utilized by the Harris County Precinct 2 Parks and Recreation Department as a learning tool to tell the story of its parks through games.