The Hector Ponce Academy for autistic children was forced to shut its doors after two donors backed out of their $100,000 commitment. After only four months of operation, owner Tina Ponce learned the donors were not going to continue with their contribution.
“I actually found out the day after Christmas,” Ponce said. “We are very transparent with our teachers and I wouldn’t have them continue if we weren’t going to have the money to pay them.”
Ponce, who was dreaming of opening this school for years, was devastated by the news. Parents and children were also distressed.
“The way I feel can be compared to a miscarriage,” she said. “I was waiting and waiting for this baby to be born and now it’s gone.”
Darcy Madsen, a mother with an 11-year-old son enrolled in the school, was especially crushed.
“My son actually attended only one day of school here when we found out they had to close,” Madsen said.
However, that one day was an especially exceptional one for her son.
“He never made friends in public school,” she said. “He never wanted to go to school. After one day here he told me ‘these kids are like me.’ He wanted to go to school for the first time.”
Others shared similar stories. One woman, Aura Collins, noted the change in her granddaughter.
“She is calm, socialized better, showing signs of caring for the family,” she said. “She also, for the first time, has a friend, and she was very happy everyday going to classes.”
Many parents have started homeschooling their children again, but some have had to return to public school.
Ponce said the reason her school is working for the students is because the children get more individual attention, receive job skills training and even experience musical and physical therapy.
“Our mission is to get these kids productive in the community,” Ponce said. “The autism population is underserved. Today, everybody knows somebody who knows somebody with autism.”
Ponce has been reaching out to the community, hoping for help.
“Sometimes when a door closes you have to find a window,” she said.
They hope to raise $200,000. Those interested in helping out can donate to the academy’s GoFundMe website gofundme.com/AutismAwakening
The Hector Ponce Academy served students in grades six through 12 and is located at 901 Cypress Creek Rd.