Bob Houghton loved working as a history teacher and a school principal.
“I had a passion and I wanted to share that passion with others,” he said.
But after 35 years in public education, he now claims to have “the best job ever.”
Houghton is the education director for the Access to Opportunities after-school program at Emerald Community Campus, where at-risk children in Manheim Township School District participate in enrichment activities.
He also is a teacher/coach with Sh’arim, the Jewish religious school at Congregation Shaarai Shomayim. He previously served as an after-school tutor at Compass Mark, was on the board of Children Deserve a Chance Foundation, and currently works closely with Christine Baer, who is the congregational resource developer with Church World Service in Lancaster.
His devotion to youth has earned him the Jean Feldstein Volunteer of the Year Award from Jewish Family Service of Lancaster. He will be honored at a 6 p.m. dinner on Sunday, June 10, at Temple Beth El, 1836 Rohrerstown Road.
A Penn Manor High School and Millersville University graduate, Houghton taught social studies in the Eastern York Junior/Senior High School before becoming an administrator in Penn Manor School District and later a principal at Conestoga Valley Middle School.
As an educator, Houghton had two quotes he referred to daily. One, by the retired automotive executive Lee Iacocca, reads: “In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.”
The other was educational philosopher Haim Ginott’s “Frightening Conclusion,” which begins: “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather.”
Houghton’s motto has been “tikkun olam,” Hebrew for “repair the world.” As a member of Shaarai Shomayim’s tikkun olam committee, he said, “It’s kind of opened me to a lot of places of need.”
Through his work at Shaarai Shomayim, he has made connections with Church World Service, Power Packs Project and Mennonite Central Committee. Much of that work coincides with Jewish Family Service projects.
“Bob’s commitment to justice, to supporting worthy causes in our community, and to mobilizing many of the members of Lancaster’s Jewish community to join him have been remarkable,” Shaarai Shomayim Rabbi Jack Paskoff said. “Of all Bob does, though, the greatest joy I get is still watching him work with kids. Bob is a role model for all of us.”
In addition to Paskoff, Houghton lists Gerald Huesken, retired Conestoga Valley superintendent, as a mentor.
Houghton grew up Lutheran. His wife, Laura, is Jewish, and he opted to convert to Judaism when their daughter Alison said she wanted to be raised Jewish.
Houghton said he made an appointment for them to talk to Paskoff, who explained that Judaism follows the mother.
“And then he looked at me and asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ ”
That, he said, began his journey.
“The conversion process is like going to graduate school. Essentially, it’s a matter of reading, talking, and it takes time.
“He was the rabbi that walked me through that conversion process.”
Emerald Foundation Executive Director Laurie Cubell praised Houghton’s willingness to volunteer for the program for at-risk youth.
“We could not have done this important after-school program without him,” she explained.
Baer of Church World Service praised Houghton’s ability to engage youth in community issues.
“He presented an invaluable opportunity (for children) to see, work and help within the world of displaced people and immigrant communities.”
Said Houghton: “I’m in a great place because I have the ability to pick and choose the things I want to do.”