Supporter Spotlight: Joe Horning

Higher Achievement Supporter

“I saw Martin Luther King Jr. give his famous speech at the Washington Monument. It was the catalyst that got me engaged and focused. My whole commitment was to serve and focus on the inner city,” recalls native Washingtonian Joe Horning.

In 1975, Joe was a young real estate developer and co-founder/owner of Horning Brothers, a real estate company that developed properties in Washington, DC with a focus in wards 7 & 8. Joe describes these areas, both east of the Anacostia River, as “the forgotten sections,” and Joe saw potential for his company to help revitalize them. He says, “We’d been in business 10, maybe 15 years at that point, so I had the opportunity to start looking for where I could be more of a force.

Around this same time, Joe met Greg Gannon, an inspiring young teacher who was starting an afterschool program called “Higher Achievement Program” or “HAP.” Joe explains, “Greg had a great deal of energy and passion. He was a person who had a mission and believed in it. He was an entrepreneur in a sense because he really was going to make this work. I liked his vision, his commitment, and he had that spirit about him of, ‘We can all do this’.” After this initial meeting, Joe joined Higher Achievement’s founding Board of Directors.

It wasn’t long before Joe saw the impact of Higher Achievement firsthand, not just on the students but also on their communities. He says, “It is the ultimate full cycle. To nurture a student, help him to build his confidence and sense of self so that he has seen what it’s done for him, and then after he has internalized that, he is empowered to go out [and help others].”

As a board member, Joe played a key role in Higher Achievement’s fundraising efforts. In those early days, before the advent of internet and online giving, the fundraising involved knocking on doors and building relationships with the local community to get them involved. Joe remained a board member for 20 years (until the mid-1990s) and helped grow the organization’s fundraising program.

But in the late 1990s, Higher Achievement faced a financial cliff and had to close for one year. During that time, the Board of Directors had to decide whether the program was worth continuing. This was a tough question to answer because, like many boards, Higher Achievement’s board was comprised entirely of volunteers that had demanding professional careers with limited time. A core group of members, including Conrad Hipkins and Carlos Garcia, rallied for the organization. Determined to keep it afloat, they reached out to Joe for an investment to save the organization. This is when he sat down with Maureen Holla, an energetic young woman that the board believed could save Higher Achievement by serving as Executive Director. She proposed that if Joe funded 6 months of her salary, she could raise the rest and get the organization back on its feet in time for the next school year. Joe agreed and Maureen delivered.

This was a turning point for Higher Achievement. In the years since then, Higher Achievement has grown to serve more than 10,000 scholars in DC, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Richmond.

Watching Higher Achievement develop throughout the years, Joe says “I’ve been actively involved in a number of organizations that have done well, and I have been very proud to be a part of them, but Higher Achievement was the first.


In another 40 years, I see Higher Achievement expanding the number of centers to reach more scholars in Wards 7 and 8.

If Higher Achievement were a person celebrating their 40th birthday, what kind of party would they throw? It would be one of celebration, reflection and appreciation, to realize how challenging the job is, and that you just can’t rest on your laurels.

Imagine a world where every child has a chance to be part of a program like Higher Achievement. Kids with self-confidence, living in a shared community – what a world it would be!