How Do You Help People You Can’t Find?

People tend to see servanthood as a one-way street where one person exists to have a need and another person exists to meet it. But those who have spent time serving others – parents, social workers, first responders, teachers, church members, doctors and so many more – know that while we may have distinct words for servant and friend, or teacher and student, there are countless times when the roles are reversed and the servant becomes the served.

Perla Trevino, Texas Workforce Commission Advocate

Like any other relationship, servanthood requires trust, time and a shared set of goals if it’s ever going to be successful. This is a truth that Perla Trevino admits she has spent her life learning and learning again.

Perla works at nonprofit BCFS Health and Human Services-Kerrville and leads their Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) program serving youth from foster care. As a TWC Advocate, she helps young people exiting high school and making their first big decisions as adults. She guides them through higher education applications or career selection. She helps them prepare for SAT tests or receive their GED. She connects them with employers in the area and finds job skills training.

However, it wasn’t always so easy to offer help like this.

Perla began her work with BCFS-Kerrville in November 2020, a time that in some ways felt like the first months of a new world rather than the start of another holiday season. Perla took on the job expecting she would quickly get to work finding youth in the area to help. Instead, her program was only serving half of the total number of participants it could.

“I was to the point in tears,” said Perla, remembering her first months on the job. “It’s so hard to find other kids when you’re in a lockdown, and I found so many homeless kids here in Kerrville.”

Progress came when Perla invested in the people she already had and the relationships she had begun to form with the youth she was helping at BCFS-Kerrville. One young man already in her program was able to help Perla find other youth in the community who could benefit from her work.

More people started helping identify program participants, and soon, Perla said, people as far away as Dallas were calling her because they had found her business card.

Success like this happened because Perla didn’t see clients and cases. She saw people and relationships. Perla remembered one young woman who told her she was the case manager who had been with her the longest. “It kind of shocked me and I was like, ‘I’ve only been here for a few years. I haven’t been here that long,’” said Perla, who said the girl responded that a few years is a long time for a social worker.

Before working with BCFS-Kerrville, Perla spent 10 years at Head Start, a program that helps young children from low-income families. She was also a teacher for 25 years in the public school system. In addition to her current role at BCFS-Kerrville, Perla still makes time to volunteer on the weekends, finding other ways to help her community.

“Perla has done an amazing job with the program,” said Kamaria Woods, Director of BCFS Health and Human Services-Kerrville. “She has found new ways to reach the people that need programs like ours, even in a difficult time.”

A Very Virtual Christmas

Sites from around BCFS Health and Human Services Community Services Division (CSD) celebrated Christmas in the creative ways they could this year.

BCFS Health and Human Services-Harlingen delivered gifts to families in their programs following a donation from New Life Family Church. They also attended a socially distant drive thru event hosted by Su Clínica in Harlingen, Texas.

BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene were able to give Christmas gifts to 45 children in their programs thanks to online shopping and donations made directly to the organization.

BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio hosted an online Christmas event on December 17 with a visit from virtual Saint Nick. Guests could dress up in their ugliest sweater or most “Christmasy” socks for a chance to win the (perhaps first ever) Christmas Costume Contest. They also learned how to cook a meal of classic/favorite Christmas dishes with the help of Alejandra Quezada, Education Specialist at BCFS-San Antonio, and held a trivia game for a Christmas film they watched together.

Community Services Division Accredited in Harlingen

Two programs at BCFS Health and Human Services-Harlingen were recently accredited by SafeCare Accreditation, which judges agencies using criteria across 13 categories “to measure the quality performance of healthcare facilities,” according to SafeCare.

Both the HIP program (Helping through Intervention and Prevention) and Project HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support) received accreditation at BCFS-Harlingen.

“BCFS-Harlingen has been a SafeCare accredited site for five consecutive years,” said Jeff Wolpers, Director of Community Services at BCFS-Harlingen. “This is an acknowledgment of the efforts staff make to demonstrate a culture of quality in the services they provide to our families. We value our partnership with the National SafeCare Training and Research Center and are honored by their recognition of the work that we do.”

Learn more about how BCFS Health and Human Services is making a better life for youth and families in Harlingen.

Youth Treated to Virtual Visit by Author Sandra Cisneros

BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio hosted award-winning author Sandra Cisneros at their virtual fall festival for youth from foster care in San Antonio, Texas.

Cisneros calling from her home in Mexico.

Cisneros, author of works such as “The House on Mango Street” and “Woman Hollering Creek,” charitably shared insight into her life on a video call from her home in San Miguel de Allende, four hours northwest of Mexico City. In more than an hour of conversation, Cisneros told heartfelt stories of family, betrayal and belonging, capturing the attention and imagination of those served by BCFS-San Antonio.

“A lot of people know about the things that made me famous, but no one knows about the things that made me fail,” Cisneros said.

Case Manager Nathaniel Orona led a drawing workshop as Bob Ross.

Cisneros shared that becoming a notable author, as with every success in her life, was not a miracle but a journey made poco a poco, little by little. Her family’s journey, too, is a grand adventure made of many small steps. In the early 1900s, her family were landless residents of Mexico, fleeing north to avoid the violence of a revolution but struggling to find a true home. Their travels took them to El Paso, Colorado, Kansas City and finally Chicago.

Cisneros spent many years of her adulthood in San Antonio, where some of her works are based. However, like her family, Cisneros has wandered and traveled plenty, experiencing “death and rebirth” as she describes it, learning who she was along the way. Today, more than 100 years after her family was forced to leave Mexico, Cisneros shared that she has returned to the same land her family could never have afforded to own in their lifetime, land that is now her home.

“We were so excited and fortunate to have Sandra Cisneros join us and share her story,” said Celeste Garcia, Executive Director of BCFS Health and Human Services Community Services Division. “Her life is filled with things that most can relate to, but I think this is especially true for our youth.”

Closing her story, Cisneros stayed to chat, answering a few questions and giving advice on how to live meaningfully. The rest of the fall event was spent enjoying the traditions of the season: participating in a costume contest, watching the family-friendly movie “Hocus Pocus” and learning how to draw and cook with BCFS-San Antonio staff.

‘BVT Bridge’ Offers New Path for Community

Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) is no stranger to change. The nonprofit organization, a relatively small campus in East Texas that has a big heart for adults with mild to moderate intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), stands on the shoulders of a community that has often experienced a change in life plans.

“When we first went into quarantine, I thought, ‘Are we going to regress in social skills?’” said Ann Abrameit, a mother worried – as most have been – about the effects of COVID-19 on the social and educational development of her children. Her daughter, a high-school senior with IDD who can be anxious when separated from family too long, had been part of BVT’s day program for less than three months before COVID-19 hit. “I worried we wouldn’t be able to exercise her ability to connect with people outside her comfort zone.”

Abrameit’s daughter poses in front of a heart mosaic she made during quarantine

BVT’s day program lets local youth and adults who are not full-time residents come to the campus every weekday in a setting much like school or camp, where an expanded BVT community can socialize, play and work together. But like many in-person events, the day program at BVT came to a temporary end in the middle of March, an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In June, however, Day Program Coordinator Rachel Parker started BVT Bridge, a virtual solution for BVT’s day program participants that lets them connect online with their friends and take part in a variety of activities.

“Our son is very social person,” said Michele Sanders, whose son has been with BVT’s day program for two years. “He likes to be in contact with his peers at BVT, and [BVT Bridge] has been a great avenue for him to see them and interact with them.”

Sanders said she wasn’t sure her family would be able to “maintain relationships and be active in different roles in the community” when COVID-19 first came to Texas, but since quarantine began and the family has spent more time together, Sanders and her husband have taught their son the board game Rummikub, now playing nightly. They’ve put together puzzles and learned to enjoy “doing little things we don’t normally make time to do.”

Meanwhile, Abrameit says her daughter gets online almost every day BVT Bridge has an event, citing everything from a large exotic bird to a game of hangman as the types of activities she bonds with her BVT friends over. “Probably the most important thing it does is it gives her something to share with the family at dinner. Everybody else has things to share from their day, but she wouldn’t without that interaction.” Abrameit admitted she even stole a good idea for a virtual game from BVT Executive Director Steven Campbell, using a similar format for a recent family reunion hosted online.

In addition to fun, BVT Bridge also gives support and growth to its members. This is especially true in their twice-weekly morning chapel, a time to foster spiritual development. During last Friday’s chapel, Campbell led a message about the importance of prayer in life, especially in times when we feel hopeless. “If I don’t pray, then I’m cut off from my only source of strength,” Campbell said. He invited one of the BVT members on the call to end chapel with a prayer. A resident named Erin volunteered, ardently praying to “let us be the shine in your light, Lord,” and closing, “We pray in the holiest name of Jesus, amen.”

For those who witness BVT’s work almost every day, as the Sanders and Abrameit families do, Erin’s prayer was one moment in a pattern of BVT’s approach to their mission.

“To hear [the residents’] trust and faith has been very faith-building for me,” said Abrameit. “I can’t say enough of how impressed I’ve been with the organization…. It’s the staff that makes the difference.”

Sanders said she appreciates BVT, especially now in an uncertain 2020. “They’ve kept us very well informed of the situation. [BVT has] gone above and beyond, actually coming out to our homes and dropping off gifts for our son,” she said. “He has found that to be very special that they continue to think of him during this time.”

Both families seem to have found at least a few reasons to be thankful amid the chaos and canceled plans, much like us all. “Going forward, hopefully when all this subsides and we become busy again, we can keep some of these new traditions in place,” Sanders said.

Learn more about BVT’s commitment to provide hope and home to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Stories from Quarantine: Corpus Christi

BCFS Health and Human Services-Corpus Christi has found new and creative ways to provide programs and services to youth and families in the Coastal Bend region ever since the first major spread of COVID-19 through the U.S. Their ability to transition and meet needs in new ways has proven to be a success!

Much of BCFS-Corpus Christi’s programming is about connecting youth and families to resources, or providing them assistance on a path to a better career or education. Services like those have translated well to an online world, but not everything has been as easy – especially not for their community.

Robin Soto, Director of BCFS Health and Human Services-Corpus Christi, along with her staff, have worked hard to find ways to uplift the children, young adults and families served by BCFS-Corpus Christi in 2020 during these unprecedented times.

They’ve been helping people like Lena,* a 22-year-old mother with one young child and another on the way. Before COVID-19, she had a job at the local school district. But unfortunately, due to the pandemic she found herself out of work. BCFS-Corpus Christi stepped in and proactively sent the mother a weekly job list and was able to help pay a month of rent while she went through this transition. BCFS-Corpus Christi then connected her with Foster Angels of South Texas to provide a crib and other resources for the baby. Today, she’s working again and anticipating the arrival of her second-born.

A family living in the Coastal Bend area has been grateful for BCFS-Corpus Christi’s parenting classes. “If you have a couple kids, it can be a lot to handle,” said Soto, “but this mom is home with four.” Through BCFS-Corpus Christi’s lessons and one-on-one training, the family has been able to identify the root causes behind some of the children’s more troubling behaviors and improve being homebound with four children. An added blessing for families completing the parenting classes includes grocery gift cards and board games perfect for quarantine.

BCFS-Corpus Christi has been assisting many other families in the Coastal Bend during COVID-19. Through their relationships with other nonprofits and local leadership, BCFS-Corpus Christi has acted as a trusted source of information for locals, especially through engagement on their Facebook page.

With COVID-19 expected to broaden the disparities that already exist between the most and least fortunate, the service of BCFS-Corpus Christi remains instrumental in maintaining a healthy community, perhaps now more than ever.

Learn more about BCFS Health and Human Services-Corpus Christi.

*This name was changed to preserve anonymity

BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio Receives Gift From Garfield Elementary Student Leadership Team (StuCo)

Even in troubling times, we see the good in people. This week Kasey Ristow, StuCo Advisor for Garfield Elementary School, which is part of the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District, made a donation of gift bags filled with essential toiletries put together by the Garfield Student Council.

Gift bags included shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste and a cozy pair of socks! They will be given to families in need, including victims of domestic violence.

Kasey presented the gifts to Delia Ramos, Director of Community Based Services at BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio, under careful COVID-19 safety guidelines at the organization’s office in Del Rio, Texas.

“We are so honored to accept this thoughtful donation on behalf of those we serve,” Delia said. “I want to thank StuCo for thinking of BCFS-Del Rio and for their kindness even in the darkest times. It’s truly uplifting.”

BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio Recognized With Generous Gift

Unexpected gifts are the best kind!

Last week, BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio received a generous gift of $1,000 from Randolph Brooks Federal Credit Union (RBFCU).

From left: Celeste Garcia and Monica Caballero

Monica Caballero, Business Development Officer with RBFCU, presented BCFS-San Antonio with a donation of $1,000 in support of their programs and initiatives in San Antonio, Texas. RBFCU made donations to nonprofits throughout the San Antonio community who may have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. BCFS-San Antonio was chosen for the positive impact it makes on the community, Monica said.

The check was presented to Celeste Garcia, Executive Director of BCFS Health and Human Services Community Services Division, under careful social distancing guidelines at the Community Services Division Headquarters in San Antonio.

“We are honored to accept his check on behalf of the children and youth we serve,” Celeste said. “I want to thank RBFCU for recognizing how vital these community programs are and how their gift will impact so many people. At BCFS Health and Human Services, we work to transform lives and be part of the positive change some youth need to grow and develop into responsible, contributing members of our communities.”

Dennis Ferguson Talks Programming and COVID-19 on ‘KDT Live’

In the second week since its launch, “Kerrville Daily Times Live” included an interview with Dennis Ferguson discussing the community support that BCFS Health and Human Services-Kerrville offers to children, youth and families in Kerrville, Texas.

Dennis, Director of Community Services at BCFS-Kerrville, spoke on the programs he and his team use to help children and youth ages 10 to 25, including Youth Averted from Delinquency, the Hill Country Resource Center, the Texas Workforce Commission and Our House.

BCFS-Kerrville’s Dennis Ferguson on KDT Live

Louis Amestoy, Managing Editor of “The Kerrville Daily Times” newspaper and host of the show, asked Dennis how COVID-19 has affected those served by BCFS-Kerrville. Dennis discussed their ability to keep in touch with local employers and connect jobs to the young men and women in their care, adding that the mental-health services they provide have been crucial to weathering 2020’s barrage of health, economic and social uncertainty.

“We spend a lot of time just reassuring them and encouraging them – getting them to acknowledge that they are capable of making progress even in these times when we’re not able to get out as much as we used to,” said Dennis.

Louis asked how their city could give back to BCFS-Kerrville. “We thank the community for all they’ve already done and the times they’ve stepped up,” said Dennis. BCFS-Kerrville has been able to accomplish great things over years of service, but Dennis admitted there was much left to be done. They plan to continue utilizing community support, partner organizations, and their own ability to connect needs with resources during COVID-19 and beyond.

Listen to the full interview on Kerrville Daily Times Live.

Flat Stanley Joins BVT Family

With the health and safety of our residents a top priority during the COVID-19 restrictions, access to outside visitors is temporarily prohibited at Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT), so residents got creative to stay connected with their friends and family.

Jennifer Ekins and Rachel Parker – Day Program Group Leader and Day Program Coordinator at BVT, respectively – crafted a BVT take on Flat Stanley, a character based on a later-1900s children’s book of the same name.

Jennifer Ekins, Flat Stanley and Rachel Parker

Residents created eight versions of Stanley and mailed them to a list of 40 friends and family, who have welcomed Stanley to their everyday lives and kept a record of his activity. They then send letters and photographs that include Stanley to their loved ones at BVT, and then send Stanley on to his next home and another family to join in on Stanley’s travel adventures.

The project has taken the eight Stanleys to several U.S. states and family events. See highlights from his travels on BVT’s Facebook photo album, updated every Friday for the duration of the project.