Keep on Masking Up

As state and local governments slowly reopen the economy, we want to remind you to continue “to mask up!”  Wearing masks in public and practicing social distancing whenever possible is important. Now is not the time to become complacent.

Protect yourself, protect your family, your friends and neighbors and set a good example by wearing your mask, not only as required at work but also when you are out visiting your favorite restaurant or at the grocery store.

While front line health workers should wear specific PPE at work as required for their job, the CDC is also advising the use of simple cloth face coverings for the general public to slow the spread of the virus. Additionally, “It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus.” 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

To Live a Cherished Life

On an unexpectedly stormy spring day in East Texas, 420 ladies — weather notwithstanding — came together for Breckenridge Village of Tyler’s (BVT) 13th Annual Ladies Spring Luncheon. Whether showing their support for a loved one, learning more about the great work BVT provides, or sharing some quality time with friends, the intent was the same; to be a champion for the BVT mission, residents, and families.

Each year for longer than a decade now, the BVT Ladies Spring Luncheon is held to benefit the adults with mild to moderate intellectual and developmental challenges to whom BVT is committed. This year, the event raised more than $55,000 for BVT residents and day program participants. The luncheon’s theme, Cherishing Life’s Moments, vibrated through the entire banquet hall as each table wore intricate, thematic decorations reminiscent of special life moments. Themes included a winter wonderland, a dreamy picnic at the park, and marriage celebrations. Cherishing Life’s Moments is not merely a theme, but a motto lived by the BVT community, from the residents and day program participants to the staff members:  The idea that the moments and memories created at BVT are blessings that should be embraced and treasured as God’s own will.

Table set at the Luncheon

Susan O’Donnell, Program Director for Tyler-area radio station KVNE, 89.5 FM, delivered a heartfelt and inspiring keynote address, evoking just as many belly laughs as tears as she spoke candidly of leaning on her faith through her trials and triumphs as a single mother to two daughters. She encouraged the luncheon audience to remember that God is always present, and to love unconditionally. 

Upon arriving at the campus, Susan was immediately captivated with the welcoming community and lovingly attentive staff.

“In only 20 years, Breckenridge Village of Tyler has become just what is was supposed to be at its inception…a home for adults who have special needs. [A] place that will care for them throughout their life, just as their own parents wanted them cared for.”

“Residents are loved, encouraged. I know it was the dream of Jean and Robert Sr., but I think even they would be surprised to see how much it has grown and how many people have been touched by the work that happens because of Breckenridge Village.”

To date, the annual BVT Ladies Luncheon has raised a total of more than $800,000 for the residents and day program participants at BVT.   

The 13th annual luncheon concluded with an original poem by Linda, a BVT resident for12 years.

Valeria Villaseñor

Cherishing Life’s Moments: A Poem.

Written by: Linda J., BVT Resident

It is important to cherish life’s precious moments.

From the birth of an infant to adulthood

We all must pay heed to the wonderful world around us.

Like the spreading wings of a monarch butterfly

To the flourishing roots and arms of a sycamore tree

Life is a balanced tapestry of colors and light.

Life gives us a rainbow of pleasures.

Each moment is a lesson to treasure.

As we partake of friendships and the many facets of life

Each day is a blessing from God.

To appreciate creation and the beauty all around us

The foamy deep blue sea

The scalloped mountains that point to the heavens

It is important to cherish life and its empowering moments.

Dreams of love and stories of hope and courage

Every person is beyond measure.

So priceless like a gift

God gave us life to uplift others.

To spread harmony and faith

Every moment is a pearl.

Every moment is a breath to be taken.

The pathways we take are filled with delight with our Lord.

As we talk and commune with him

Being grateful for the years we have on this earth

However few or many

We are given time to fellowship with one another.

To appreciate flowers and the seasons

To acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses

To cling to our savior and hold on to his almighty hand

Life gives us moments to cherish.

Let’s make the best of it.

Be happy for who we are and what we have been blessed with.

Peace in our hearts

Let us sing a song and worship our Heavenly Father.

Let us be thankful for our provisions.

Each moment is sacred.

Every wind that blows

Every leaf that falls

Every star that shines like a diamond in the sky

It is important to cherish life’s moments.

Allow yourself to soar like an eagle.

Find yourself floating high above the ground with wings of exultation.

Then you will be filled with joy.

As you dance and be filled with the radiant moments of each day.

You Can Do It With PAL!

At 17 years old, Meydi Pineda is not only gearing up for college, but also juggling – and excelling at – being a mother, wife, caregiver, and role model for other youth growing up in foster care. But it hasn’t been easy.

Meydi is the oldest of four children. Her mom, a single mother, worked full-time, and often tasked Meydi with taking care of her three younger siblings. When one of the younger kids got sick or needed someone to watch over them, it was Meydi who had to stay home from school to take care of them.

Newborn photos of baby Kincaid.
Newborn photo of baby Kincaid.

Child Protective Services became involved in Meydi’s life when she was twelve years old as a result of physical and emotional abuse taking place in the home. Her younger siblings, now aged eleven, six, and two, have remained in the care of Meydi’s mother.

For the three years that followed, Meydi spent time in and out of various foster homes and juvenile centers. At fifteen, she became pregnant… and gained a new perspective on life.

“I decided I wanted to be the parent I never had, for my daughter.”

But how?

Meydi enrolled in the Texas Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program provided by BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio after being referred by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). “Taking [the classes] really helped me gain confidence in myself, and reminded me that I could – and was – thriving after foster care. In the program [I learned] to manage my finances, plus how to maintain good credit and keep up with my bills.”

Meydi also enrolled in an academic credit recovery program to make up for the schooling she missed. At the age of sixteen with an infant at home, she graduated high school. She began working to provide for her family, and then got married. The new family’s plan is for her husband to be the primary earner while Meydi takes care of their two daughters and prepares to start college.

I see a bright future ahead for her because she sets goals for herself and doesn’t let anything get in the way of her ambition.

Baby Pineda

As one of Meydi’s PAL Training Facilitators, I got to work with Meydi for thirty hours spread out over several days of fast-paced life skills training. PAL Training classes bring youth in foster care together to learn and work as a group. Meydi made an impression on me immediately with how quickly she learned and used her knowledge to take on a leadership role within the group. She took the initiative to schedule her classes with me and ensure that she had transportation to each of them, all while taking care of her family. I see a bright future ahead for her because she sets goals for herself and doesn’t let anything get in the way of her ambition. She has become resilient through life’s challenges with an impressive grace, and her positivity and maturity at 17 years old sets an example for other youth in the program.

In college, Meydi plans on majoring in criminal justice. She credits BCFS-San Antonio’s PAL program with preparing her for this next phase of her life.

“Ms. Bailey and Mr. Christopher really made the class informative and easy to understand, while providing a fun, comfortable environment,” she says, “which helped me take in the most out of the classes… I plan on putting everything I learned to good use.”

“It’s rare to see a young person be so proactive and take control of their own future,” says BCFS-San Antonio PAL Training Facilitator Christopher Hansen. “Meydi is only seventeen, but she has worked hard to create an environment in which support and love is constant. We are eager and excited to be a part of her continued success.”

by Bailey Stewart

What is “PAL?”

BCFS Health and Human Services provides the State of Texas’ Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program, which ensures older youth in foster/kinship care are prepared for life on their own after “aging out” of state care. At any given time, there are about 3,500 youth 16 years of age and older in substitute care throughout Texas.

Preparing youth for adulthood is much more than how to balance a checkbook and sign a lease (though those lessons are included, too!). PAL encourages and empowers youth, in turn building their self-esteem and their ability to make responsible decisions. PAL helps youth be prepared to face the challenges of adulthood and independence.

Partnership in Progress – Holding Hands, Changing Lives

Caring for more than 130 disabled or terminally ill children, Sarah’s Covenant Homes in Hyderabad, India has spent the past 10 years offering shelter to children no one else was willing to take. Two years ago, when Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) learned about their work, we were immediately inspired by their vision – to transition to a family-based care model and find families for each and every child in their care.

Today, we are proudly assisting Sarah’s Covenant Homes in the process of deinstitutionalization (releasing the residents from the institution to find care in the community) and family reunification, work that most would say is impossible in today’s India. What follows is the context to our partnership, and a story that best explains why this work is so important.

In 2016, CERI started training the Sarah’s Covenant Homes (SCH) team on alternative care for children and family strengthening (ways to safely keep children in their own families). While the topics seem simple and straightforward to someone living in the Western world, in India, children with disabilities are stigmatized, shunned and hidden from the rest of their society. Children with a disability or terminal illness are often placed in orphanages, forgotten about, and left without support or hope in life. Grim but true.   

When SCH started their activity in India 10 years ago with the statement, “Children deserve families,” they were faced with a stark reality and a tough question: What to do if the families don’t want them? What to do if communities in India do not accept them?

The stigma and shame associated with children who have disabilities was the biggest stumbling stone SCH faced in implementing their vision. When CERI started a partnership with SCH, we helped them look at families in a different light. We re-conceptualized the reason behind the lack of acceptance of these children by their families and communities. Maybe it wasn’t that they did not want their children, but that they were simply overwhelmed and incapable or unable to care for them. Do we remove the child from the family, or remove the problems from the family? We chose the latter. 

CERI trained SCH with a logical framework, designed to look at a family’s five fundamental needs – living conditions, family and social relationships, education, physical and mental health, and household economy – and support those areas through case management, preparing the family to care for their children with disabilities. SCH became one of the first organizations  in India to reintegrate children with disabilities in their biological families.

  Reintegration Potential
  Total Children Not eligible Low Med High
Home 1 15 4 8 1 2
Home 2 24 3 15 1 5
Home 3 24 3 12 2 7
Home 4 17 0 15 0 2
Total 80 (100%) 10 (12.5%) 50 (62.5%) 4 (5%) 16 (20%)

Our investment in the SCH team grew. In early 2018, we conducted an ample case review of the 80 children housed in SCH’s four small-group homes, evaluating their connectedness with their family, and helping them identify the cases that qualified for family reunification. Roughly 20% of SCH’s residents scored high in the possibility for immediate family reunification, while 5% scored medium in their family reintegration potential. However, 75% of SCH cases needed long-term family intervention before they could be reunited with their family.    

Soumya’s Story

Here is a perfect illustration for how family reintegration worked for little Soumya, a six-year-old girl born blind with very little light perception.

Soumya’s mother died when she was only four, leaving her father depressed and in despair, feeling incapable of caring for Soumya and Anusha, her seven-year-old sister. Soumya’s father transported goods for a living and was often gone from home all day. He felt that the children would not be properly supervised if he were to keep them, so he sent Anusha to the village to live with her grandmother, and placed Soumya into an orphanage.


The conditions Soumya faced at the government-run orphanage were indescribable, but luckily SCH found Soumya and took her into their care. When Soumya arrived at SCH from the orphanage, she was very weak. Although she was four years old at the time, she was so malnourished that she was not yet able to walk. At SCH, Soumya began progressing in many ways. She quickly gained weight and strength, and began walking. She learned English and is now bilingual, speaking English and Telugu. Soumya is learning to read braille, sounding out small words, and mastering many pre-literacy skills for her age.  

CERI worked with SCH’s social workers and Soumya’s father to draft a clear family reunification plan. The father was eager to learn more about the next steps in family reunification and accept the responsibility to do his part. As he is getting ready to remarry, CERI and SCH have been providing counselling for him and his new wife, helping them create the best home environment for Soumya and Anusha to live in. The father is also looking forward to building a sustainable local transportation business and enrolling both children in a school where Soumya’s needs will be fully met. The team at Sarah’s Covenant Homes commented: 

Pictured are SCH case managers, Soumya’s father, and Ian Anand Forber Pratt (CERI Global Director of Advocacy)
Pictured are SCH case managers, Soumya’s father, and Ian Anand Forber Pratt (CERI Global Director of Advocacy)

We have been trying for 1 ½ years to reintegrate Soumya with her father. He loves her and after all our attempts we had lost hope. With the tools that CERI has offered, we know we can get Soumya back home in a safe, supportive and loving way

A Story of Redemption

Family reunification works for parents just as well as it works for children. The story of one couple who abandoned their two children (days old and two years old) at the hospital to run towards the train tracks and commit suicide moved us to tears. Luckily, the couple was unable to fulfill their plan, and today we are able to share their story.

On that fateful day, the couple (who suffer from HIV and Tuberculosis) felt hopeless. While they loved their two children, they felt unable to give them the life they deserved. It was a tragedy, as they didn’t see a reason to live without their children, but felt that their children’s lives would be much better if their parents were no more.

Pictured are SCH's two case managers and the couple going through counseling.
Pictured are SCH’s two case managers and the couple going through counseling.

After a failed suicide attempt and several months in a hospital, the couple began to recover physically and mentally. The father gained employment and the mother gained hope. Thanks to SCH who cared for their children and had the capability to reintegrate the children with their family, this couple is now actively working toward family reunification. Both mother and father are ready to fulfill their new plan and bring their children home.

The mother commented, “We finally have hope. We are both orphans, but thanks to our case managers, we know we are not alone.”

CERI’s partnership with SCH has been rewarding beyond measure as it has allowed us to witness how two families and four children have been reunited in a wonderful way. This is just the beginning. Our goal is to continue expanding SCH’s capacity for case management and community-based services so that more children will be able to find their forever homes and be raised in families. CERI also aims to educate and train more residential institutions to do the same thing – grasp the importance of family, commit to deinstitutionalization, and build partnerships that will keep families and children together for generations to come.

Written by: Ian Anand Forber Pratt

All in This Together

One of the most important ways CERI positively influences the lives of youth across the globe is through  sponsporships provided by generous CERI sponsors.  In developing countries, a CERI sponsorship grants a child access to CERI’s Foster Care  and Transitional Care programs, enabling them to fully participate and benefit from all the services and relief brought to them by CERI staff, foster families, and local and international Christian mentors.

Child sponsorships encourage the development of a healthy, positive, and lasting interpersonal relationship between the sponsor and child. Such a relationship, supplemented by the social services offered by CERI staff, has the capacity to empower a child and help him/her  develop into a resilient young adult.

The following is a testimonial from a Moldovan youth who credits a CERI sponsor with altering the direction of his life, reaffirming that we are all connected, and that love, acceptance, and friendship  can change lives.

A Letter from Eugeniu Vasilachi

Hi! My name is Eugeniu and I would like to tell you about my life. I am young, and while I consider myself a regular guy, I believe my life story could change the way you think about your own life, and maybe help you think about what you might do with it in the greater cause of helping others.

I was born in Chisinau, Moldova, into a family where my mom fulfilled the responsibilities of both a mother and a father! I had a very difficult childhood. When I was only two years old, my mother took me to a child care institution where I would spend five days and nights a week, from Monday morning to Friday evening. On Fridays, my mom would pick me up and take me home. Well, not actually a real “home,” because it was actually “anywhere” – anywhere we found a place to sleep, with a roof to protect against rain or snow, we called “home.” This is what my life looked like until I turned seven, and my mother, after listening to the advice of some, decided to take me to an orphanage.

Eugeniu posing infront of his home

I don’t remember my first year at the orphanage, but I do remember the first summer. At the end of the school year, all the children from the orphanage (there were about 700 of us) were taken to a summer camp outside the city. That summer, I learned about a new nation and met a new group of people – Americans.

A group of Americans was volunteering at our camp, mentoring, and running the Vacation Bible School program. One day I met two sisters – Rebekah and Jessica Beasley – two of the most special and most loving people I have ever met. They became my friends, and that summer, we spent an unforgettable time playing and talking about our lives. At the end of the summer, Rebekah and Jessica gave me some news that would, though I didn’t know it at the time, have an overwhelmingly positive effect on my life; they decided to become my CERI sponsors.

I felt like I had a family. I knew somebody was there for me, to love me, and support me.

After that memorable summer, Rebekah and Jessica, together with their parents and friends, came to our orphanage’s summer camp every year to visit with me and the other children. The best week of the summer was the week when they were there. I felt like I had a family. I knew somebody was there for me, to love me, and support me.

During the school year, I wrote the Beasley sisters letters that CERI staff translated and passed on to them. The summer of 2008 was the last summer I saw them, for that year, Rebekah married a strong and wonderful young man and they started a family. You may be asking how I know this, and it’s because the Beasleys kept sending me correspondence: emails and letters and pictures from every single special event they had! As they considered me part of their family, they always kept me in the loop!

In the spring of 2012, I went to technical college in Moldova. While I was pursuing my Physical Education degree at the (Ion Creangă) Pedagogical College, I enrolled in CERI-Moldova’s Transitional Care program where I learned life skills, got involved in volunteering in the community, and gradually worked toward my own independence. All through this, the Beasleys were my sponsors. Four years later, I had earned my P.E. diploma and applied for a scholarship program at a university in neighboring Romania, where I am now a student in the Physical Education and Mountain Sports Department. In the summer of 2018, with the help of an Erasmus Exchange Program scholarship, I spent a semester studying in Spain.   

Shortly after I moved to Romania to pursue my Bachelor’s degree, I graduated from CERI’s Transitional Care Program, but I still kept in touch with the Beasleys via email and social media. When I learned that Rebekah was coming back to Moldova to serve and bless other children in need of a family, I could not believe I would be seeing her after 10 years! I was so excited about seeing her again and meeting her husband! Through nerves and overwhelming emotion, I purchased a flight back to Moldova to see Rebekah. I was unsure if we would be able to connect and relate to each other like we had before, but all my fears vanished the moment I saw her. I will never forget our strong and powerful hug that day. I was so happy to see her, and I was so glad to meet Michael, a strong and heartfelt man. Though it had been ten years, we picked right back up where we left off and spent the next several hours talking and crying.   

 Eugeniu and his sponsors, the Beasleys
Eugeniu and his sponsors, the Beasleys

This is my story. With CERI’s help and the Beasleys’ sponsorship, not only have I achieved independence, but I have found a path to an education that can help further my plans and life goals. My message to my brothers and sisters in America is that Moldova is a small and impoverished country that needs you. The children without a family in Moldova need your support. CERI sponsorships work. A child’s life can change for the better from the investment into a child sponsorship. I encourage you to learn more about the great work CERI is doing in Moldova, and in other parts of the world where children’s lives are at stake. Your sponsorship could transform a life forever.

Eugeniu Vasilachi

Securing Families in Transit

One of the greatest tragedies of the death and injury caused by vehicle accidents is that, many times, the problem can be prevented. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that three out of four children’s car seats are not properly installed, and, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States.

by Monica Calderon

The colonias of Webb County, Texas, are neighborhoods faced with substandard living conditions, often occupied by families impoverished and in need. The new-born infants and toddlers in these communities, like all children, require special care when traveling from place to place in a vehicle. Seeing the need to protect children, no matter the financial situation of their families, BCFS Health and Human Services’ Healthy Start Laredo program (HSL) was awarded a grant to provide car seats to low-income families

Proper installation of a child seat

Since beginning work with vehicle safety, HSL has teamed up with the Texas Department of Transportation to support child safety initiatives across the state. Recently, HSL became a member of the Safe Riders Child Safety Seat Distribution and Education Program through the Texas Department of State Health Services. As members of this community service program, HSL can conduct educational classes and distribute car seats to families in the regions that need it most.

By providing safety seats to families, not only does HSL reduce the number of potential injuries and deaths that come from children being improperly secured in a vehicle, it also ensures families are able to comply with state laws requiring children under the age of eight to ride in a car seat, lowering the chances that financially-struggling families will have to add fines of up to $250 to their economic uncertainty.

In addition to the donation of car seats, Healthy Start Laredo provides families with training to properly buckle up children when it’s time to travel. HSL staff received extensive training from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which they now pass on to families in Webb County.

BCFS Health and Human Services is the first health and human services agency to be part of the Safe Riders Child Safety Seat Distribution and Education Program in Laredo, Texas. HSL is enthusiastic about the opportunity they’ve been given to secure lives through the empowerment and education of the community. The program identified a need and built an initiative through a variety of opportunities.

Making a positive difference deep in the heart of Texas, one child at a time, HSL’s car seat only one example of how a dedicated program is having a big impact on a community in need.

by Alana Jeter

The D.R.I.V.E. Safe Coalition creates awareness about the critical importance of properly installing a car seat, harnessing a child correctly in a car seat, and reducing the number of traffic-related injuries and deaths on Texas roads. With the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), D.R.I.V.E Safe and BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene have partnered to deliver traffic safety knowledge to families in Abilene.

Through BCFS Health and Human Services HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support) parent education course, parent educators have integrated traffic safety as part of a curriculum designed to provide community-based, family-centric programs that support families with young children 0-5 years of age to work through any barrier they may be facing.

BCFS-Abilene’s Parent Educators have been educated through traffic safety training, earning certification as a Child Passenger Safety Technician. Their certification enabled a partnership with the D.R.I.V.E safe coalition that allows parent educators to attend monthly Car Seat Check-Up events co-hosted by the Abilene Fire Department and other community organizations.

The Car Seat Check Up events help keep kids and families safe. Together with other technicians, HOPES parent educators provide individualized, hands-on instruction to parents for correctly installing a child safety seat into their vehicle, the different adjustments that allow a parent to customize the car seat based on their child’s height and weight, and how to correctly secure a child in a car seat. Parents can also find out if a car seat is expired and make arrangements for an exchange.

The partnership between BCFS-Abilene and the D.R.I.V.E Safe Coalition allows our parent educators to effectively add transportation safety education to an array of case management services and resource referral with the mission of providing wraparound services to help a family succeed, both at home and on the road.

CDC seat belt statistics

Hope + Hard Work = Success

By Lakita Oats

At 18 years old, I had no permanent address, no income, and a three-year-old daughter who was not in school. I was in Chicago at the time, relying completely on the support of friends and family to get by. I was truly homeless, about to move into a shelter with my daughter before a friend offered me a place to stay temporarily. After that, I moved between other friends’ houses, still desperate and in need of something more permanent and stable. One day a friend referred me to what I thought was just a nice daycare. It turned out to be so much more.

Latika Oats and her mother
Mother and Daughter

In 2008, I enrolled my daughter in the Head Start program. It was everything we needed as mother and daughter: education, support, resources, even a second family. I was excited to be part of something so positive during a time in my life that was not. I joined the program’s Parent Committee and Policy Council, and even became a Policy Council Secretary (a position that grew skills I would use later in my career). I also had some college hours which the Family Support Specialists encouraged me to build on by getting back into a university. So, I enrolled at a community college and started taking classes.

During my second pregnancy, Head Start remained involved with my whole family, continuing to support our goals. While life was still not exactly where I knew it could be, I continued taking college classes and started living with my aunt and uncle, who had graciously opened their home to me though they hardly had space left to give.

Around the same time, program staff asked if I would like to be a part of a new Doula program they were offering to pregnant mothers. I was grateful for this additional path of support, receiving assistance throughout my pregnancy. Within eight weeks of my second daughter’s birth, I was able to enroll her in an Early Child Education program, where she received a tremendous amount of support from the staff just as my older daughter and I had. The second family I had grown to know and love at Head Start was helping my immediate family grow to know and love each other.

Now a mother of two, I started to transition my focus from ensuring a healthy pregnancy into establishing an opportunity-filled life for both of my girls. I could not completely support them without first supporting myself. So, I enrolled in a job placement program offered through the state of Illinois, and soon found employment.

In less than two years, I had grown from a frightening time in my life as a homeless single mother to a stable parent with the promise of a future for her children.

Once I started working, I was able to move into an apartment of my own. My oldest daughter went to kindergarten prepared for what was to come, and my youngest started in her new program. In less than two years, I had grown from a frightening time in my life as a homeless single mother to a stable parent with the promise of a future for her children. Every move I made, I made for my girls and for the future of my family, and while the success I found would not have been possible without my drive and desire to achieve the life I knew was possible, I was so appreciative for every person who helped shape the woman I was becoming and the mother I was so proud to be.

Latika and her family during graduation
Latika and her family

I was in my own apartment with my children for more than a year until I moved to Missouri to join my future husband. There, I enrolled at Columbia College, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in human services. I wanted to help others the way others had helped me. I wanted to prove to people what they were capable of when they were given the right tools to accomplish what they wanted.

I worked toward my degree until 2015. By then, I was married, had three daughters, and was on my way to South Korea, accompanying my husband on a deployment in the U.S. Army. I had to put my educational goals on hold during my two years in Korea, as the time difference and busy schedule made even online courses a difficult option. However, during the break from college, I gained valuable experience as a Child and Youth Program Assistant, serving children in classrooms and after-school programs. My time there reaffirmed that I was on the right path: I definitely wanted to continue working with children and families.

When my family returned to the U.S., we moved to South Texas, where I learned about the opportunities available through BCFS Education Services. I took a position as a Family Specialist with BCFS Education Services, helping people on the other side of a story I had lived only a few years before. I continue to serve families in this way today.

Thinking back on where I’ve been and where I’m going, I credit what I learned from the Head Start program years ago as a teenage mother. The family specialists who served me showed me what was possible. They revealed a path that eventually gave me work experience, educational advice, maternal support, and most importantly, hope. I was able to take those pieces and build something truly meaningful and lasting. It was not always obvious where I was headed along the way, but it was always clear that I was moving.

In 2018, I earned my degree from Columbia College with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services. I travelled more than four hours to the graduation ceremony so that I could walk across the stage and receive my diploma. I did this intentionally. I did it in the presence of my three children, to show them what was possible – to make a point that life was only as good as you worked to make it.

Am I doing enough for the parents and children I work with? Am I doing as much as what was done for me?

Latika celebrating her graduation
Hard work and success

Now that I am serving as a Family Specialist, sometimes it can feel like I am not living up to the level of service that I was given as a young mother. Sometimes I question, “Am I doing enough for the parents and children I work with? Am I doing as much as what was done for me?” Still, I recognize that I am new to much of this, being on the other side of the situation. Coming so far does not mean I have made it; it means there is still a long way to go. For now, the most important thing I can be is a support for the families who need someone strong to lean on. The best gift I can give is my time and my openness to communicate, my willingness to provide whatever is needed to give families a future.

Even though I am staying busy in Texas with three daughters, a husband, and a new career, I still find time to visit Chicago every once and a while. Whenever I visit, I always enjoy meeting up family Specialists that were so important to my daughters and me. You could call it a second-family reunion.

Breckenridge Village to Open 3 New Residences

Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) will celebrate the grand opening of three new residences on its campus on May 17, 2019, offering a long-term home to additional adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

This phase of the BVT campus construction, which began in 2017, is the culmination of work   from diligent BVT staff, support from generous donors, and help from countless volunteers – including contractors, builders, and suppliers – coming together to create something that will last for generations of residents to come. A notable and stable source of assistance throughout the building process was the Texas Baptist Men (TBM), led by Bill Pigott, who was a member of the TBM 22 years ago, when they built the first homes and the Robert M. Rogers Chapel in 1997. One of the new residences at BVT is named in Bill’s honor.

At the celebration guests will witness the official dedication of the homes, which includes a ribbon cutting at each residence, tours of the new homes, lunch for all in attendance, and a symbolic butterfly release.

Les O’Ferrell, BCFS Board of Trustees Chairman; Dr. David Dykes, Pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church; Steven Campbell and Linda Taylor, BVT leadership; and Tammy, a resident of BVT, will all take part in the grand opening.

Learn more about Breckenridge Village of Tyler.

Let’s Talk

Texas Families: Together and Safe

Texas Families: Together and Safe (TFTS) is a program operated by BCFS Health and Human Services that helps families with children ages 3-17 years old in Texas. In TFTS, parents can learn about the importance of stress management and improved communication. Families are also provided connections to community resources.

The following testimonials from different sides of the classroom dynamic ­­­– teacher and student – offer a glimpse into one of the ways BCFS Health and Human Services cultivates our communities by investing time and instruction to the families who live there alongside us.

Calming Influence
By Elizabeth De La Rosa

I have always been a yeller. The more upset I became, the louder I yelled. With three growing boys, I was beginning to realize that this was not working, and I needed to change the way I was approaching situations. I felt like I was losing my oldest son to technology and that if I took the technology away I was being too hard on him. I also felt that if I forced him to spend time with me with me or do things with the family, he would just resent me. I was at a loss. The TFTS Parenting Wisely class helped me see that yelling was only making me more and more angry. It was not solving the situation at all. I was creating a monster!

I began to practice what the program was teaching and just speak to my children more and hold them more accountable for their actions. I valued what they said and took that into account before making rash decisions. I began speaking more with my husband as well. We started to agree on things before we spoke to the kids.

The greatest thing about this is how it changed my relationship with my oldest son (13 years old). I began to speak with him and ask for his input as well. My expectations are the same, but now we discuss them. I let him help make decisions that I can live with. Some, I may not agree with completely, but after hearing his side, I can be okay with them. We’ve had many ups and downs and struggles to get where we are today. I did think many times that he was doing it on purpose just to irritate me, but I stayed firm and kept my composure. That was very hard to do! He truly tested me beyond what I would have ever thought.

After much struggle, I now feel like we have become closer than ever. In a world of technology, I found myself calling or texting him to get his attention, he now asks me to spend time with him! He hugs and kisses me more (not in public, of course). He comes down from upstairs and wants to watch movies with me. He now understands when he has consequences and follows through with them with little resistance. The best part is that I am not yelling nearly as much as I used too. When I do yell (because old habits are very hard to break) I catch myself and keep my composure. The children now let me know that I am yelling and remind me that we agreed we would speak to each other and not yell.

We are a much happier family now. I am no longer worried about my blood pressure. In all reality, I felt like I was losing my son. Now, I no longer carry such a fear. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I feel we are better able to discuss things together and come up with the most suitable way to handle the situation…together.

Thank you for giving me such great tools.

Mindful Parenting
By Patricia Heredia

My name is Patricia Heredia, Parent Education Facilitator with the Texas Families: Together and Safe (TFTS) parenting program. I taught TFTS at El Dorado Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas, where I met Mrs. Cardenas.

Mrs. Cardenas had perfect attendance at the TFTS Parenting Wisely Young Child class. During the first few weeks of class, she was skeptical because she thought it was going to be like all the other classes she had attended where they would lecture her and tell her all the things she was doing wrong. Mrs. Cardenas did not believe the parenting skills mentioned in the parenting book would work.

Halfway through the course, she mentioned that she had practiced the active listening technique and the “I” Statement that we discuss in class. Throughout class, she mentioned that the self-reflection exercise during each class has helped her understand why she made the choices she did. She said that TFTS helped her finally understand that her choices have consequences for her and her children.

“I did not give my kids the chance nor the time to express their feelings, listen, and be mindful,” Mrs. Cardenas says. “I did not put them first when I was supposed to, and now I have hope and pray other people can realize how important it is to be present.” 

At graduation, Mrs. Cardenas was so grateful when talking and expressing her thoughts about her experience in class, the activities provided, and the home practice. She maintains that TFTS helped her understand parenting much better.

“Maybe my story and struggles can help somebody else bond,” she says, “and be mindful of placing their children first. Because of my participation in class, I have been able to keep a close relationship with my children. I will continue practicing the parenting skills.”

Hope and a Future

by Alexzandra Hust and Elliott Harris

“It wasn’t always like this,” says Jaime. He remembers younger days, simpler days. Perhaps that perceived ease and simplicity are made to be more now than they ever truly were because of a life that has taught Jaime what he knows today. Yet, if nostalgia adds some unrealistic magic to his history, it is still difficult to deny the changes that slowly took hold of his family and, consequently, Jaime’s own life.


As Jaime began high school, more was changing for him than his journey through adolescence. He was coming into his own as a soccer player and trying his best to enjoy the various treasures and tribulations that come with being a young man.

At the same time, Jaime’s mother was coming out of a relationship with a man who had abused her. While the change brought an end to the potential for abuse, it also brought financial troubles and other circumstances that further burdened what remained of Jaime’s family. Because his mother lost custody of her youngest children to her ex-husband, the family now consisted of only Jaime, his sister, and his mom.  

The transition to a family of three headed by a single parent was difficult on everyone involved, but Jaime’s mother took it especially hard. Her exceedingly troubled outlook affected Jaime and his sister.

“Whenever something bad would happen in her life, she would take it out on us,” says Jaime. “She’d call us ungrateful, or find a way to blame us for what was happening.”

Jaime looking out over a bridge

As a freshman in high school, Jaime was working and saving money so that he could attend the Winter Formal dance at school. His mother was not working at the time and asked to borrow the money he had saved for the dance to cover some of her own expenses. When Jaime said no, his mom got upset. “You’re going to be just like your father,” she said.

Jaime ran.

His mother called the police. It didn’t take officers long to find Jaime and take him back home, but it was hardly the end of tensions between son and parent.

Jaime remembers his sophomore year of high school as the height of his family’s troubles. They had moved into a new house which the landlord offered rent-free as long as the family worked to fix the house while they lived there.

“But we never worked on the house,” said Jaime. “If anything, it just got worse.”

The family’s living situation grew increasingly uncertain with pressure from the landlord to leave, and with that uncertainty came depression for Jaime’s mother. She was anxious and easy to upset. Jaime remembers the ill-fated prophecies his mother would dispense, telling Jaime he’d grow up to be an idiot, a murderer; a rapist.

“It wasn’t always like this,” says Jaime. “I can remember when me and my mom were really close, but everything she was telling me now – I just got so tired of everything and I started to hate myself.

“I started to think about hopping onto a train and leaving… or hopping in front of one. It was a really bad time.”

The next year – his junior year – Jaime left his family’s house for good. After his mother told him she would no longer give him a ride to work, his options for building a stable present and future were fewer now than ever before.

On the night Jaime finally left his house for good, the stress and tension in his family finally reached a breaking point, his mother speaking the words that would alter Jaime’s life: “I think it’s time for you to pack your things and leave this house.”


Over the course of Jaime’s junior and senior year, with no permanent place to call home, he was left to move between the houses of friends. He’d spend five months here, three months there; a few nights somewhere else. At each stop, the same story played out: generosity would wear thin from some member of his temporary family, or financial or relationship troubles further complicated an already complex situation for Jaime.

Amid the instability, Jaime’s grades suffered. It was difficult to keep up with homework when he struggled to keep a home. 

One day, the Abilene Independent School District’s Homeless Liaison offered Jaime the chance to connect with Our House, a transitional living program offered through BCFS Health and Human Services in Abilene, Texas. The school set up an interview between Jaime and an Our House case manager, Alexzandra Hust.

When Alexzandra explained what Our House could do for Jaime, he was in disbelief. Alexzandra remembers Jaime asking, “What’s the catch?”

Alexzandra laid out the rules for living at the house, which included maintaining a drug-free lifestyle and working towards independence. It all seemed so simple compared to the life Jaime had grown used to. Soon, Our House would give Jaime a place to call home.

Our House is a transitional living program that provides young men facing homelessness with a safe, stable living environment. The young adults living in the home receive services from staff and community partners including education assistance, employment training, and a sharpening of life skills.


While living in the house, residents learn to share in communal responsibilities – from general cleaning or dinner preparation to service projects benefiting the local neighborhood. The goal of Our House is to help young men grow to better manage their lives as they develop professional skills to more quickly become independent, responsible, contributing members of the community.[EH1] 

As a high school senior, Jaime was approved to live at Our House, which provided him with resources through BCFS Health and Human Services and their partners, such as the Texas Workforce Commission, that he otherwise would not have known were available. Most importantly, he finally had a consistent place to call home.

With a newfound sense of stability, Jaime enjoyed more free time than he was accustomed to. He made a few friends who shared similar pasts to his own. “I grew close to those guys, but I started following their ways.”

With new friends came new habits, and as he spent more time connecting with his new companions, alcohol and drugs placed Jaime’s life on a downward path. Though Our House requires drug tests from its residents, and a positive result would threaten the stability Jaime had found, as depression crept into his life, he was indifferent to the consequences of his actions.

He was struggling, and he knew it.

“I looked and saw my future in front of me: this wasn’t anything to live for and work for,” says Jaime. Eventually he reached out to Alexzandra and BCFS-Abilene Texas Workforce Commission Advocate Shelby Garfield, admitting everything he was going through.

“I’ve gotta thank Alex and Shelby because they’ve always been there for me and always been my support group,” says Jaime. “They’ve been a big part of my life and influenced me to go in the right direction.”

When Jaime told them about his difficulties, Shelby and Alexzandra got him involved in a local community program that helped turn him away from dependency and build a resolve against negativity. “They taught me how to change my life by staying busy,” says Jaime. He has internalized that lesson, keeping himself focused and active.

In staying busy and working hard, Jaime was left with a difficult choice. Near the end of high school, he realized he would have to give up one of his most faithful companions throughout life: the game of soccer. “It was a tough decision for me because soccer was something that could take me away from whatever I was going through,” says Jaime.

Work and school were enough on their own, and soccer had become yet another expenditure of time in an increasingly cramped schedule. He knew his options were limited if he had any hope of maintaining his grades and reaching his professional potential. He discussed the possibility of leaving the soccer team with his youth minister, who offered simple advice: “What’s going to help you the most in life?”

As tough as it was, Jaime finally told his coach he would not be able to continue playing with the varsity team. Afterward, Jaime spoke with Shelby about the weight of the decision he had felt forced to make.

“I don’t know Shelby, I’m pretty down,” he said.

“Well, I know what might cheer you up,” said Shelby. “How about a full-ride scholarship to Hardin Simmons University?” Unknown to Jaime, Hardin Simmons and BCFS-Abilene had been developing a full-ride scholarship for a resident at Our House. With a strong work ethic, a great educational track record, and a history that showed an unwillingness to stop when obstacles were in his way, Jaime proved to be a fitting candidate for the scholarship. Jaime describes the award from Hardin Simmons as the “biggest blessing I could ask for.”


Today, Jaime works two jobs, averaging between 50 and 60 hours a week to pay his bills and afford his own apartment that he recently moved into after leaving Our House. Five days a week, Jaime works construction in the morning and afternoon, and three to four nights a week, he takes an evening shift at Hendrick Medical Center as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). While the two jobs pay his bills, they also allow him to steadily build a savings account so that he can be prepared for the expenses of college as well as any unforeseen financial troubles. Jaime works hard to afford a life he has chosen to live, no longer a fate decided for him.

Meanwhile, Jaime’s relationship with his mother has drifted. While he and his mother rarely speak, he tries his best to stay in contact with his younger brothers and sisters, who are now 12, 13, and 16 years old. Jaime has high hopes for his oldest sister in particular, whose brilliance he finds hard to ignore.

Jaime at Hardin Simmons University

“I was fortunate to get the scholarship from Hardin Simmons, but if anyone deserves it more, it’s probably my sister,” says Jaime. “She has real potential, she’s amazing and just… so smart.” Jaime looks forward to supporting his sister’s education once she graduates high school, and hopes to do so for each of his younger siblings when the time comes for them.

Next fall, Jaime will begin his degree in nursing at Hardin Simmons University. Until then, he will attend a local community college to earn a few credits toward his coursework at Hardin Simmons. Jaime plans to use all the lessons he has learned to ensure success is as achievable as possible. “I’m going to every study hall, every tutoring session; whatever it takes to make it,” Jaime says.  

After college, he wants to move to San Antonio to begin his nursing career, hopefully rekindling some of the spirit he found in the movie Patch Adams, which was Jaime’s earliest inspiration to join the medical field. The film remains a standard for the level of care he wants to provide his patients and coworkers today.

“Sometimes, the other nurses [at Hendrick] will have to come pretend like they need me in another room. I’ll be talking with a patient for 30 minutes or longer. They think I’m stuck in there with them, but really I just want to know what’s going on; I just want to make sure they’re getting everything they need and that we’re doing everything we can for them,” he says.

He may become a doctor later in life, depending on the opportunities that become available, but for now, he simply feels blessed to have plans he finally feels capable of achieving through his own will and through the help and guidance of the individuals and organizations who have brought him this far. No matter what happens, Jaime will continue making moves that maintain a life of freedom, mobility, and independence.