By Sarah Musick
Belle and Jon knew they had found a special place when they walked into the BCFS Health and Human Services’ Abilene Transition Center three years ago. Although the center would not officially open for another month and had no furniture inside, it served as the catalyst for major transformation for both youth from the day they arrived.
BCFS staff quickly paused their grand opening preparations to give Belle and Jon a warm welcome while unfolding plastic chairs and a small table to hold their first case management meeting and counseling session. They immediately began encouraging them and accessing their needs. Belle and Jon have continued to utilize counseling services and education assistance at the BCFS Abilene Transition Center since that first day in 2011.
Jon was a 17-year-old high school student who had been homeless several times, bouncing from his parents’ home to his friends or acquaintances to escape heated arguments with his family. But Jon says lessons he learned at the transition center helped him improve his communication and conflict- resolution skills so he could return to his parents for good.
“Johnny Ngyuen, the center director, took the time to listen to me and taught me how to bring up sensitive issues with my parents in a less fiery way.”
Even as his home-life improved, Jon was unhappy at school where he felt unchallenged by his coursework. With BCFS’ help, Jon was able to transfer to an accelerated high school program that was a better match for his learning style and education goals. He earned his high school diploma there in 2013.
In 2012, Belle was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes hearing loss, episodes of memory loss, tinnitus and nausea. The diagnosis finally explained symptoms she had experienced since childhood, but with few effective treatments available for Meniere’s disease, Belle continued to miss school due to severe bouts of vertigo. Despite earning A’s in her classes, Belle racked up so many absences she was forced to withdraw from school entirely. The transition center helped Belle navigate the adult education system to prepare to earn her GED, as well as provided financial aid for exam fees. She completed her GED with honors when she was just 16 years old.
Today, Belle and Jon continue to strive to meet their goals with the help of the transition center. They plan to attend college and are working with BCFS for financial aid, applications and admissions.
Belle carries transition center business cards on her at all times so she’s ready to share words of encouragement and information about the center with other youth who need help. Belle has since blossomed into an entrepreneur, launching a business called Pandora’s Tambox with her grandmother in 2014.
Belle smiles as she recalls her first day at the BCFS Abilene Transition Center. “It has been awesome to see how much the center has changed since then – back when there was just a folding table, me and Jon. Now hundreds of youth have been served at the center, and I’m proud to be one of their first “clients.” But I prefer to call myself a “friend” of the center rather than a “client.” It better explains how much my life has changed because of the people, support and kindness offered there.”
Jon and Belle say they owe their success to hard work, and the help of BCFS’ Abilene Transition Center.