The Measure Of A Man

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East Texas was never the same once Pierre de Wet arrived and put his heart and soul into the community. Little did we know, when Pierre made Tyler his home, with his larger-than-life personality and heart big enough for Texas, he would bless the community of Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) with his overwhelming generosity and loving spirit.

As an immigrant, Pierre came to the United States from South Africa in 1984 bringing with him two young daughters, ages two and four. He grew up on a farm where he learned at a young age the value of hard work. The experience, without a doubt, cultivated a man of many talents and embedded in him an undeniable strength to prevail – a trait that would become his trademark.

Starting out in California as a tractor driver in a rice operation, Pierre worked in a variety of laborious jobs until he made his way to Texas in 1990, where he put down roots in the rose capitol of the world, Tyler, Texas.

Pierre was a visionary and an entrepreneur to the core. He founded several local companies including Agtoprof, a national farm management company, and Kiepersol Enterprises, a vineyard and winery destination south of Tyler.

Although Pierre had left South Africa to work and build a life in the U.S., members of his family remained abroad, including his father and sister, Suzanne. It was in 1997 Pierre received word his father had passed away. Amid the grief of this sudden loss, Pierre wondered, what would this mean for Suzanne?

Suzanne was the first born, Pierre’s older sister. She was a happy, healthy child, whose baby jabbering quickly turned into words as she grew. However, one night, Suzanne developed an uncontrollable, dangerously high fever. Malaria. The walls of their one-room home closed in on them as they desperately sought God throughout the night, rashly promising anything for the chance their daughter might survive.

She did live, but things were never the same again. Suzanne didn’t speak as much after that night. She was joyous and beautiful, but the fever had burned away something within the child that never returned. Over the years, her father diligently made sure she had the care she needed at special schools and convents for those with developmental disabilities.

At age 46, Suzanne was alone in South Africa with no support system after her father’s death. Pierre brought Suzanne to live with him in Tyler, nearly ten thousand miles away. Shortly after Suzanne arrived, Breckenridge Village of Tyler opened, a residential community for adults with disabilities. A whole new “home” became available.

Showing compassion to people close to home, in his own community, was important to Pierre. Breckenridge Village is a place built on hope and freedom, and that was right up Pierre’s alley. His core beliefs were built on freedom and living the American dream. However, the kind-hearted folks at Breckenridge Village and many people with developmental disabilities must find a different path to that American dream.

Part of our freedom includes the honored responsibility that we must share the dream with those who need help to pursue it. Sharing that dream builds hope. And in Pierre’s words, you should “make every seed positive, and positive will grow.”

Pierre de Wet passed away in January of 2016, but his compassion lives on in the lives he touched at Breckenridge Village, across East Texas, and beyond.

Through Breckenridge Village, Pierre had contact with so many of the residents and came to appreciate their live-in-the-moment view of the world. Seeing how they helped each other and filled in the gaps for their friends’ abilities inspired him to write:

“We cannot all be the same and will never be the same. Each of us knows what is wrong and right. We know what’s good and evil and we know our talents. All we need to know beyond that is we all are parts of the body of Christ. Some of us are the ears that need to hear all of the other parts. Some of us are the eyes that see the need of the other parts. Some of us are the lips and need to speak positively and show kindness to the other parts. And some of us might be the fist that has to fight the physical battle for all the parts. Thy neighbor is the one that you can feel and touch. Love them so that circle can grow. There’s no growth in loving people so far away that you cannot hold hands.”

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Kugasaruthy & Satheeska: Two young girls and the transformational power of CERI’s Food Security Program

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In 2009, the Batticaloa District of Sri Lanka finally witnessed an end to the devastating 30-year civil war that decimated the region and its people. Batticaloa is the fourth most impoverished district in Sri Lanka, and home to the CERI office and the epicenter of CERI programs in the area. Nearly 20 percent of its inhabitants live at or below the poverty line, earning the equivalent of $25.50 per month.

According to UNICEF, nearly one of every five children in Sri Lanka is born with low birth weight and approximately 29 percent of children under five years old are considered underweight. To address this epidemic, Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) launched the Food Security Program (FSP).

In 2016, CERI Sri Lanka implemented the Food Security Program in Parathy Kiramam, Kiran Division, one of the poorest areas in Batticaloa, and the sixth village to be touched by the program since its inception. CERI’s initial goal of serving a group of 12 to 15 children quickly changed, however, when 34 underweight children showed up to the program. Two of these young children were Kugasaruthy, age 7, and Satheeska, age 5, both of whom weighed only 27 pounds.

Although they are young, Kugasaruthy and Satheeska know firsthand the ravages of civil war, which had left their father disabled. He was attacked by an elephant while seeking shelter during a shooting. As he ran for safety, he was shot three times. Barely alive, he was rescued and taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. Unfortunately, during surgery, a medical mistake resulted in a severed nerve, rendering the young father’s left arm useless. Unable to work with the use of both hands, it was incredibly difficult to find work and provide for his family.

The girls’ mother, Jeyanthini, 27, also suffered in the aftermath of these tragedies. The couple experienced feelings of inferiority due to their extreme poverty, causing them to withdraw from the outside world. Jeyanthini prohibited her daughters from playing with the other children in the village, kept them from attending school and confined them to their small home.

In spring 2016, Jeyanthini and her family were selected to participate in CERI’s Food Security Program, an opportunity she initially rejected. However, after learning more about the services, she accepted the offer, her heart filled with the hope of helping her family.

During the 12-day program, Jeyanthini learned to cook simple, healthy meals while her children participated in activities at the Children’s Club. After living in sheltered isolation, Kugasaruthy and Satheeska made friends and learned how to play with other children. With each passing day in the program, their energy and enthusiasm increased.

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Before long, Jeyanthini started to flourish as well. She began to share stories about her life during the cooking sessions, talking excitedly with the other mothers about the positive differences she witnessed in her children’s behavior as a result of their participation in the program.

“My girls are very happy to take part in the sessions,” she said. “They eat more while they are with other children than they eat at home when they’re alone. I feel an invisible love that surrounds my children, and peace and happiness cover our family daily as the girls return home after the session.”

Jeyanthini began allowing her daughters to play with the other children in the village, as well as attend school.

Participation in the program has also improved the sisters’ health. Kugasaruthy and Satheeska have both gained weight, expanded their social skills and boosted their self-esteem, and overall, enhanced their quality of life. Playing with their peers offered new experiences and opportunities for exploration, learning and development. New toys, new friends and organized games stimulated their growth and capacity, and CERI staff used game times to teach children how to play well together, model positive behavior, and show the love of God through respect for one another and good sportsmanship.

The FSP helped Kugasaruthy and Satheeska grow physically and emotionally in a very visible and profound way. Still, the girls remain underweight in comparison to their American counterparts. While the average weight of an American seven-year old is 49 pounds, Kugasaruthy is approximately 30 lbs. and little Satheeska at age four weighed in after the program at 27.5 pounds. Nevertheless, the sisters are on their way to healing, inside and out.

Bonita Nirmala Samuel, the CERI Sri Lanka Interim National Program Director describes her team’s feelings about the Food Security Program implementation in Parathy Kiramam.

“We thank God for this wonderful opportunity to serve others,” she says, “and to have successfully reached these families most in need.”

Sadly, more than 53 percent of children in Sri Lanka under 5 years old are classified as underweight (calculated as weight-to-age ratio), and nearly 72 percent of local households do not have adequate sanitation or water facilities. Each year, local divisions of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health in Batticaloa ask CERI to address the nutritional needs of area children through the Food Security Program.

The FSP addresses the acute needs in these villages for healthy food, nutrition education, intentional cooking skills, and information on the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation. The FSP offers Sri Lankan moms the tools needed to confront child malnutrition and common, yet life-threatening health conditions like diarrhea, intestinal worms and infections.

Between 2013 and 2015, CERI’s Food Security Program served more than 400 underweight children and their families. Each year the program has been in operation, a growing proportion of participating children are on track for healthy weight gain. This year, CERI Sri Lanka is serving 135 children and their families in six impoverished villages across the Batticaloa district.

Through the FSP, CERI hopes to reach even more families like Kugasaruthy’s and Satheeka’s, and one day, see Sri Lanka rise above the hunger, poverty and despair through the power of God’s love. Together, with open, loving hearts and a mission to nourish the body and the spirit, CERI staff and the Sri Lankan people transform and rebuild families and communities.

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Sustained Resilience: Immediate Disaster Case Management (IDCM) program operated by BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division

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Katrina’s Landfall

The 29th of August in 2005 would become a day to go down in American history. Hurricane Katrina was making landfall during the early morning hours. The Category 3 storm brought sustained winds of 130 miles per hour to the residents of New Orleans and hundreds of communities located along the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. After several intense hours, the winds subsided, the storm moved inland and weakened, but devastation from the flooding from failed levees had just begun. Thousands would lose their lives and tens of thousands of people would be displaced from their homes in what would become the costliest hurricane in U.S. history and the fifth deadliest.

In the months and years that followed this catastrophic event, the lessons learned were many. Despite the delivery and application of an enormous volume of resources, almost four years after the storm, in April of 2009, thousands of individuals were still in need of social services that would enable their full recovery.

Trailer homes, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and initiated by the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), had been deployed to assist residents that had lost their homes. As these trailer homes were never intended to be a permanent solution, a new pilot program known as the Louisiana Disaster Case Management Pilot (DCMP) was launched to assist people still living in FEMA temporary housing units. The goal of the pilot was to assist displaced residents with aspects related to long term recovery, including the transition to permanent housing and accessing available resources that addressed financial, legal and healthcare needs.

Lessons Learned The Hard Way

According to a 2010 independent study, “Navigating the Road to Recovery,” the efficacy of the Louisiana DCMP pilot program faced many obstacles: “Despite concerted effort by participating agencies, the implementation of the DCMP was fraught with challenges. As a result, the pilot could not be implemented as intended, leaving the needs of many clients not fully met.”

The report went on to document significant problems regarding communication, coordination, and financing of the program. “The stop and start of recovery initiatives led to serious discontinuities in client recovery, so the authors recommend that federal and state governments consider a single, longer-term recovery initiative that seamlessly acknowledges the stages of human recovery. Improvements in how federal and state governments identify and locate affected residents, consider needs and vulnerabilities in planning, and ensure continuity of services are critical to ensure high-quality disaster case management.”

The answer? The creation of a new federal program that leveraged the outcomes of the Louisiana DCMP program. The program came to be known as the federal Immediate Disaster Case Management program, or IDCM.

Inception of ICDM

Working in conjunction with FEMA, the new IDCM program would be administered by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). Within ACF, a department known as the Office of Human Services Preparedness and Response (OHSEPR) would be responsible for activating the program once certain disaster impact criteria had been met under a Presidential Disaster Declaration.

In 2014, the contract to provide these services for OHSEPR came up for renewal. With a lengthy track record of successful emergency response deployment operations on behalf of state and federal clients, BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division (BCFS EMD) submitted a proposal and was awarded a five-year contract to provide IDCM services.

Preparations Commence

Quickly, the program was off and running. EMD established a management team and within 60 days employed and developed nine case management teams consisting of 30 case managers each. Months of team coordination and distance-based training soon followed. Members of the IDCM team come from across the country and represent all ten ACF regions.

In late summer of 2015, a full-scale IDCM disaster exercise was held at Silver Cliff Ranch, the BCFS-owned and operated wilderness camp in Nathrop, Colorado. Case managers were provided a mock “activation order” by EMD. Hundreds of designated case management personnel were then flown to Denver from across the country on a single day and were transported by EMD buses on a three-hour journey into the mountains. Over the following four days, the “ACME” exercise, which was scenario-driven and included real-world examples of actual client situations, the IDCM team was able to effectively implement disaster case management training at a higher level than any delivered training in the program’s history.

The exercise was attended by representatives from FEMA, ACF, and uniformed members of the United States Public Health Services (USPHS), a government agency that operates under the leadership of the Surgeon General’s office to ensure public health functionalities during major disasters. The exercise was an incredible success.

The BCFS IDCM team was now ready for action. All that was needed was a mission assignment. In the spring of 2016, that opportunity came.

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Record-Breaking Rainfall

The night of April 17, 2016 began with heavy rain forecast in the southeast part of Texas. On this night and for several consecutive nights, Harris County and the many other counties that make up the greater Houston metropolitan area were situated within a steady stream of upper level moisture coming in from the Gulf of Mexico. As this tropical air mass intermingled with cooler air approaching from the northern portions of Texas, thunderstorms developed rapidly. Instead of quickly exiting the area as they usually do, these clusters of storms seemed to maintain a constant, almost static, presence over the region. As the thunderstorms intensified, their eastward motion slowed almost to a dead stop. As the storms remained, they dumped several million gallons of rain on unsuspecting residents of a 14-county area.

As the initial rains fell, many residents thought the storms would pass and things would go back to normal soon. Little did they know that within 12 hours the water from the nearby Brazos River, Colorado River, and numerous local bayous would swamp thousands of homes. The following day, after being rescued from swift moving waters by teams of first responders in special flood response watercraft, many of these same homeowners would be sleeping on cots in emergency shelters set up in nearby schools. Some watched the contents of their homes – their life’s belongings – washed into a river of debris that only a few hours earlier had been the roadway through their neighborhood. Other flood survivors in rural areas were left helpless as their livestock perished or were stranded by the floodwaters.

The flooding was record-setting for the Houston area. As a result, the federal government issued a Presidential Disaster Declaration for dozens of counties across the region. While the state of Texas does have significant local case management capacity, as time passed and the demand for case management services reached record levels, the local case management capacity was outstripped. It was at this point, several weeks after the floods subsided, that state officials determined federal case management assistance would be needed.

The BCFS IDCM team received a 90-day Mission Assignment task order on May 26, 2016. By June 5, nearly 60 BCFS personnel were providing desperately needed services to residents of the counties impacted by the storms. Using a combination of centralized case management services and deployable case management strike teams, the IDCM group fanned out into a dozen communities that were most impacted by the floods. Sixty total personnel were initially deployed; an additional twenty personnel would be deployed a few weeks later.

It would become an IDCM deployment operation that would alter the face of the federal IDCM mission profile. 

Changing The Mission Profile

The cyclical phases of emergency management include Preparedness, Response, Recovery, Mitigation and Prevention.

In the emergency management world, the Response phase of any incident is usually short-lived. Response operations include application of response resources. An Incident Command Post is established as a location where response operations are coordinated. Supplies, equipment and personnel are organized and utilized in a manner that is designed to save lives and protect property. Incident Action Plans are drafted and distributed daily in order to capture required response objectives, organizational structure and personnel assigned to specific tasks. Situation Reports are also created and distributed daily, as a means of tracking operational success toward the established mission objectives outlined in the Incident Action Plan.

The Recovery phase, on the other hand, is where the heavy lifting begins. It is generally characterized by a slower pace, as recovery operations can continue for several years. Recovery operations rarely utilize the same tools as the Response phase. True to form, during previous IDCM deployments a different contractor had applied a typical recovery approach to their recovery efforts on behalf of OHSEPR. The results were disappointing and ineffective.

The BCFS IDCM team would take a much different approach. BCFS would, for the first time, apply a response-oriented approach to recovery operations. The results? A vast improvement in the coordination and application of IDCM case management resources, which allowed BCFS to assist thousands of affected residents in a much shorter time frame.

Powerful Results

EMD disaster case managers spread out across the Houston-area and 11 surrounding counties, helping flood survivors on a daily basis for months at a time. For each flood survivor, some experiencing their darkest hour, their disaster case manager served as a single point of contact for all their questions, advocating for them with multiple social service organizations and government partners, to help them achieve the best possible outcomes in their individual recovery process.

EMD disaster case managers were the go-to resource for flood victims to receive assistance meeting their needs for housing, furniture, appliances, utilities, employment services, transportation, health and wellness, senior services, access and functional needs services, legal assistance and more.

The positive impact on the affected communities was tremendous. Based on the results listed above, feedback from our federal partners has been very positive.

The highly successful work performed by BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division to ensure sustained resilience for the Houston-area will have a lasting impact for years to come.charlie-rosenberg-3-2

Breckenridge Village of Tyler goes FULL THROTTLE WITH NASCAR

 

2016 NASCAR PoconoNo. 95 Chevrolet at Pocono Raceway in the NASCAR Spring Cup Series

The owner of Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing team, Bob Leavine, calls Tyler, Texas home, along with his wife, Sharon and daughter, Melynda. Mr. Leavine’s 21-year-old grandson Tanner is autistic. Tanner attends BVT’s day enrichment program that helps adults with disabilities develop spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally and socially in a loving, family atmosphere.

“There is a place in Tyler, Texas – Breckenridge Village of Tyler – that our family has supported for a long time because of the work they do and the people there. They have taken that young man and helped him grow and contribute. Tanner has learned skills from cooking to making candles and selling them. We wanted to put (BVT) on the car so we could make a statement and say, ‘hey we are behind this.’ We need to help our special kids because it takes a lot of resources. People need to know about this, because they can help.” – Bob Leavine, owner of Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing team.

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From East Texas to Eastern Europe With Love

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In November of 2008, Diane Stone stepped into a sparse but tidy supply closet in the recreation room of an East Texas group home and stumbled across a couple of plastic looms. Nearly eight years and 2,400 hats later, she and nine other women have knitted their way across the Atlantic Ocean, connecting two organizations in the BCFS system in a meaningful way, and most importantly providing warmth and compassion to orphans in Eastern Europe.

Diane has served as a day program leader at Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT), a residential community for adults with disabilities, for almost a decade.

When she first found the Knifty Knitter looms, Diane thought, “Maybe the residents could learn how to make hats with these!”

In the first year of knitting, Diane’s group created 200 hats. The number has grown every year since, reaching 370 hats in 2015.

All of the hats are sent overseas and distributed to orphanages in Moldova in Eastern Europe every December by Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), the international branch of BCFS.

Remarkably, BVT has not had to purchase yarn for any of the 2,400 hats they’ve created since the knitting group began. According to Diane, volunteers collect trunk loads of yarn donations from their churches. Arts and crafts have always been a part of BVT’s day habilitation program, but it was important to Diane that the residents “use their time and talents to serve others, and feel the joy that brings.”

By making hats, BVT meets a very real need. Not only are Moldova’s winter temperatures gravely cold, but utilities and energy resources are scarce. It is difficult to keep buildings warm when the sun goes down, so the children can wear BVT’s knitted hats all hours of the night and day.

When the first batch of hats arrived in Moldova, the CERI team sent a report back to Tyler, Texas, thanking BVT villagers profusely. Eight years later, tears still well up in Diane’s eyes as she remembers what they told her.

“The kids don’t ever get a choice in what they wear,” she said. “They just wear whatever they are given.”

But, in this case it was different! CERI workers laid out the hats, with their brilliant array of colors, almost as many shades and patterns as there were hats, and let them pick!

“The kids didn’t know what to do. Orphanage workers had to take them by the hand and show them how to make a choice.”

Diane’s knitting group has expanded to become an official class at BVT. But the core group of nine knitters continues to meet every morning, sharing life and ministry with each other. “We are just one big family here at BVT,” Diane says. “I have never been anywhere with an atmosphere like this.”

Community service has always been a part of the lifestyle of BVT residents and day program participants. Staff and residents are involved with Meals on Wheels, the East Texas Food Bank, Jesus Closet Clothing Ministry, and other local nonprofits. Expanding their local volunteer efforts to have a global impact was a logical – and inspiring – next step.bvt2

Finding Her Way Home: Cassie’s Journey

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Cassie Carmichael’s high school accolades summed up in one word? Impressive.

She was offered academic scholarships by several universities, excelled on three sports teams, and worked as a lifeguard at the Baptist Encampment, all while maintaining strong relationships with family and friends. Her story is a triumphant one, but living that story was not always easy.

Child Protective Services took Cassie away from her mother, a heroin user, when Cassie was 14. While the separation was painful, Cassie says that her mom was “going down a path I didn’t want to be on.”

For Cassie, the hardest part was leaving her older brother. When Cassie entered the foster care system, her brother had just turned 18 and was not eligible to be placed in a foster home.

At first, Cassie rotated through a handful of foster homes in the Abilene, Texas, area. Since her brother also lived in Abilene, they were able to keep in touch. After a few months, Cassie was placed with the Mellings, a new foster family in Galveston – seven hours away. Cassie admits she had “attitude problems” about the move.

“I wasn’t really okay with being that far away from my brother because we’ve always had a great relationship,” said Cassie. “I kind of fought it and I didn’t want to be there.”

Even while Cassie was admittedly standoffish, the Mellings welcomed her into their Galveston home with open arms and lots of loving patience.

During Cassie’s sophomore year in high school, the Mellings decided to move to Brownwood, Texas, to be closer to family. The move also put Cassie 300 miles closer to her brother.

The Mellings made it a priority to help strengthen Cassie’s relationship with her biological family. When Cassie’s mom and brother came to Brownwood for her high school graduation, her foster parents invited them to dinner and made efforts to get to know them. “They really tried to connect with my family because they know how much it means to me,” she says.

Today, Cassie is a doting auntie to her brother’s newborn son. And now that she lives closer, she can visit often. “Every time I go over there, they make me change dirty diapers,” Cassie laughs. Diapers and all, Cassie loves spending time with her growing family. She enjoys taking her nephew to the park and “just having fun with him.”

The Melling foster home is a busy one by any standard: Cassie is the oldest in a household of eight, with four foster sisters and a foster brother.

Cassie is deeply grateful for her foster parents. “I love them so much,” she says. “They’re super cool and they trust me. They believe in all my goals and they know that I can do whatever I put my mind to.”

Cassie’s senior year of high school was packed with college entrance exams and a full academic workload, but she found time to be a member of the basketball, powerlifting and track teams and work as a lifeguard. Prioritizing her classwork while balancing extracurriculars paid off – Cassie was accepted to three universities, each acceptance letter arriving with an attractive scholarship offer.

Faced with a choice, Cassie signed up for college campus tours, starting with Angelo State University (ASU) and the University of North Texas in Denton. BCFS Case Manager Alexzandra Hust accompanied Cassie on the ASU tour. Cassie noticed most of the other students touring with their parents, but with her BCFS mentor Alexzandra by her side, Cassie wasn’t discouraged. “BCFS is part of my family!” she beamed.

Cassie fell in love with Angelo State and committed to attending ASU in the fall, accepting a $10,000 scholarship for her excellent GPA and ACT scores. She also plans on joining Angelo State’s Powerlifting Club.

With her freshman year of college in full swing, Cassie makes sure her busy schedule includes staying in touch with family.

“My foster mom would always joke with me, saying, ‘I’m going to make you take online classes because you’re going too far away!” Cassie recalls.

“It’s great now that I’m going to Angelo – she can come and see me all the time.” Passionate about helping people, Cassie plans to study psychology or social work.

“I’m just trying to go where God wants to lead me. I want to do social work so I can help kids like me. Then, I want to do psychology so I can work in drug rehab and try to figure out everything, from what kind of hold drugs have on people to where I can try to forgive my mom for all the stuff she’s done.”

“I feel like God put me here for a reason,” says Cassie. “Everyone has places where things happen to them in their life, and they don’t know if they’re going to make it. I feel like God tests us, and this is what He did: He put me in this situation because He knows what we can handle and that we can get out of it and make something of ourselves.”

The Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program operated by BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene helped Cassie transition out of foster care and become the strong, independent young woman she is today. PAL helps youth aging out of foster care learn valuable life skills like building healthy relationships, responsible money management, goal-setting and health & nutrition.

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A House Full of Treasures: A Visit To The Goulet Family Home

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From the long, winding driveway, the Goulet family home looks perfectly serene, nestled in the Texas Hill Country. But step inside their expansive estate, and the quiet country scenery gives way to the joyful commotion of children running, playing and giggling.

Mrs. Jill Goulet sits in the family room, recalling when she and her husband, Denis, contemplated their journey to their fulfilling, exciting lives as foster and adoptive parents with BCFS.

“Six years ago, on the very day we got licensed (as foster parents), we got a call for an emergency placement of a six-week old infant that was being discharged from the hospital. That was Nathan.”

Over the course of just five years, the Goulet family took in six children from foster care, and adopted each of them into the family.

The Goulets welcomed Nathan in September 2010. A month later, two-and-a-half year old Judy joined the family as the second foster child. In November 2011, the family fostered Brian and Katie, a sibling duo, and in March 2015, welcomed the sisters, Autumn and Summer.

A Prayerful Beginning

“We always wanted a big family,” she admits. “My husband comes from a family of nine, I come from a family of five.”

They couple shared how they turned to the Lord for guidance when they struggled with infertility issues.

“We started praying about it, and we felt like God was putting it on our hearts to adopt kids,” Mrs. Goulet says. “Family can look different, and a lot of different situations can be considered ‘family.’”

The Goulet Kids

Today, the first child the Goulets adopted, Nathan, at six years old, is the youngest, along with Katie, also six. Brian and Autumn are both seven, Judy is eight, and Summer, at 10, is the big sister. All at once, all six children bound into the Goulet homestead each day at around 3:20 p.m. The calm, quiet household transforms into a bustling scene as Mrs. Goulet quickly adapts from willing interviewee to attentive mom, lovingly tending to each child as they approach her with updates from school, questions about snack time, the dinner menu and the family pet. It’s beautifully frenetic; it’s family.

Brian, the most talkative, is excited about a toy snake he won at school. “His name is Slinky, because he can do this,” as he bounces the swirled rubber toy off the table.

As the kids hear mom begin to talk about family trips, Summer mentions past destinations Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan, Disneyworld and Niagara Falls. Nathan adds excitedly, “and Meemaw’s house!” — Mrs. Goulet’s mother in Pennsylvania.

It’s evident: this energetic, playful group of children enjoys plenty of adventures at home and on the road, and — like most families — they keep a full schedule of hobbies, lessons and sports.

“Autumn and Judy take guitar lessons, and all the girls do ballet and tap dancing. Summer is on the volleyball team at school, and she also does robotics,” Mrs. Goulet says. Before she has time to mention the boys’ activities, Judy asks her mom if she can have candy for snack.

“Nathan is going to be in baseball,” Mrs. Goulet says, before offering Judy a healthier alternative to the treat she requested. “Brian loves to design and build things. He wants to be an inventor.”

The other children have also shared dreams of what they want to be when they grow up and depending on which Goulet child you ask, the answer may vary from day to day (as it tends to for this age group), but their responses are a delightful grab bag of careers: a fashion designer, a chef, a vet and a dancer. Most heartwarming is Nathan’s response. “Without fail, he will tell you he wants to be a dad,” Mrs. Goulet says with pride.

Blessed Beyond Measure

“We’ve never had biological kids, but I can’t imagine loving kids any more than we do… We feel blessed to be a blessing,” Mrs. Goulet says, “and there are so many kids out there that need a home, and we love kids.”

The Goulets adopted all six children through BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio Foster Care & Adoption program. The BCFS team was by their side every step of the way, especially BCFS case manager Erika Noriega, who Mrs. Goulet said was instrumental in bringing their family together.

“Erika gives 110% of her effort,” said Mrs. Goulet. “She really went above and beyond, she was an amazing advocate for the kids.” In many adoption cases, the child’s past experiences and family history can be complicated and upsetting – for a young child, the details may be too intense to understand. For the day when their kids are old enough to comprehend their pasts, Mr. and Mrs. Goulet are ready.

“I have all their case files, all their history,” Mrs. Goulet says. “Everything is packed away so the day they get curious about it, they will be able to read it, because they’re going to wonder. When they’re old enough to understand, we can go through it together. At some point, they may want to reach out (to their biological families), and that’s going to be their decision to make.”

Crazy Fun

While six children may seem like a full house, the Goulets have considered adopting more children. For now, Mr. and Mrs. Goulet focus on nurturing, loving and guiding their own six. More family trips, stay-at-home movie nights and special birthday dinners are penciled in on the calendar for the foreseeable future. The Goulets wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It gets a little crazy sometimes, but it sure is fun,” Mrs. Goulet smiles.

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Moms get a HEAD START In Their Careers from BCFS Education Services’ Head Start

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In Head Start classrooms operated by BCFS Education Services, 3- and 4-year-olds learn the alphabet, practice new vocabulary words and prepare to hit the ground running when they start kindergarten. In addition, learning opportunities outside the classroom – in the lives of Head Start parents – are also making a profound impact on the family’s quality of life and their future.

“We conduct family assessments to discuss the parents’ goals and help improve the family dynamic,” says Jhanirca Velez Ramos, a Family Specialist for BCFS Education Services. “If a parent would like to earn their GED, for example, I provide them directions for how to obtain it. I encourage them to follow through. I make myself available and follow up throughout the school year if needed. My real passion is empowering people.”

The federal Office of Head Start lists family well-being initiatives as one of the program’s three core services, alongside children’s health and early learning. So, when moms in two Spanish-speaking families of Head Start children in Seguin told their Family Specialist Jhanirca they wanted to learn English, Jhanirca was excited to help!

Jhanirca referred Ms. Hernandez and Mrs. Garcia to the local school district where they completed an English as a Second Language (ESL) course.

After working at a local restaurant for 10 years, Ms. Hernandez was finally offered a promotion. Confident in her new bilingual skills, she accepted the promotion to serve as a Team Leader. She doesn’t plan on stopping there.

“At first, I didn’t want to accept the job because I didn’t know much English,” she explains. “I wanted to learn a bit more English first and then accept the position. Now, I want to go back and learn even more, because I’d like to move up to another position at work.” While Ms. Hernandez was settling into her new role as Team Leader at the restaurant’s corporate offices, her 5-year-old son, Sebastian graduated from Head Start and began kindergarten at his local elementary school. Just like his mom, Head Start helped build Sebastian’s skills and cultivated in him a love of learning.

Mrs. Garcia, another Head Start mother of four, had always wanted to learn English. She picked up some phrases from her kids and from hearing other people speak, but had never taken English classes.

“I wanted to be able to help my kids with their homework, and develop myself more, and not struggle so much,” said Mrs. Garcia. “It’s beautiful to know how to speak both languages.” Mrs. Garcia, who works independently as a maid, hopes to use her new English skills to open her own cleaning business. “I want to gain my commercial license so that I can clean government buildings or stores,” she says. “To be able to expand and make my business official.”

Both mothers are grateful for the help that BCFS Education Services has provided.

“Head Start has helped us a lot,” said Mrs. Garcia. “My daughter has learned a lot in the classes, and it helped us learn how to be better parents. Everything (in Head Start) is very good, very organized. (Family Specialist Jhanirca Ramos) is always motivating us and pushing us to go further.”

Mrs. Garcia’s daughter, Paula, has also graduated from Head Start, ready for kindergarten. “She’s more prepared, she knows more about the routines of going to school,” Mrs. Garcia said of her daughter’s first year of elementary school. “She learned a lot, and while some of the other kids didn’t go to pre-K, she is a bit more advanced because she attended Head Start.”

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Award-Winning Resiliency

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Starla Huff and Nickolas Wilkerson are two youth from the foster care system who have faced more than their fair share of tragedy and injustice. By holding onto their faith, working hard, and a little help from supportive foster families and BCFS Health and Human Services-Tyler, today Starla and Nick both stand tall – ready for whatever tomorrow may bring.

Meet Starla

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Starla and her three brothers lived with their grandmother for many years while their mother battled drug addiction.

“My mom was a user. She did drugs while I was in her presence,” Starla remembers. “Often, she would take me with her wherever she was going.”

That experience, along with several instances of abuse, led Starla to her own struggles with chemical dependency and self-harming behaviors at a young age.

“I started doing drugs when I was 10 or 11, smoking and drinking,” Starla says. “I used to cut myself and I tried to commit suicide multiple times, and I was going to a dark place and most of it was because I was on drugs.”

“My family’s not very close, so I didn’t really know any of my family, except for, like, my immediate family, and they never cared for any of my mom’s children because my mom was, like, the black sheep in the family.”

Starla entered the foster care system on her 15th birthday and was moved to Waco’s Trinity Home of Faith, a shelter for youth in foster care. Two months later, on October 4, she arrived at the foster home of Mr. and Mrs. Rohus in a small East Texas town.

“I still wasn’t the best kid,” she recalls. “I’d get in trouble at school, I did not have a filter, I said whatever I wanted. I was still smoking.”

A year later, on her 16th birthday, Starla left the Rohus foster home and moved in with her biological father, a decision she now considers one of the worst she has ever made. According to Starla, her father sexually assaulted one of her friends.

A month later, Starla returned to the Rohus’ foster home, where she met a new group of foster youth who helped change her perspective.

“I’m so blessed that the foster home still had an opening,” she says. “When I came back, I was the oldest in the house, and so I had a lot of responsibilities. We started getting younger (foster) kids, so I straightened myself out. I told myself that I couldn’t do what I did when I was growing up, that I had to be a role model – so I did.”

Meet Nick

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Nickolas Wilkerson is an Oregon native who, like Starla, grew up in a family ravaged by the damaging effects of substance abuse.

“My mother and father were very abusive to each other,” Nick recalls of his parents, who both battled addictions to drugs and alcohol. “They couldn’t hold a job, they fought all the time, so we were finally placed with my grandma because my parents weren’t fit to care for us.”

Nick’s grandmother wanted him to have mother and father figures, so she sent him to live with an aunt and uncle in Texas when he was 8 years old. Nick moved to the remote Texas town of Harleton, where he stayed for four years.

“My aunt and uncle adopted me,” he explains, “but my aunt was really abusive. One night, I kind of felt like my life was threatened, so I ran away. It caused a whole ordeal with police, and the neighbors found out that she was abusing me. My aunt and uncle decided that they would put me into the [foster care] system.”

Nick entered the foster care system at 12 years old; at 13, he moved into the Hall family’s foster home. “They’ve been my support,” Nick says affectionately of the Hall family, who welcomed him with open arms and provided the stability and support system of a loving family.

“My mom showed me that through God I could accomplish anything,” Nick says of his foster mom. “They strengthened my religion; it was one of the biggest things they did for me. I was into sports, and they were very supportive of that,” he says. “They were just there for me.”

Preparation for Adult Living (PAL)

Soon after Starla’s return to the Rohus’ foster home, Mrs. Rohus told Starla about BCFS-Tyler and the Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program. Nick first came to BCFS-Tyler when he turned 18, eager to take advantage of programs for youth who aged out of the foster care system.

Starla and Nick completed the PAL program operated by BCFS-Tyler. PAL teaches youth how to set and achieve their goals, create healthy relationships and learn positive self-guidance. From how to write a check to filling out scholarship applications, the PAL program teaches youth the skills needed in the “real world,” and how to succeed on their own.

“They helped with my FAFSA, they set me up with classes, and bought my books,” Nick said of BCFS-Tyler. “From there on, anytime I called them and needed help with college things or if I had a problem that I couldn’t solve by myself, they were there. They’re my support line.”

Starla says the PAL program instilled in her a newfound confidence.“They taught me a lot about self-respect and to accept yourself for who you are. That’s really helped me, because I used to have really low self-esteem and I’ve gotten better about how I feel about myself.”

Award-Winning Resiliency

When Starla and Nick graduated high school one year apart, their case managers from BCFS-Tyler were right alongside them to celebrate. Shortly after graduation they were each awarded a prestigious accolade: the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) Foster Youth of the Year award.

The award is granted annually by DFPS to one outstanding youth in each of the 11 DFPS regions in Texas. Nick garnered the award in 2015, and Starla in 2016, marking the first time two youth from BCFS Health and Human Services have won the award back to back, much less both from the small East Texas town of Tyler.

“To win this award, the youth must demonstrate strong leadership skills, motivation, academic excellence and extracurricular involvement,” explains Carla McCalope, BCFS-Tyler Program Director. “Starla and Nick are both very grounded, motivated and determined to make it.”

“Starla and Nick are proof that through hard work and help from supportive families and effective youth programs, good things can happen. We can break generational cycles of abuse and poverty,” McCalope says. “We are so proud of them, and can’t wait to celebrate their next accomplishments.”

A New Beginning

Today, Nick and Starla attend Tyler Junior College. Nick is a biology major who aspires to go to medical school. Starla is working toward a bachelor’s degree in nursing, with plans to become a flight nurse in the Air Force.

“I want to finish college, I want a degree,” says Nick, matter-of-factly. “I want to make something of my life. My goal is to be a doctor. If God has another plan, then so be it, but that’s what I’m going for!”

“When my aunt and uncle put me back in foster care, I was angry and I didn’t really have anybody to turn to,” said Nick. “My foster parents that I have now, they took me to church and through that, I found that God had a plan for me; I found faith in myself and Him. My confidence was lifted and my joy was lifted.”

“Before I came into foster care, whenever I had gotten really into drugs, I claimed to be an atheist. I guess because I was so angry,” said Starla. “When I came to this foster home, they were going to church and said I had to come. The minister was talking about drugs and alcohol and basically everything that was my life. I started crying and praying, ‘Jesus, I need help, can you please guide me,’ and He did.”

Although they did not know each other until recently, Nick and Starla both followed similar paths: Both spent time in foster care, turned to BCFS-Tyler for assistance and, one year after the other, they were awarded the Foster Youth of the Year award by the state of Texas.

Too many youth across the United States experience abuse or neglect, and struggle to overcome the emotional and physical scars left behind. But just as Nick said, inspired by the Godly wisdom of his foster mother, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), and with God ALL things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

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Lydia’s Drive

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Lydia drove. She had no idea where she was headed, but that didn’t matter. She needed help. Her application for housing had just been rejected and being new to Del Rio, Texas, she had no one to ask for guidance and no one to turn to for help.

Desperate, despondent and with only a small amount of money left, Lydia drove past an unimposing, single-story building with a sign out front that read BCFS Health and Human Services. She didn’t stop at first, but as she continued driving, something inside her told her to head back to that small building.

There, at the BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio office, she met social workers Mary Padilla and Claudia Lopez, an introduction Lydia believes was a divine encounter that steered her new life in Del Rio in the right direction.

Lydia and her family decided to move to Del Rio from Wichita, Kansas to live closer to her husband’s mother. Sadly, when they arrived in Del Rio, what should have been a joyous new beginning quickly turned to sorrow as she learned that her mother-in-law had passed away. Shortly after hearing the news of his mother’s death, Lydia’s husband was pulled over for speeding and was arrested during the stop for outstanding warrants. Unable to pay his fines, he was forced to remain in jail to pay his debt.

With her husband in jail, Lydia found herself in a new town with small children, no family support, no income and no place to call home. After years of struggling with domestic abuse as a child and in her first marriage, she decided to do what she does best in tough situations: Fight back and overcome!

Lydia started looking for work and housing. Several of her job applications were rejected, but she persisted. With the assistance of BCFS-Del Rio, she was able to pay the deposit and first month’s rent on a new place to live. BCFS-Del Rio even helped Lydia secure her and her children’s immediate needs until her husband finally returned home.

Lydia not only found a job, but has done so well that in the short time since, she has already received a promotion. Lydia continues her path to success by accomplishing other life milestones. She received her first driver’s license at the youthful age of 40! She is also enrolling in GED classes, committed to showing her own children that it’s never too late to achieve your goals. “I don’t know what I would have done if I wouldn’t have found BCFS. I am so thankful to Ms. Padilla and Mrs. Lopez for all their help.” – Lydia D.