BCFS Hill Country Resource Center: Where Collaboration Meets Compassion

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For someone who needs help in the Texas Hill Country – whether it’s counseling, crisis intervention, or education and employment assistance – traveling to multiple nonprofit offices around town to meet basic needs can be difficult, especially without transportation or the flexibility to miss work.

That’s why BCFS gathered local nonprofits under one roof at the BCFS Hill Country Resource Center Model is an innovative way to connect several nonprofit organizations and maximize their combined talents and resources. For the community, this means that those who are struggling have easy convenient access to a wide array of programs, services, and resources in one central location.

Services Available:

  • Counseling
  • Case Management
  • Emergency shelter placement
  • Literacy programs and educational support
  • Job training and job placement
  • Parenting support groups
  • Help for military veterans
  • Creative art therapy
  • Computer lab access
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Adoption Days Are The Best Days

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BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio Foster Care and Adoption Program Call (210) 208-5629 or visit DiscoverBCFS.net to learn how you can build your “forever family”

BCFS Health and Human Services has celebrated hundreds of joyful Adoption Days, building loving families across Bexar County.

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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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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.

Prepared For Emergency Management

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With more than a decade of experience responding to natural disasters and humanitarian crises, BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division (EMD) is a recognized nonprofit leader in emergency management, incident management, disaster response, public health and medical emergency response, mass care, medical sheltering and planning for vulnerable populations.

In addition to our top-tier incident management expertise, EMD has built an extensive inventory of resources that allows us to provide customized logistical, communications, and mobility support that meets the unique needs of our partners in federal, state and local government and private industry. We maintain a fleet of more than 90 support vehicles and trailers including:

  • Tractor Trailers
  • Commercial Buses
  • Mobile Command Platforms
  • Ambulances
  • Fire Engine
  • Mobile Medical Unit
  • Box Trucks
  • 1-Ton and 1-1/2-Ton Trucks
  • Generators
  • Light Towers
  • Laundry Trailers
  • Shower Trailers
  • Toilet Trailers
  • Forklifts
  • Polaris ATVs
  • Mast Trailers

EMD also provides state-of-the-art communications support for responses of any size. Our communications resources include VHF, UHF, and 700/800 MHz radio equipment, satellite voice and data devices, and cellular voice and data devices.

EMD’s stock of life-saving emergency supplies and warehouse resources are always at-the-ready to be deployed to:

• Erect a self-contained compound the size of a small city with the capability to shelter thousands of disaster survivors simultaneously, complete with sleeping cots, medical triage equipment, hygiene kits, and shower, toilet and laundry facilities

• Care for disaster survivors who need medical care and those that have access and functional needs

• Supplement local first-responder’s capabilities, including fire departments, police departments and search and rescue teams

NO MATTER HOW BIG OR SMALL THE MISSION TASKING, OUR GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE INDUSTRY PARTNERS REST ASSURED THAT BCFS EMD HAS THE RIGHT TOOLS IN THE TOOLBOX TO RESPOND.

Striking A Chord With Jackie

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Jackie Boyer loves to play the guitar. “I like that you can make it your own,” he says. “You can make it personal, you can make it unique. Whatever you do is really up to you.”

When Jackie came to BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene, he had dropped out of high school and experienced periods of homelessness. Four years after his first encounter with BCFS-Abilene, at the age of 21, Jackie is now gainfully employed, has his own apartment and is working toward a fulfilling career. Jackie’s story goes to show that in life – as in music – “whatever you do is really up to you.”

An Abilene native, Jackie entered the foster care system at age 14. A severe case of diabetes put his father in a nursing home, and the mental and emotional strain that placed on Jackie’s mother left her unable to raise her four children.

Jackie is the youngest in his family, with two older brothers and an older sister. Jackie was able to stay with one of his older brothers in a foster home temporarily, but they were separated when the brother aged out of the system. Jackie was later transferred to a new foster home.

When Jackie aged out of foster care, he struggled to stay on a stable path. For a while, he was homeless and had nowhere to turn. But things began to fall into place when he was accepted into Our House, a transitional living program operated by BCFS-Abilene. Our House provides safe, comfortable housing to young men overcoming homelessness, while helping them save money, improve their life skills and prepare to move out on their own.

However, Jackie’s stay at Our House proved challenging for him and his housemates.

Jackie found it difficult to follow the house rules or stick to his Personal Transition Plan – a set of individualized rules and goals that helps each resident grow to self-sufficiency. When his hyperactive behavior disrupted the other residents, Jackie was asked to leave.

“It wasn’t until he found Our House, enjoyed how nice it was, and then lost it that he decided to take responsibility and overcome all the things that had been holding him back,” said Emily Cole, Regional Director for BCFS Health and Human Services. “He wound up on the streets again and said ‘I don’t want to do that again.’ It was a motivating factor for him to get it together,” said Cole. “Not every fairy tale ending comes with a picture-perfect road getting there.”

Although his time at Our House came to an early end, he remained actively involved in other BCFS-Abilene programs, including the Texas Workforce Commission program which helped him define his career goals and advance his education.

“I got help with my schoolwork, they helped me get my GED,” Jackie says, “and they helped me write a résumé and find a job.”

Jackie landed a full-time position as desk clerk and bookkeeper for a local hotel, and soon was offered the opportunity to move into one of the hotel’s units built out as a small apartment. It’s become another step toward Jackie’s goals of independence and selfgrowth.

When Jackie began a relationship with a young woman who was pregnant, Jackie, excited at the prospect of helping care for a newborn, joined the Fatherhood EFFECT program. Fatherhood EFFECT is a parenting education program operated by BCFS-Abilene that teaches the characteristics of a good father, like discipline, masculinity and work-family balance.

Although the relationship, ultimately, did not work out, he says he completed the program “for his own personal gain” and learned valuable skills about decision-making and healthy communication.

Living independently, holding down a job and studying to earn his GED simultaneously proved to be a challenging combination for Jackie. Staying active in BCFS-Abilene’s programs was daunting with a jam-packed schedule, according to his case worker, Alexzandra Hust. But, he powered through the study sessions, long work shifts and weekly life skills workshops at BCFS-Abilene.

When he earned his GED in December 2015, Alexzandra and the BCFS-Abilene team were overjoyed. Soon after, they helped Jackie file financial aid and admissions applications for local colleges. He plans to study psychology at Cisco College.

Jackie’s experiences in foster care inspired him to choose a career field helping others.

“I plan to be a social worker working for Child Protective Services or Betty Hardwick, I haven’t decided which yet,” Jackie says. The Betty Hardwick Center provides mental health care for children and adults, residential services for people with developmental disabilities, and early childhood intervention services.

Today, Jackie still plays the guitar and plans to dabble in songwriting for an added creative outlet for self-expression. He doesn’t shy away from opportunities to share his story, and over the next few years, perhaps his song lyrics will be another window into the ups and downs of his personal journey.

“I have made some great memories at BCFS,” says Jackie, “and I will never forget the people I have met there over the years.”

India’s Son Returns to Give Back CERI expands to India led by Ian Anand Forber-Pratt

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Whether you’re in a rural Indian village or in the hustle and bustle of a crowded urban street, it’s clear: India is a vibrant, intoxicating nation, bursting with color and so full of life. The food, the smells, the sounds, the ancient temples, the varied dialects, and the sense of order hidden beautifully in the chaos – a faint-of-heart traveler might even say it borders on sensory overload. This proud nation of warm and resilient people is also, unfortunately, the source of some staggering social and economic epidemics.

India is home to 1.2 billion people, twenty-two percent of whom fall below the international poverty line. In 2015, the average annual income of each family equated to a meager $4 per day.* Imagine the futility of trying to stretch these few dollars to pay for safe housing, medical care, food, clothing, education and other essentials.

Poverty coupled with lack of education, unemployment, child labor, homelessness, substance abuse, physical and mental health needs, child abuse and neglect, violence and inability to access resources are just some of the horrific challenges India’s children face every day. In response, the international arm of BCFS, Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), launched a new organization in New Delhi, India, in partnership with other thought leaders and agencies, to strengthen families and protect children.

The Centre of Excellence in Alternative Care of Children will support and strengthen family-based care and protection for millions of children in India through proactive initiatives that will bridge the gap between government policies relevant to child care and protection and how these initiatives are implemented at the ground level.

Heading up this transformative program is scholar, researcher and sociologist, Ian Anand Forber-Pratt, a man following his lifelong dream of bringing progressive alternative child care to India, and promoting the idea that every child deserves to live in a healthy, happy, loving family setting. Ian aims to revolutionize the social service systems for children in his native India to include foster care and kinship care for orphan children.

Born in Kolkata, India, Ian was adopted from a home for unwed mothers when he was two months old by a Canadian mother and an American father. Ian was raised and educated in the United States, along with his adopted sister from India, Anjali, and his brother and sister (biological to his adoptive parents). His adoptive parents, determined to connect Ian and Anjali to their Indian heritage, exposed them to Indian cultural events where they learned about native foods, dance and language. However, it was not until his first trip back to India in 2006 when he said his “internal circuits” really connected with his ancestry.

“I felt at home, and not at home, in the same emotion,” Ian recalls of this trip. “I finally felt like I’d found a sense of purpose. I was going to use the gifts I’d been given in life to honor my adoptive parents and give back to the country that gave me life.” Even before that memorable trip, however, Ian dreamed of giving back to his birth country, he was just unsure of exactly how.

Ian ventured out to be a catalyst for change, taking those first few steps, no matter how small. Two years and thousands of emails and phone calls to potential partner agencies mustered Ian only one connection with another organization. However, he remained dedicated and slowly started to see results. He knew he needed to collaborate with existing service providers to make a real impact. New connections trickled in from partnering agencies, including important policy makers, government officials and leaders in social services. This established a network of advocates that would, in the next ten years, have the power to change state government and pass critical policies.

Today, critical legislation and social service guidelines are in place, including the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2015, Central Adoption Resource Authority Guidelines on Adoption 2015, the Model Guidelines on Foster Care 2016 and the Integrated Child Protection Scheme 2014. Ian served on advisory committees for both state and national legislation on foster care in India.

Together with partners from governmental and non-governmental sectors, the Centre of Excellence is slated to continue making significant changes and much-needed advancements in India’s child care and protection system.

In the words of renowned human rights advocate, Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Leaders and visionaries like Ian and CERI are spearheading that change in India, every day.

Partners of the Centre of Excellence include the Core Assets Group, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, and Washington University Visit http://www.AlternativeCareIndia.org

*Sources: Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook; World Bank

Take BVT out to the ballgame!

Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) Enjoys a Rangers Game

Nearly 60 residents, day program participants (aka LEAPsters), staff and volunteers from Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) attended a Texas Rangers baseball game on April 6. Through a Rangers-sponsored community outreach program, BVT LEAPsters  and staff watched the Rangers battle the Seattle Mariners.

“LEAPsters,” according to BVT Program Director Steven Campbell, is the nickname given to BVT day program participants, standing for Learning, Experiencing, Achieving, and Providing. The day program helps adults with developmental disabilities learn new skills.

BVT’s trip to the baseball game was made possible through the Texas Rangers’ Commissioner’s Community Initiative & Players Give Back, a Major League Baseball-supported program that helps fans who would otherwise be unable to attend a pro baseball game. This is the second time BVT LEAPsters have attended a Rangers baseball game.
“We are always looking for ways to engage our residents and LEAPsters in special and unique opportunities within the community,” explains Campbell.  “For many of them, the Rangers game was an experience of a lifetime.”
In addition to Rangers baseball this Spring, BVT recently provided its residents and day program participants with field trips to the Caldwell Zoo, the East Texas Gator Farm and Times Square Cinema to see the Wizard of Oz. On April 23, BVT LEAPsters will compete in the Special Olympics Track and Field events in Lufkin, TX.
BVT is a faith-based community for adults with mild to moderate intellectual and developmental disabilities. BVT offers focused residential and day habilitation programs to meet the needs of those individuals whose families have sought BVT for its warm, safe setting, its caring staff and its effective services. BVT works to help empower each resident develop physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally and socially.

Breaking Cycles of Poverty Through Vocational Training

In Sri Lanka, an island nation off the southern coast of India, most people live without roads, electricity or access to safe drinking water. Over the last 25 years, this impoverished nation has been ravaged by a bloody civil war and devastating tsunami that claimed the lives of thousands of people. But in the midst of all this tragedy, stories of hope emerge that prove the Sri Lankan people can break cycles of poverty and build a brighter tomorrow.

Singarasa Sivarasa, a 17-year- old Hindu boy, was born in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka to a very poor family. His father lost his life fighting in the civil war. He became an orphan at just five years old when his mother suffered a fatal accident as she went to bathe in a nearby stream.

Singarasa went to live with his grandmother in a nearby village. His grandmother worked long hours in the paddy field cultivating rice, but she didn’t earn enough money to provide for them both.

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BCFS’ overseas division, Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), brought Singarasa into their foster care program when he was eleven years old. CERI’s foster care program connects youth who are displaced or orphaned with family members who can care for them, and helps the newly formed family meet the child’s physical, educational, and spiritual needs through subsidies and connections to local services.

The CERI team in Sri Lanka worked hard to motivate Singarasa to focus on school and pursue higher education after high school. Unfortunately, he failed the national exam that qualifies students for higher education. Singarasa became frustrated and distanced himself from his CERI case workers, determined to forge his own path. He found odd jobs here and there in the village doing manual labor, and started getting into trouble.

But his advocates within CERI continued to contact him, hopeful that he could still turn his life around. They recognized that he was drifting down a dangerous path, with no sustainable way to make a living and negative influences all around him.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 3.13.02 PM.pngWorking with CERI, Singarasa learned that even without going to college – which is very expensive and difficult to achieve in Sri Lanka – he could still pursue vocational studies and receive national vocational qualification. So he enrolled in a vocational training college to learn automobile repair and become a mechanic. He blossomed in the training program, and was deemed the best student in class.

Armed with a brand new skillset and newfound self-confidence, Singarasa says he can tackle any challenge that comes his way. He has since found employment in local auto garages to earn a stable income. This year, he began a second-year training program at a vocational college in Sri Lanka, thanks in part to the support of his CERI sponsor back in the United States.

CERI offers several types of sponsorships in Sri Lanka that meet the physical, emotional, and developmental needs of children, as well as help youth transition into adulthood with training programs, educational opportunities, and guidance on financial management and social values. Training and career guidance CERI provides Sri Lankan youth helps connect them to job opportunities – and ultimately break generational cycles of poverty that are deeply ingrained in the nation’s socioeconomic landscape.

CERI has planted deep roots in this island nation, and the fruits of the organization’s labor are plentiful as they work alongside the next generation of Sri Lankans. Each year, hundreds of children and youth like Singarasa experience drastic life-change as a result of CERI’s teams abroad, as well as their loving and generous sponsors stateside.

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For more information about CERI’s child and youth sponsorships, visit CERIkids.org

Planning for Worst Case Scenarios

Mass fatality incidents are not a pleasant subject, nor one upon which few people would want to dwell. But like all disastrous events, failure to plan for catastrophes like mass fatalities may result in additional confusion, trauma and distress to those involved.

So we plan, we train and we exercise what we’ve learned. Exercises are an essential element of disaster preparedness, allowing us to practice skills, discuss potential issues, and appScreen Shot 2016-03-04 at 3.23.59 PMly our knowledge to real-world scenarios. But how do you exercise a mass fatality event?

The Texas Department of State Health Services, Health Services Region 8 (HSR 8) contracted with BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division (BCFS EMD) to hold a full-scale mass fatality exercise in San Antonio. A full-scale exercise allows participants to apply the skills acquired at training sessions in scenarios that are meticulously crafted to be as realistic as possible.

The exercise was a collaborative effort between HSR 8, BCFS EMD, the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Highway Patrol State Crash Reconstruction Team Section and the San Antonio Fire Academy.

The exercise involved a constructed scenario of a crash between a 15-passenger van and a Southern Pacific train. The train, part of the Fire Academy’s training center, provided the real- world “feel” for the exercise. To add to the reality, bodies (plastic mannequins) had disaster injury make-up (moulage) applied by BCFS Health and Human Services’ moulage artists.

Participants, including the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office which played an active leadership role during the exercise, were tasked with performing a search and recovery effort. Victims were located, appropriately handled, and carried to a storage location. Evidence such as personal effects were gathered and categorized to be returned to the victims’ family members.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 3.24.09 PMThe Crash Reconstruction Team led a training prior to the exercise on protocols for scene investigation and evidence collection. The BCFS EMD forensics team led a presentation of search and recovery protocols, and facilitated the train crash simulation to ensure a safe learning environment. Participants represented a variety of disciplines, including fire, law enforcement, public health, justices of the peace, healthcare and EMS.

“Collaboration is essential when dealing with a large-scale event like this,” said Kari Tatro, EVP/COO– Administration, Education & Emergency Operations. “Ensuring that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities, and practices together before a crisis, allows us to respond seamlessly in real events.”

Even in death, we seek to serve with respect and care to those in need.