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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The Power of FAITH

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For most of her adolescence, 17-year-old Faith Garcia was angry. “I didn’t listen to anybody,” says Faith. “Basically, I did what I wanted. I was always with the wrong crowd, and doing everything wrong. I would choose my friends over everything – even over school.”

Years of negative peer pressure and self-destructive behavior culminated in a serious incident at Faith’s school. She was arrested for assaulting an authority figure on campus – but even after this dramatic incident, she was given another chance. However, she continued to stray down the wrong path and was arrested again – this time on criminal mischief charges for a separate incident off campus. Faith found herself in the juvenile justice courtroom standing before Bexar County Judge Laura Parker, an experience she would later say was a personal turning point.

Judge Parker’s court is better known as the Crossroads Girls Mental Health Court, which works closely with the BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio KAPS program, or Kids Averted from Placement Services. BCFS-San Antonio KAPS and Crossroads work in tandem to provide young women in the juvenile justice system with case management, counseling, life skills training, job search assistance and educational services. The goal is to help them avoid repeating their past transgressions, and build a brighter future.

One of the most unconventional components of the program turned out to be the most impactful for Faith: equine therapy and horseback riding. She enjoyed connecting with the calm, majestic animals and being outdoors. Through equine therapy, plus intensive writing workshops, Faith learned to redirect her anger and calm her destructive impulses.

“They told us that the horses pick up on who you are, and what your attitudes are like. At first, I was scared, but then I just talked to it and said ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’ My anger calmed down because they made me write it all on paper, or work with animals – things that I don’t get to do regularly.”

Faith did so well in the program that when she graduated, BCFS staff asked her to return to mentor other girls. Today, she’s preparing to graduate high school and pursue her dream to become a firefighter.

Faith uses her past to motivate her younger brother and sister to make wise choices. “I tell them, ‘You see how I was,’ and they’re nothing like me,” says Faith. She warns them to not be controlled by others and avoid the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol, sentiments she learned from her mother and stepfather.

“It put me in a place where I’m more calm,” Faith says of KAPS/ Crossroads. “If I get angry, it’s on me. I’m the one that’s going to pay the consequences.”

Words of wisdom Faith received from her strict but loving stepdad, Moises Martir, helped change her outlook:

“Your friends are not the ones that are going to be controlling your life, later. They’re going to be the ones walking when you’re stuck back here. You don’t need to be like other people, you need to be yourself. You need to learn how to control yourself and push through.”

In 2016, the Crossroads Girls Mental Health Court won the National Criminal Justice Association’s Outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award for the Western Region

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.

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.

Prenatal Care Along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Situated along the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas, the colonias (a Spanish word meaning neighborhood or community) of Webb County are some of the poorest areas in the nation. To make matters worse, housing in the colonias is often overcrowded and lacks even basic facilities, like proper plumbing.

Pregnant women living in these isolated communities face additional challenges. Although first trimester prenatal care (FTPN) is associated with improved birth outcomes, Hispanic women living along the U.S.-Mexico border have shown lower rates of FTPN as compared to non-border women or non-Hispanic women, according to a 2014 annual report from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

However, this isn’t the only factor facing pregnant and parenting women locally. Reports from the Texas Department of State Health Services show the rate of fetal deaths, as well as percentages of low birth weights, lack of health insurance, and poverty are higher in Webb County than in Texas as a whole.

For more than 15 years, BCFS Health and Human Services-Laredo has been working to improve maternal and child health outcomes in the colonias of Webb County through the Healthy Start Laredo (HSL) program. Most of the individuals served through the HSL program are immigrants, don’t have a doctor or receive regular medical care, live below the poverty level, and lack health care insurance and transportation. Despite these grim circumstances, BCFS-Laredo staff from the HSL program and the Colonias Promotoras Program (CPP) work tirelessly to enroll clients for services, make sure they receive the earliest possible prenatal appointment at the BCFS mobile medical unit, and help them submit state benefit applications for CHIP Perinate or Medicaid when eligible.

The following accounts offer a brief glimpse into the lives of some of the courageous woman served by BCFS-Laredo. Although each story paints a unique and deeply personal portrait, all of these clients received services through HSL and CPP that have enabled them to obtain a medical provider, health care coverage, quality prenatal care, and the necessary knowledge to live a healthy life. But perhaps most importantly, their babies were given a chance for a healthy in life.

Liliana Caal

liliana-caal-and-familyLiliana Caal was born and raised in the small town of Coban, Alta Verapaz Guatemala. After her father died in an accident when she was only 12 years old, Liliana’s mother struggled but did the best she could to raise her and her four siblings. At the age of 22, Liliana married her husband, both of them hoping for a happy and simple life together. They soon found this was not possible as the violence in her town was escalating and local gangs pressured them to join their ranks constantly. But they refused, deciding the only way out was to move to the United States.

They began their journey to the U.S. with Liliana’s brother and brother-in-law. Each of them had only a few quetzal in their pockets (Guatemalan currency the equivalent of less than $1) and the clothes on their backs. They traveled for several weeks by train and slept in the brush whenever they could, always fearful that they would be kidnapped by other gangs along the way. Barely alive, the couple finally arrived in the U.S. in late November after enduring the cold weather and suffering from hunger and insect bites. After crossing into the U.S., they were picked up by Border Patrol and consequently Liliana was separated from her husband. She was detained for several weeks, during which time she discovered that she was pregnant with her first child.

Upon her release, Liliana found herself alone in an unfamiliar country 1,500 miles away from home. She did not understand what was going to happen to her and no one was able to tell her the whereabouts of her husband. She soon learned that the federal government authorized her to remain in the United States and was taken to live with another refugee family in Laredo, Texas. It was then that Liliana found out about the Healthy Start Laredo (HSL) program.

After enrolling in the HSL program, Liliana was able to obtain CHIP Perinate coverage and was referred to a medical provider for prenatal services. She attended several group health education classes that encourage healthy pregnancy, and with the support of her case manager, she was also linked to other social services such as the Women, Infant, and Children program (WIC).

In May, Liliana delivered a healthy baby girl weighing 7.2 pounds. Liliana has since been reunited with her husband. Thankful for the support they received through the HSL program, the couple now feels that their future looks promising.

Daisy Cardenas

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Daisy Cardenas has lived in Laredo since she was 2 years old. She is undocumented but never let that stop her from living a normal life. She has been a hard worker for as long as she can remember. Growing up, her father made a business from buying and selling various items at the local flea market. Daisy recalls how she always enjoyed going to work with her dad and helping him in whatever way she could.

During her first pregnancy, she and her boyfriend worked with her father to make a living and prepare for the birth of the child. For Daisy, that preparation included enrolling in the Healthy Start Laredo program. Through the program, Daisy was able to obtain health care coverage and received first trimester prenatal care and case management. As a result of the support she received, Daisy delivered a full-term 7.5-pound. baby girl.

Now married and pregnant with her second child, Daisy has followed in her father’s footsteps. Little by little, the couple managed to save enough money to buy a vehicle and start their own small business at the flea market. Daisy has expressed pride in her accomplishments, stating, “My dad is a great provider and always ensured we had everything we needed. He has also taught me one of life’s greatest lessons which is to never give up and that hard work always pays off. My family and I have accomplished many goals through determination and perseverance.”

Luisa Sanchez

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Luisa Sanchez enrolled in the Healthy Start Laredo program when she was pregnant a year ago. When she entered the program, she had been struggling to get health insurance due to a lack of stable housing caused by conflicts with her guardian. With the assistance of the HSL program, Luisa eventually got the coverage she needed and was able to see a medical provider for her prenatal care. As a result, she delivered a healthy 7-pound baby girl, Aryanna.

But the support Luisa received through the HSL program wasn’t limited to medical care. She also credits the program with helping her to develop the skills necessary to become confident and independent. Since participating in the program, she has blossomed and managed to overcome her shyness.

“The BCFS program has helped me during my pregnancy by providing transportation to my prenatal care visits as well as instructing me in classes related to pregnancy and parenting skills. The program has also influenced me to set goals which made me realize that I wanted to continue my education and become a radiologist,” shared Luisa. “I’m thankful to BCFS for the assistance I have received and also for my case manager who has encouraged me to pursue my educational and personal goals.”

Luisa is currently enrolled at Laredo Community College and will soon start courses in radiology.

 

Brenda Onofre

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Brenda Onofre enrolled in the Healthy Start Laredo program as a young mother of two young children, with a third on the way. She lives with her husband and two sons on El Primero Ranch, a horse stable where her husband works as a trainer. Brenda estimates that there are around 50 other residents who call El Primero Ranch their home.

Brenda was born and raised in Allende, Coahuila in Mexico. Deplorable living conditions in Allende, compounded by a lack of work or any type of assistance, forced Brenda’s decision to escape to the United States with her husband and their first son.

Although their small home is only five steps away from the stables, Brenda and her husband are grateful to live at El Primero because they have a place to call home and there is plenty of work. Their days start at 4 a.m. as Brenda wakes to make breakfast before her husband goes to work cleaning the stables and grooming and training the horses, while Brenda stays home tending to the family.

Brenda recently gave birth to another healthy baby boy weighing 7 pounds and is grateful to the HSL program for the medical care, case management services, health education classes, and transportation assistance she has received.

“Thanks to the program, I never missed any of my prenatal appointments, laboratory testing, or sonograms but most importantly I thank them because I gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” Brenda explained.

Today, Brenda continues to count her many blessings and thanks God every day because she was given an opportunity to live a happy and healthy life!

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.”

Precious Minds, New Connections

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A Poem By Elizabeth Guajardo Walsh Inspired by the author’s experience in BCFS Health and Human Services’ parenting education program,

Precious Minds, New Connections Un poema por Elizabeth Guajardo Walsh Inspirado por su experiencia en el programa de educación para padres Precious Minds, New Connections de BCFS Health and Human Services

From stressed-out and controlling,

To flexible and understanding,

Today I praise independence

By practicing empathy and patience.

 

It sounds fun and easy,

But parenting takes a toll.

Now memories of my childhood

Empower my new role.

 

I’ve learned that communication

Provides the connections

Between high expectations,

And our own situation.

 

A new way to play by the rules,

This course just gave me the tools.

My children are one of a kind,

In my hands lays each precious mind.

Del “¡Ten cuidado!” a un “Te amo…”,

De “¡Más te vale!” al “¡Así se hace!”,

De la impaciencia a la convivencia,

De gritar y controlar a interactuar y acariciar

 

Suena fácil—no lo es.

Pero HOY veo las conexiones

Entre mi estilo de crianza Y los recuerdos de mi niñez.

 

Todo es tan lógico,

Debí de haber sabido.

Con el perfecto ejemplo de mis padres

Debí de haber tenido.

Sin embargo, cada situación es diferente.

Y gracias a este curso, ahora tengo presente

Ser cada día más flexible y tolerante,

¡Porque la mente de mis hijos es brillante!

ALL-STAR Lineup In The Special Olympics

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It was forecast to be a particularly rainy Saturday in East Texas, but dozens of athletes and spectators breathed a collective sigh of relief when the weather cooperated for an afternoon of fun-filled competitions. It was finally here, the day of the Special Olympics! Teams from all over Area #7 of the Texas chapter of the Special Olympics donned colorful jerseys and descended on Golden Road Park in Tyler, Texas.

Four times a year, a team from Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) gathers to compete in the Special Olympics. Somewhere between training sessions, team-bonding and practicing good sportsmanship, they each transform into powerful athletes. Breckenridge Village is a tranquil residential community for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Special Olympics is just one of many opportunities BVT residents and day program participants have to develop new skills and make lasting friendships along the way.

Between 20 and 30 athletes from BVT play at each competition, with about six BVT staff members by their side on the field, or cheering them on from the sidelines. Their team name: The LEAPstars!

Each athlete picks their favorite sports from a fun roster of options: basketball, track and field, softball, bocce ball, bowling, swimming, golf and even horseback riding.

BVT athletes are given opportunities to train and prepare for the competitions year-round. Bowling is the team’s favorite – they go to the local bowling alley at least once a month, and some even bowl weekly. BVT’s annual bowling tournament, dubbed the Turkey Bowl, is another fun way the athletes prepare. The residents break up into teams and whoever wins the coveted Turkey Bowl trophy gets to display it in their classroom at BVT all year long – and enjoy the bragging rights that come with it.

Alvin Davis, BVT’s Recreation Coordinator, serves as BVT’s Special Olympics Coach. “Personally, the Special Olympics has been a real eye opener for me,” said Coach Alvin.

“When I first started, athletes were participating in just one sport, bowling. Now we participate in five different sports throughout the year. I’ve seen athletes come out of their shells both mentally and spiritually. Being a coach for this special group of people has allowed me to see a different side to them. They don’t allow their inabilities to slow them down or even stop them from trying.”

For the folks that call BVT home, the LEAPstar athletes, BVT staff, Coach Alvin, and the families and loved ones of the athletes, the Special Olympics experience is priceless. Lifelong memories are created, and bonds are strengthened between teammates, and even opponents – all in a fun, safe, inclusive environment.

Meet A Few of the BVT LEAPstars on the Team Roster

Dawn

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According to Coach Alvin, preparing for the Special Olympics has given BVT an opportunity to teach the residents about the process of goal-setting, and working to achieve those goals. Dawn, a BVT LEAPstar on the softball team, worked hard for weeks before the competition.

“Dawn has a hunger to learn new skills because she wants to be better,” said Coach Alvin. “Off the field, Dawn has been working with her parents on her batting, catching and throwing skills. I see her confidence on the field when she plays. Dawn has consistently asked for feedback and I always reassure her that her hard work is paying off on the field.”

Brian

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Today, Brian Freeman is an energetic BVT LEAPstar and team player, but he had to step out of his comfort zone to join in the fun. Now, he says he loves playing on the bowling, softball and track teams.

Coach Alvin was pleasantly surprised when Brian said he wanted to try out to join a team.

“Brian is very quiet and even when you speak to him he doesn’t have much to say,” said Coach Alvin, “but when he is on the field he really comes to life. He interacts well with his teammates. I am proud of him for stepping out and trying something new.”

Tammy

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At a 3-on-3 basketball game in Nacogdoches, Coach Alvin was amazed by another LEAPstar athlete, Tammy Kidd.

“Tammy is a funny and caring individual, but on the court she is competitive and relentless! Her competitiveness drives her to perform above and beyond any expectation. Everywhere she goes she meets new people and knows how to make people laugh,” Coach Alvin shared.

Tammy was driving the basketball for layups, stealing the ball from opponents, and shooting from just under the three-point line. “This was not the same person I saw in practice!” said Coach Alvin, with pride.

Cyndy

 

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Cyndy Snider, a LEAPstar athlete who has cerebral palsy, won’t allow her condition to determine her mental or spiritual state.

“Cyndy is always looking for the next sporting event she can participate in,” said Coach Alvin. “She doesn’t care if she wins, she just wants to do her best with what God has given her.”