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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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

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.”

Eleventh Annual Ladies’ Spring Luncheon Packs the House to Benefit Breckenridge Village of Tyler

TYLER – More than 400 guests came together at the KE Bushman’s Celebration Center for Breckenridge Village of Tyler’s (BVT) 11th Annual Ladies’ Spring Luncheon on Friday, April 15. Each year, the luncheon is held to benefit the residents and day program participants at BVT, a faith-based community for adults with developmental disabilities. The luncheon is BVT’s largest annual fundraising event, and female residents of the Village attend as guests of honor.

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Grammy-nominated artist, motivational entertainer and author LynnMarie Rink brought her unique brand of wit and wisdom, engaging luncheon guests with anecdotes, inspirational experiences and even a musical performance. Mrs. Rink and her husband are the parents of a son, James, with Down’s syndrome. Rink details the trials, tribulations and victories of her life as a working mother and caregiver to her son in her recently published memoir, Wrap Your Heart Around It: A Memoir About Learning to Love the Life You Have.

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Rink’s honest message sent energy and encouragement rippling through the crowd, and for Sharon Freeman, a parent/guardian of a BVT resident, Rink’s message was especially resonant.

“Hearing LynnMarie’s experience reminded me of how blessed I am to have friends that guided my husband and me through the unexpected guardianship of an adult nephew that lives with autism,” she said. “Breckenridge Village has given our nephew the security, love and home environment to flourish! The luncheon – and BVT – are blessings.”

“It’s refreshing,” said Linda Taylor, BVT’s Associate Executive Director of Advancement, of Rink’s candid message, “to have someone be open and vulnerable to share their life story so authentically.”

“LynnMarie was by far the best luncheon speaker ever,” said BVT Auxiliary member Artie McKinsey, who has been a generous donor and faithful supporter of the luncheon since its inception more than a decade ago.

Meticulously decorated tablescapes adorned with heart-motif linens and fine china offered visual imagery to the luncheon’s theme, Wrap Your Heart Around It, borrowed from Rink’s book title.

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“The tables reflect the heart of the ladies who support the Village,” said longtime BVT supporter Sandy King. “I’ve been blessed to be a part of the celebration of BVT’s Forever Children; it’s a wonderful ministry.”

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KYTX Channel 19 anchorwoman Dana Hughey served as Mistress of Ceremonies and Mrs. Cindy Dykes, wife of Green Acres Baptist Church minister, Dr. David Dykes, delivered the meal blessing. Mrs. Dykes served as the guest speaker at the inaugural BVT Ladies’ Spring Luncheon in 2006.

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The luncheon featured a silent auction showcasing handcrafted items generously donated by local businesses and friends of the Village. All proceeds from the luncheon benefit residents and day program participants at BVT, a faith-based community for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

For more information about the work at BVT, contact Linda Taylor at 903-596- 8100 or visit BreckenridgeVillage.com.


Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) is part of BCFS’ global system of health and human service non-profit organizations. BVT is a faith-based community for adults with mild to moderate intellectual and developmental disabilities. Located on a tranquil 70-acre campus just west of Tyler, Texas, our community offers exceptional residential and day enrichment programs to meet the needs of the persons entrusted to our care. We are dedicated to serving a group of amazing people—God’s Forever Children—in a warm, safe, family-like setting that seeks to empower each resident as he or she develops spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially in a safe, loving, and closely supervised environment.