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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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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Cultivating Rio Grande Valley Communities through Families

HARLINGEN, TX – On a local sign shop’s marquee, the words of our 39th president and Nobel Peace Prize winner remind passers-by of the honorable ideals that led to our country’s founding:

“America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense human rights invented America.” – Jimmy Carter

The city of Harlingen, situated in the heart of Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, minutes away from the U.S-Mexico border, has some tough socioeconomic statistics to contend with, as low income and high rates of illiteracy create generational cycles of poverty and often-insurmountable hurdles that make it difficult for hard-working families to succeed. According to 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Cameron County, where Harlingen is located, has one of the lowest median incomes of all Texas counties. Coupled with the National Center for Education Statistics’ data which lists Cameron County as one of the counties in Texas with the highest illiteracy rates at a staggering 43 percent, the gravity of this situation is clear.

Since September 2014, BCFS Health and Human Services has been influencing change in the Harlingen community, working to make a positive difference in the lives of this promising population. Upon his arrival, Director Jeff Wolpers learned of a Read Across America initiative and elected to host literacy events as a way to introduce the BCFS Health and Human Services’ mission to the children and families of the Rio Grande Valley. Wolpers and his staff envisioned a strategic education platform that would engage and inform the community that BCFS was here to help. Wolpers then submitted a proposal of his vision to The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The concept was approved and they began preparing for implementation.

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The events would become an integral part of BCFS’ Project HOPES (Health Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support) parent education course, delivering reading material to children in the community, while offering parents useful information about effective parenting styles, tips on how to reduce the risk of accidents in the home, nutrition and counseling services. For the kids, each literacy event would feature instructional crafting sessions, face painting, and lively story time experiences led by a BCFS staff member or a special guest reader from the community.

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Community leaders responded positively and many have accepted the invitation to lead story times at the events, including Harlingen City Commissioner Victor Leal, Valley Morning Star Newspaper Publisher Lilia Jones, La Feria Mayor Pro Tem Esmeralda Lozano, Rio Hondo Justice of the Peace Guadalupe Ayala, San Benito Police Chief Martin Morales and San Benito CISD representative Ben Gomez.

Melody, a 20-year- old mother of two, who spent some of her youth in foster care, has found valuable knowledge and information through Project HOPES.

“The two parts that helped me most,” she explains, “were the book of safety and precaution, and the house evaluation; how to eliminate hazards and how to prevent accidents.”

She adds that, through Project HOPES, she learned important knowledge about motherhood by asking questions during visits with her case manager. “The HOPES program really helped me a lot and gave me reassurance about what I was doing right, and how I could do some things better. It was a good reinforcement for me to feel better, stronger as a mother.”

Another HOPES graduate, Mrs. Reyes, a stay-at- home mom, shared her gratitude for the tips she learned in the program that helped improve interaction with her children.

“We struggled with the behavior of the kids, and the program has helped me out a lot with that. It’s helped me with my daughter and made our relationship better.”

Within six months, through cooperation with like-minded organizations and an all-around enriching experience for the participants, Project HOPES and the literacy events have become a beacon of positive engagement for the families of Harlingen fighting to triumph over the challenges of poverty and illiteracy.

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“The first event, at Lemoyne Gardens in Harlingen,” explains Wolpers, “we had 50 kids there. It’s pretty impressive to be able to get that many families engaged and excited about a literacy event!”

Subsequent program events in the surrounding small towns of La Feria, San Benito and Rio Hondo, and separate literacy-event collaborations with the Brownsville Children’s Museum and Harlingen’s Su Clínica Familiar, a medical group practice, were also successful. At Su Clínica Familiar’s back-to- school event, Wild About Healthcare, BCFS handed out 600 backpacks filled with school supplies to local schoolchildren.

“68% of the people we serve in Cameron County have an annual family income of less than $10k,” describes Wolpers. “We appreciate being able to provide books to the children that, unfortunately, their families might not be able to purchase themselves.”

In just over a year, the program has become well known in the region. Awareness for the center has grown and the community has embraced the efforts to uplift families. In 2015, Project HOPES served more than 325 Cameron County families.

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The success is met with measured celebration, as Wolpers looks to expand Project HOPES’ reach. “We still have a lot of work to do. We’d like to get out to some of the other nearby communities; become more active in the city of Brownsville.”

For now, Wolpers and his staff continue to build the events to focus even more on positive parent-child interaction. “We’d like to complement the parent curriculum in Project HOPES with some of the activities we do in the literacy events,” he adds. “It’s a win for everyone involved.”

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Literacy events are routinely held approximately every three weeks at various community locations.

BCFS Health and Human Services’ consistent outreach efforts, high-quality programming, and attentive, involved community members, cultivate this South Texas region for the benefit of its individuals and families. Through education, knowledge, respect and genuine care, and in a manner inspired by the American values of education, community development and family, BCFS works to uplift, improve, include and invest in the communities it serves.


Literacy by the Numbers

BCFS is a global system of health and human service non-profit organizations with locations and programs throughout the United States as well as Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. The organization is a national leader in medical sheltering and emergency management and response, providing critical emergency support services to federal, state and local governments. BCFS also provides residential services and emergency shelters for children who are abused or neglected; assisted living services and vocational training for adults with intellectual disabilities; mental health services for children and families, foster care and adoption services; medical services; early education; transitional living services for youth who are at-risk and those in the juvenile justice system; residential camping and retreats for children and families; and international humanitarian aid for children living in impoverished conditions in developing countries.

Kassandra Ventura: A Healthy Start

Kassandra lives in a colonia along the Texas-Mexico border. Spanish is her first language, and although she struggled learning English when she started school, against all odds, she passed her classes and made it to high school.

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 1.59.05 PMKassandra married her high school sweetheart, and soon after was expecting her first child. Elated by the news, Kassandra and her husband welcomed their baby boy nine months later. With a newborn bundle of joy at home – and all the questions and uncertainty of a first-time mom – she joined the BCFS Health and Human Services Healthy Start Laredo (HSL) program.

BCFS conducted home visits with Kassandra to provide one-on- one parenting classes facilitated by a case manager, including lessons on how to properly nurture infants and care for them as they grow into toddlers and preschoolers.

In addition, BCFS connected Kassandra to group parenting classes and community services for medical care, housing, and food assistance. Through counseling, parenting education and the guidance of her case manager, Kassandra set short-term and long-term goals for the health and stability of her growing family.

“There was a time when I felt like just staying at home with my baby, and school was not a priority. Healthy Start helped me determine what was important for my future and family. Thanks to my BCFS case manager, Erika Garcia, I have come to realize that even though life is not easy, I am able to overcome the challenges and be a successful mother, wife, student, and a future nurse!”

—KASSANDRA

BCFS Parent Education Classes Get an A+

Lessons:

  • Resolve family conflict
  • Bond with your children and teens
  • Improve communication

“The class facilitators created an empowering environment for parents to safely share and reflect upon their experiences. One of the most powerful elements of the program is the way the parents begin to support one another to strengthen their good parenting practices or make adjustments to their current parenting style, if needed.”

– Vanessa M. Perez, Family Specialist, Pre K 4 SA East

“Leaving a legacy for future generations of gentle hands and positive parenting.”

– Karenetha Easterwood, Mom who participated in BCFS’ parenting classes

“I enjoyed the class. It has taught me to use ‘Self-Talk’ to remind myself that (kids) are still learning. Plus, the parenting class taught me to understand the ‘I Statements’ and ‘Active Listening’ skills.”Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 4.00.13 PM

– Susan Baldwin, Class participant

“As a Family Specialist for Pre K 4 SA, I encourage families and caregivers to participate in programs like ‘Parenting Wisely’ that enhance communication, conflict resolution and relationship skills.”

– Iveth Pacheco, Family Specialist, Pre K 4 SA North

 

Texas Families: Together and Safe (TFTS)

Funded by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)

Precious Minds New Connections (PMNC) Funded by the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation

Fatherhood EFFECT

Funded by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)

Learn more at DiscoverBCFS.net

Beatrice Barrera: VIP in BCFS Head Start

Let’s take the time to congratulate Beatrice Barrera who has been selected for BGLR MVP. Beatrice has shown that she exemplifies all of the great qualities that are sought-after by BCFS Education Services.

She is a reliable, diligent and conscientious employee who is always willing to assist all fellow staff members and families. She was instrumental in BGLR achieving our 100% compliance goal in our immunization audit. She takes initiative. She has stepped in without prompting or hesitation to assist caseloads. She has entered data into SHINE, conducted home visits, filed paperwork, helped in the classroom and the list goes on.

For all of reasons listed above Beatrice Barrera is the BGLR MVP. Congratulations, Beatrice!

 

Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My! Kendall County Head Start’s Zoo Trip

Zoo trip thrills Head Start students from Kendall County

Nearly 150 Kendall County Head Start students, parents and staff enjoyed a field trip to the San Antonio Zoo, sponsored by Knights of Columbus, Council #8521 from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Spring Branch, TX.“The zoo provides a great learning opportunity for the children,” said

“The zoo provides a great learning opportunity for the children,” said Sherr’y Johnson, BCFS Education Services Center Coordinator. “They not only get to see the animals, but they get to study their habitats and learn about what the animals need to survive.”

“Our theme for class lessons this week has been building and making things,” said Johnson. “We incorporated that lesson with how the zoo builds a safe environment for the animals, and how it provides both a shelter for the animals and a way to enjoy, learn about and study them.”

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As in years past, the Knights of Columbus donated $500 to BCFS Education Services Head Start in Kendall County to fund the zoo field trip.

“Knights of Columbus met us here a few years ago when our parents were having a bake sale to raise enough money to go to the zoo,” recalls Johnson. “I explained the reason for the bake sale and they were thrilled at the prospect of being able to help. They said ‘we want to do it every year; we feel like it’s important.’”

Sixty-two Head Start students and 70 parents and guardians attended the field trip.

“The families want to go because they want to be a part of the experience, too,” says Johnson, “so it’s a great bonding opportunity for the families to participate in their children’s education, which is something Head Start supports at all times.”

Take a look at some of the photos from the field trip here.

For more information about BCFS Education Services, visit DiscoverBCFS.net/HeadStart.

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BCFS Education Services is part of a global system of health and human service non-profit organizations led by BCFS, focused on boosting educational readiness and outcomes in the classroom, as well as ensuring families have the resources, tools and information needed to start their children’s lifetime of learning off on the right foot.

Great Grandmother, Emma Ortega

Emma Ortega has raised her great grandson Donovan ever since he was a newborn, with little involvement from the boy’s mother. This kind- hearted and vivacious 75-year-old admits that being a full-time caregiver of a 5-year-old can be a challenging, but rewarding, task. So she attended two series of parenting education classes held

by BCFS Health and Human Services’ Precious Minds New Connections and Texas Families: Together and Safe.

BCFS’ parenting education programs are aimed at preventing child abuse and empowering parents and caregivers with the resources and tips they need to resolve conflict, improve their family communication and create a healthy, stable home environment.

“I’m a throwback to the Dark Ages, I’m like a dinosaur,” Emma says. “I come from an era when a child should be seen but not heard. Now it’s so different, which is why the classes have been great because there’s a whole new way of parenting. I learned you should hear a child, but establish limits.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 4.16.09 PM.pngEmma is such a passionate supporter of BCFS parenting programs she recommends them to other caregivers, and attends every available BCFS class and local opportunity to gobble up lessons and tips. Glancing at her calendar, she explained how in one in week she’d penciled in multiple classes on raising a strong reader, focusing on science and math, making the alphabet fun, and how to communicate with children.

Emma says it wasn’t just the helpful curriculum that drew her to the classes, but the close relationships she built with BCFS instructors, staff and other families in attendance.

They became a support system for one another to provide advice or just a listening ear.

“We really connected with the teachers and presenters,” says Emma. “They weren’t separate from us parents or stiff ‘professionals,’ they were with us, and we all came together as a team to share our personal experiences. There’s a tight-knit group of us that attend every class together. We are all equal in the classes because we all want what’s best for the kids – that’s why we’re there.”

“Parenting involves a lot of praying and hoping you’re doing the right thing,” says Emma. “You’re going to make mistakes along the way and that’s OK. For some reason if you get angrier than you should, you’ve got to be able to apologize and say you made a mistake. That way, the child knows it’s OK to make mistakes as long as you can talk to them about it. Sometimes I feel like I don’t always know what I’m doing because things can get so hard, but the classes are very encouraging.”

Emma says it’s important to set the right example for Donovan, and teach him to never give up. “It’s more than a full-time job taking care of a child, because even full-time jobs you get to leave sometimes. But as a parent and caregiver, the job never ends – But it is a privilege.”

Through the Eyes of the Immigrant and the Caseworker

Immigration is a complicated and oftentimes painful process. For centuries, individuals, villages and ethnic groups have looked for new places to settle – sometimes with life and death urgency – for assuring a better life. Any change brings challenges. Even if you can re-settle into the best environment in the world, under the best economic conditions, you’re still forced to deal with nostalgia, acculturation and sometimes rejection.

What does it feel like to be an immigrant? Even with plenty of money in the bank, you’d still grieve leaving close friends and family behind. You’d miss the traditions of your home country (even if you didn’t really celebrate them back home). You’d miss your food, your music, and those familiar aromas and flavors. Even for well-educated and affluent immigrants, there is no way to avoid some degree of confusion and disorientation.

To be an immigrant is like standing in the middle of a busy highway. You know you need to move, but you do not know in which direction.

Imagine then how scary and paralyzing this experience is for the population of immigrants and refugees served by BCFS Health and Human Services – children and adolescents. These children have very limited education, grew up without one or both parents, usually in intensely violent surroundings, and have suffered hardships that forced them to grow up and leave innocence and childhood behind, way before their time.

At BCFS Health and Human Services, we have the opportunity to be a bright light in what is maybe the darkest moment of their lives. We are the friendly face or voice that welcomes them to a better life and ushers them into a hopeful future.

What does a BCFS case worker do? We educate them. We can give them information that can change their perspective about this country. We teach them about rights that they never had before. They learn about their educational possibilities. Through all this, they realize that they are still children and can enjoy this important time in their lives. Meanwhile we connect with their parents and caregivers to show them positive parenting. We are the channel to a significant improvement in their quality of life.

To provide adequate shelter to the minors in transit is absolutely critical. To help the children’s sponsors act in compliance with national regulations is an important task. To be patient and compassionate with those who cannot understand what they need to do,

or do not have access to technology that can expedite the process of reunification, is a real act of love. To identify issues in the cases, to perform home studies in order to guarantee the well-being of the youngsters, and to follow up with the families after the release of the minors are all life-changing services.

Each and every child in our caseloads has value and importance, a good citizen in the making, a possibility of a better world for all of us.

When we do our job, when we accomplish our goals, when we close a case after proving that our families are self-sufficient, we are doing much more than it seems.

A parent that calls for information and directions is demonstrating trust and confidence in our capabilities, and trust is not easy to earn. A boy who shows you his school grades is honoring your job. A sponsor that blesses you when a child is released is not only showing gratitude, but creating an everlasting bond – even though in reality you’ll probably never cross paths again.

We have a work with a purpose. We are an important part of something meaningful and far bigger than us. After all, to be a Good Samaritan can be a good job – and I believe a BCFS caseworker has the best job imaginable.

Engaging Families in School and Play at Pleasanton Head Start

BCFS Education Services’ Head Start is a national program that promotes school readiness for children ages 3 to 5. Enrolled families access services that provide educational, nutritional, health and social support, including monthly events and activities for the whole family. The program enhances the social and cognitive development of young children and aims to keep families actively involved in the process.

Head Start in Pleasanton, Texas, one of Atascosa County’s four locations, is no exception. Here, families are invited to take an active role in their children’s education in order to foster strong connections and build a healthy support system. With the help of family specialists and coaches, parents can identify family strengths, interests and goals, and pursue them alongside their children.

In partnership with local schools, Head Start in Pleasanton services low-income families of preschool-aged children. Activities are often themed: for example, to celebrate February as Dental Hygiene Month, kids were given supplies to take home and create a mouth out of marshmallows with their families.

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March is shaping up to be just as much fun. “We’re going to do a kite day,” said Amy Duvall, a Family Specialist at Pleasanton Head Start. “We’re going to invite all of the father figures in a child’s life to come and help them fly a kite.”

Though the simple acts of kite-flying and crafting may seem small, for these children and their families they hold emotional significance. Small but profound collaborative activities provide key tools that strengthen the bond between school and home life, giving kids a literal “head start” toward a successful academic career.

“In our community, there can be barriers keeping working parents from involvement in their children’s learning,” Amy explained. “But children tend to have a better grasp on subject matter when their families stay involved.”

She’s right: Extensive research has shown that children achieve more in school when their parents have an active role in their education, starting at a young age.

This can be challenging when some children don’t have as much support at home as their classmates. For example, Head Start hosts fatherhood initiatives to get dads involved in their children’s day-to-day learning. But, as noted by JoAnn Rodriguez, Pleasanton’s Lead Family Coach, not all families have a father figure.

We allow anybody to come,” JoAnn said. “Including grandparents, uncles, a brother, a mom or an aunt. We don’t limit [these activities] to just fathers — we want any close family member or guardian who is part of their lives to work with them at school and at home as well.”

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Recently, Pleasanton Head Start partnered with local schools to host Family Curriculum night. This event yielded an amazing turnout, with 100 of 160 Pre-K families in attendance. Parents joined their children in math, science, literacy and technology activities.

“It’s a lot of fun — they make putty at the science station, they have interactive masking,” Amy said of the event. “The technology station introduces parents to websites that are kid-friendly for helping them learn.”

Children also performed the ABC song and the Pledge of Allegiance for families in attendance. It was clear the children were having fun, but the event, and activities like it throughout the year, are extremely valuable for parents to witness their child’s school readiness first-hand. By spending time with teachers at school, parents are better equipped to make the home a productive atmosphere for continued learning, as well.  

Amy recalls her favorite past events, which include a fatherhood activity making reindeer crafts and a shoebox float parade. 2016 promises to bring even more treasured memories, including farm days, where parents come in and plant with their children, a Mother’s Day visit to a local nursery, and a trip to Morgan’s Wonderland, a family-friendly theme park in San Antonio.

According to Christina Cervantes, BCFS Education Services Program Director for the Pleasanton Head Start, the most promising element in play is Head Start’s growing relationship with local schools. 2016 is the third year the BCFS Education Services’ Head Start program has worked with the schools in what has turned into an “amazing partnership.”

“It’s just getting better and better,” Christina said. “We have a really great, positive relationship with the school and the community. We look forward to the future, and we hope to increase our numbers so we can serve even more children and families.”

As the children and their parents continue to build trust in them, Amy, JoAnn and Christina hope that the vital connection between classroom and family carries Head Start students into many happy, healthy school years ahead.

For more information about BCFS Education Services’ Head Start, visit DiscoverBCFS.net/HeadStart.