Finding Her Way Home: Cassie’s Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Celebrating The Summer Success at BCFS Tyler, Texas

BCFS is proud to have such incredible individuals across all our centers and services. At our Tyler, Texas center, our BCFS team serves youth who have been in foster care, as well as individuals struggling with difficult issues ranging from homelessness to substance abuse to unstable homes.

In the past year, our Tyler team provided 8,100 hours of life skills training and served more than 600 youths through critical programs and services that work toward instilling self-confidence and self-sufficiency. Going even further, $200,000 in Education and Training Voucher funds were given to 50 youth pursuing post-secondary educations.

No Slow Summer

May started off with a celebration of 30 foster care youth from the area receiving their hard-earned high school diplomas! With representatives from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services on hand to present the students their certificates, the newly minted graduates enjoyed dinner at the Lago del Pino Restaurant with their guests. Additionally, BCFS proudly presented a new luggage set to each graduate to prepare them to move on to bigger and better things, like college, new apartments and jobs. Congratulations class of 2015!

Summer’s highlights kept coming with July’s Independence Day Youth Conference. The annual conference’s focus is to equip youth with the necessary skills to transition from foster care to “life on their own.” This year’s workshop, “War of the Roses: Establishing and Maintaining Healthy Relationships,” focused on healthy relationships as well as financial planning, independent living, foster youth rights and human trafficking.

With summer winding down, Tyler kept the productivity at a maximum when BCFS took 90 youth on a Back-To-School Bash at Kemah Boardwalk. These students earned their day of fun by staying in school, maintaining high grades, and participating in BCFS programs, workshops and events. The annual event was a blast just like our previous trips!

Youth Spotlight

All of the youth at BCFS deserve the spotlight, but Shelby Bradford is an extra special individual. Shelby faced extreme hardships as she overcame abuse from sex traffickers at a young age. Once in foster care, she faced further abuse–leading to her removal from the home at 17.

Despite the odds, Shelby held on to hope and optimism. That drive led her to BCFS’ Tyler center where she began working with exceptional individuals like Lesley Beasley. She began living with a loving foster family and focused on furthering her schooling. BCFS was proud to help Shelby obtain financial aid–in addition to the many scholarships she had earned–so she could pursue a degree in psychology at Sam Houston State University.

With her “don’t take things for granted” mantra as an example to us all, BCFS continues cheer on Shelby and all our youth as they strive for personal greatness.

If you’d like to get involved in BCFS, please visit DiscoverBCFS.net or call 1(800) 830-2246.

Celebrating the Recent Success at BCFS Corpus Christi

BCFS is proud to have such incredible individuals across our non-profit system. We’ve had a ton to celebrate recently at our center in Corpus Christi, Texas.

In February, BCFS Health and Human Services named Victoria Perez as our new center director. Victoria has more than 20 years of managerial experience in the health and human services. In her new role, she’ll be responsible for overseeing critical services and programs that help youth in foster care and those aging out land on their feet.

While our staff are pretty incredible, the spotlight really belongs on the amazing youth and young adults we serve…

Like Mark Trotter, who spent 14 years in the foster care system–never staying in a place long enough he could call “home.” Mark battled homelessness in high school for two years;  but with BCFS in his corner, he overcame the odds. So much so that Mark is now enrolled for classes at the University of Texas-Corpus Christi! Now, BCFS and Mark have their sights set on his future and a career after school. When asked about BCFS, Mark speaks fondly of our Corpus Christi center saying, “BCFS has been like a guardian angel. They think of things that I couldn’t think of myself..and they help me be the best I can be.”

Similarly, Zoiyee Green also overcame struggles with homelessness and as an 18 year old mother before relocating to Corpus Christi. Once at her new local center, Zoiyee joined BCFS Health and Human Services’ Preparation for Adult Living program. From there, BCFS provided Zoiyee with case management and helped her land a job where she could support herself and her little one. Like Mark, Zoiyee will enroll at the University of Texas at Austin as she pursues her law degree.

Both Mark and Zoiyee’s efforts were recently recognized by Foster Angels of South Texas (FAST) at the 14th annual Appreciation Luncheon. We couldn’t be prouder of both of them!

The same can be said for Samuel Gomez. After his parents were unable to keep 15 year old Samuel at home, he moved in with the Cerdas family. By the time his family could stabilize their home, Samuel had aged out of foster care. While working with BCFS, Samuel worked with caseworker Alma Gutierrez to secure an internship at the Tejano Civil Rights Museum. Now four years later, Samuel is proud to join a group that only 2 percent of foster care recipients can say they are part of: he’ll graduate with a Bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University-Kingsville!

In addition to his scholastic prowess, Samuel is an example of giving back. In college, Samuel also earned his respite caregiver certification so he could foster young children on the weekend. In addition to this, he also mentors his young cousin, passing on what BCFS did for him.

Mark, Samuel and Zoiyee are three shining examples of the incredible people we serve at BCFS’ Corpus Christi center.

If you’d like to get involved in BCFS, please visit DiscoverBCFS.net or call 1(800) 830-2246.