The Measure Of A Man

pierre_zannie_dance_01

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.”

pierre-de-wet-headshot-from-velmays-wedding

Advertisements

BCFS Hill Country Resource Center: Where Collaboration Meets Compassion

bcfs-hill-country-resource-center

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

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

Services Available:

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

Kugasaruthy & Satheeska: Two young girls and the transformational power of CERI’s Food Security Program

kugasaruthy-satheeska-home

In 2009, the Batticaloa District of Sri Lanka finally witnessed an end to the devastating 30-year civil war that decimated the region and its people. Batticaloa is the fourth most impoverished district in Sri Lanka, and home to the CERI office and the epicenter of CERI programs in the area. Nearly 20 percent of its inhabitants live at or below the poverty line, earning the equivalent of $25.50 per month.

According to UNICEF, nearly one of every five children in Sri Lanka is born with low birth weight and approximately 29 percent of children under five years old are considered underweight. To address this epidemic, Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) launched the Food Security Program (FSP).

In 2016, CERI Sri Lanka implemented the Food Security Program in Parathy Kiramam, Kiran Division, one of the poorest areas in Batticaloa, and the sixth village to be touched by the program since its inception. CERI’s initial goal of serving a group of 12 to 15 children quickly changed, however, when 34 underweight children showed up to the program. Two of these young children were Kugasaruthy, age 7, and Satheeska, age 5, both of whom weighed only 27 pounds.

Although they are young, Kugasaruthy and Satheeska know firsthand the ravages of civil war, which had left their father disabled. He was attacked by an elephant while seeking shelter during a shooting. As he ran for safety, he was shot three times. Barely alive, he was rescued and taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. Unfortunately, during surgery, a medical mistake resulted in a severed nerve, rendering the young father’s left arm useless. Unable to work with the use of both hands, it was incredibly difficult to find work and provide for his family.

The girls’ mother, Jeyanthini, 27, also suffered in the aftermath of these tragedies. The couple experienced feelings of inferiority due to their extreme poverty, causing them to withdraw from the outside world. Jeyanthini prohibited her daughters from playing with the other children in the village, kept them from attending school and confined them to their small home.

In spring 2016, Jeyanthini and her family were selected to participate in CERI’s Food Security Program, an opportunity she initially rejected. However, after learning more about the services, she accepted the offer, her heart filled with the hope of helping her family.

During the 12-day program, Jeyanthini learned to cook simple, healthy meals while her children participated in activities at the Children’s Club. After living in sheltered isolation, Kugasaruthy and Satheeska made friends and learned how to play with other children. With each passing day in the program, their energy and enthusiasm increased.

satheeska

Before long, Jeyanthini started to flourish as well. She began to share stories about her life during the cooking sessions, talking excitedly with the other mothers about the positive differences she witnessed in her children’s behavior as a result of their participation in the program.

“My girls are very happy to take part in the sessions,” she said. “They eat more while they are with other children than they eat at home when they’re alone. I feel an invisible love that surrounds my children, and peace and happiness cover our family daily as the girls return home after the session.”

Jeyanthini began allowing her daughters to play with the other children in the village, as well as attend school.

Participation in the program has also improved the sisters’ health. Kugasaruthy and Satheeska have both gained weight, expanded their social skills and boosted their self-esteem, and overall, enhanced their quality of life. Playing with their peers offered new experiences and opportunities for exploration, learning and development. New toys, new friends and organized games stimulated their growth and capacity, and CERI staff used game times to teach children how to play well together, model positive behavior, and show the love of God through respect for one another and good sportsmanship.

The FSP helped Kugasaruthy and Satheeska grow physically and emotionally in a very visible and profound way. Still, the girls remain underweight in comparison to their American counterparts. While the average weight of an American seven-year old is 49 pounds, Kugasaruthy is approximately 30 lbs. and little Satheeska at age four weighed in after the program at 27.5 pounds. Nevertheless, the sisters are on their way to healing, inside and out.

Bonita Nirmala Samuel, the CERI Sri Lanka Interim National Program Director describes her team’s feelings about the Food Security Program implementation in Parathy Kiramam.

“We thank God for this wonderful opportunity to serve others,” she says, “and to have successfully reached these families most in need.”

Sadly, more than 53 percent of children in Sri Lanka under 5 years old are classified as underweight (calculated as weight-to-age ratio), and nearly 72 percent of local households do not have adequate sanitation or water facilities. Each year, local divisions of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health in Batticaloa ask CERI to address the nutritional needs of area children through the Food Security Program.

The FSP addresses the acute needs in these villages for healthy food, nutrition education, intentional cooking skills, and information on the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation. The FSP offers Sri Lankan moms the tools needed to confront child malnutrition and common, yet life-threatening health conditions like diarrhea, intestinal worms and infections.

Between 2013 and 2015, CERI’s Food Security Program served more than 400 underweight children and their families. Each year the program has been in operation, a growing proportion of participating children are on track for healthy weight gain. This year, CERI Sri Lanka is serving 135 children and their families in six impoverished villages across the Batticaloa district.

Through the FSP, CERI hopes to reach even more families like Kugasaruthy’s and Satheeka’s, and one day, see Sri Lanka rise above the hunger, poverty and despair through the power of God’s love. Together, with open, loving hearts and a mission to nourish the body and the spirit, CERI staff and the Sri Lankan people transform and rebuild families and communities.

kugasaruthy-satheeska-participants

Adoption Days Are The Best Days

meling-family-1

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.

uranga-adoption-jns-101

 

 

Sustained Resilience: Immediate Disaster Case Management (IDCM) program operated by BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division

dsc00474

Katrina’s Landfall

The 29th of August in 2005 would become a day to go down in American history. Hurricane Katrina was making landfall during the early morning hours. The Category 3 storm brought sustained winds of 130 miles per hour to the residents of New Orleans and hundreds of communities located along the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. After several intense hours, the winds subsided, the storm moved inland and weakened, but devastation from the flooding from failed levees had just begun. Thousands would lose their lives and tens of thousands of people would be displaced from their homes in what would become the costliest hurricane in U.S. history and the fifth deadliest.

In the months and years that followed this catastrophic event, the lessons learned were many. Despite the delivery and application of an enormous volume of resources, almost four years after the storm, in April of 2009, thousands of individuals were still in need of social services that would enable their full recovery.

Trailer homes, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and initiated by the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), had been deployed to assist residents that had lost their homes. As these trailer homes were never intended to be a permanent solution, a new pilot program known as the Louisiana Disaster Case Management Pilot (DCMP) was launched to assist people still living in FEMA temporary housing units. The goal of the pilot was to assist displaced residents with aspects related to long term recovery, including the transition to permanent housing and accessing available resources that addressed financial, legal and healthcare needs.

Lessons Learned The Hard Way

According to a 2010 independent study, “Navigating the Road to Recovery,” the efficacy of the Louisiana DCMP pilot program faced many obstacles: “Despite concerted effort by participating agencies, the implementation of the DCMP was fraught with challenges. As a result, the pilot could not be implemented as intended, leaving the needs of many clients not fully met.”

The report went on to document significant problems regarding communication, coordination, and financing of the program. “The stop and start of recovery initiatives led to serious discontinuities in client recovery, so the authors recommend that federal and state governments consider a single, longer-term recovery initiative that seamlessly acknowledges the stages of human recovery. Improvements in how federal and state governments identify and locate affected residents, consider needs and vulnerabilities in planning, and ensure continuity of services are critical to ensure high-quality disaster case management.”

The answer? The creation of a new federal program that leveraged the outcomes of the Louisiana DCMP program. The program came to be known as the federal Immediate Disaster Case Management program, or IDCM.

Inception of ICDM

Working in conjunction with FEMA, the new IDCM program would be administered by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). Within ACF, a department known as the Office of Human Services Preparedness and Response (OHSEPR) would be responsible for activating the program once certain disaster impact criteria had been met under a Presidential Disaster Declaration.

In 2014, the contract to provide these services for OHSEPR came up for renewal. With a lengthy track record of successful emergency response deployment operations on behalf of state and federal clients, BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division (BCFS EMD) submitted a proposal and was awarded a five-year contract to provide IDCM services.

Preparations Commence

Quickly, the program was off and running. EMD established a management team and within 60 days employed and developed nine case management teams consisting of 30 case managers each. Months of team coordination and distance-based training soon followed. Members of the IDCM team come from across the country and represent all ten ACF regions.

In late summer of 2015, a full-scale IDCM disaster exercise was held at Silver Cliff Ranch, the BCFS-owned and operated wilderness camp in Nathrop, Colorado. Case managers were provided a mock “activation order” by EMD. Hundreds of designated case management personnel were then flown to Denver from across the country on a single day and were transported by EMD buses on a three-hour journey into the mountains. Over the following four days, the “ACME” exercise, which was scenario-driven and included real-world examples of actual client situations, the IDCM team was able to effectively implement disaster case management training at a higher level than any delivered training in the program’s history.

The exercise was attended by representatives from FEMA, ACF, and uniformed members of the United States Public Health Services (USPHS), a government agency that operates under the leadership of the Surgeon General’s office to ensure public health functionalities during major disasters. The exercise was an incredible success.

The BCFS IDCM team was now ready for action. All that was needed was a mission assignment. In the spring of 2016, that opportunity came.

echo-conroe-8

Record-Breaking Rainfall

The night of April 17, 2016 began with heavy rain forecast in the southeast part of Texas. On this night and for several consecutive nights, Harris County and the many other counties that make up the greater Houston metropolitan area were situated within a steady stream of upper level moisture coming in from the Gulf of Mexico. As this tropical air mass intermingled with cooler air approaching from the northern portions of Texas, thunderstorms developed rapidly. Instead of quickly exiting the area as they usually do, these clusters of storms seemed to maintain a constant, almost static, presence over the region. As the thunderstorms intensified, their eastward motion slowed almost to a dead stop. As the storms remained, they dumped several million gallons of rain on unsuspecting residents of a 14-county area.

As the initial rains fell, many residents thought the storms would pass and things would go back to normal soon. Little did they know that within 12 hours the water from the nearby Brazos River, Colorado River, and numerous local bayous would swamp thousands of homes. The following day, after being rescued from swift moving waters by teams of first responders in special flood response watercraft, many of these same homeowners would be sleeping on cots in emergency shelters set up in nearby schools. Some watched the contents of their homes – their life’s belongings – washed into a river of debris that only a few hours earlier had been the roadway through their neighborhood. Other flood survivors in rural areas were left helpless as their livestock perished or were stranded by the floodwaters.

The flooding was record-setting for the Houston area. As a result, the federal government issued a Presidential Disaster Declaration for dozens of counties across the region. While the state of Texas does have significant local case management capacity, as time passed and the demand for case management services reached record levels, the local case management capacity was outstripped. It was at this point, several weeks after the floods subsided, that state officials determined federal case management assistance would be needed.

The BCFS IDCM team received a 90-day Mission Assignment task order on May 26, 2016. By June 5, nearly 60 BCFS personnel were providing desperately needed services to residents of the counties impacted by the storms. Using a combination of centralized case management services and deployable case management strike teams, the IDCM group fanned out into a dozen communities that were most impacted by the floods. Sixty total personnel were initially deployed; an additional twenty personnel would be deployed a few weeks later.

It would become an IDCM deployment operation that would alter the face of the federal IDCM mission profile. 

Changing The Mission Profile

The cyclical phases of emergency management include Preparedness, Response, Recovery, Mitigation and Prevention.

In the emergency management world, the Response phase of any incident is usually short-lived. Response operations include application of response resources. An Incident Command Post is established as a location where response operations are coordinated. Supplies, equipment and personnel are organized and utilized in a manner that is designed to save lives and protect property. Incident Action Plans are drafted and distributed daily in order to capture required response objectives, organizational structure and personnel assigned to specific tasks. Situation Reports are also created and distributed daily, as a means of tracking operational success toward the established mission objectives outlined in the Incident Action Plan.

The Recovery phase, on the other hand, is where the heavy lifting begins. It is generally characterized by a slower pace, as recovery operations can continue for several years. Recovery operations rarely utilize the same tools as the Response phase. True to form, during previous IDCM deployments a different contractor had applied a typical recovery approach to their recovery efforts on behalf of OHSEPR. The results were disappointing and ineffective.

The BCFS IDCM team would take a much different approach. BCFS would, for the first time, apply a response-oriented approach to recovery operations. The results? A vast improvement in the coordination and application of IDCM case management resources, which allowed BCFS to assist thousands of affected residents in a much shorter time frame.

Powerful Results

EMD disaster case managers spread out across the Houston-area and 11 surrounding counties, helping flood survivors on a daily basis for months at a time. For each flood survivor, some experiencing their darkest hour, their disaster case manager served as a single point of contact for all their questions, advocating for them with multiple social service organizations and government partners, to help them achieve the best possible outcomes in their individual recovery process.

EMD disaster case managers were the go-to resource for flood victims to receive assistance meeting their needs for housing, furniture, appliances, utilities, employment services, transportation, health and wellness, senior services, access and functional needs services, legal assistance and more.

The positive impact on the affected communities was tremendous. Based on the results listed above, feedback from our federal partners has been very positive.

The highly successful work performed by BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division to ensure sustained resilience for the Houston-area will have a lasting impact for years to come.charlie-rosenberg-3-2

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.

tanner-far-right-and-his-bvt-friends

From East Texas to Eastern Europe With Love

bvt1

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

Prepared For Emergency Management

prepared-for-any-emergency

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

daisy-cardenas-pic-1

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

luisa-sanchez-pic-1

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

brenda-onofre-pic-1

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!

ALL-STAR Lineup In The Special Olympics

dscn2249

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

dawn

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

brian

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

tammy

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

 

cyndy

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.”