Message from the President: Kevin C. Dinnin

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Together… the title of this magazine, and yet so much more. BCFS, an international system of nonprofit organizations together provides life-changing programs across the globe and in historically underserved populations throughout the country. Together with the support of you, our stakeholders and donors, we respond to the needs of millions of children, adults, families and communities faced with severe circumstances and seemingly insurmountable challenges. BCFS is there, often when no other organization is. And we do it together!

2016 marks my 30th anniversary with BCFS, and not a day has gone by when I do not reflect on the vision and mission of this organization and how we have positively affected the millions of lives we touch. When I was called to serve as president, BCFS employed just 30 staff and had an annual budget that was a fraction of what it is today. Our team has grown exponentially to now include more than 3,000 dedicated BCFS personnel and the countless individuals that join our emergency response and critical-tasking endeavors.

Although many things have changed through the years, and the organization has experienced vast growth and expansion, what has not changed are our values, guiding principles, accountability for the funds for which we are stewards, and most of all, the love and compassion for those entrusted to our care. Our Community Services Division and Residential Services Division continue to bring hope and healing to children, youth and families across the U.S… Our overseas branch, Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), recently celebrated 15 years of changing lives, providing safety and security to vulnerable children beckoned by human traffickers with a promise of money and food… At our residential campus, Breckenridge Village of Tyler, residents with a range of intellectual disabilities are thriving in a loving environment where their health and wellbeing are paramount.

Another important branch of the BCFS system is our Emergency Management Division (EMD). EMD is a nationally recognized leader in emergency management, incident management, disaster response, public health and planning for vulnerable populations. When record-breaking floods devastated the Houston-area, the federal government called on EMD to help thousands of victims recover, standing up an Immediate Disaster Case Management (IDCM) operation to serve 14 counties, ultimately impacting over 36,000 people who registered with FEMA as disaster survivors.

EMD is also highly sought-after to share life-saving emergency management expertise, providing trainings to first-responders and emergency managers on mass care and whole community planning; mass fatality management; evacuation planning; medical sheltering; healthcare management of events involving weapons of mass destruction; and more. Ready with robust emergency resources and supplies, EMD is set to deploy and respond at a moment’s notice – no matter how big or small the mission tasking. Thank you for being part of our journey, together. I invite you to see and read the heartfelt, memorable and meaningful stories of those we serve unfold in the pages before you. I know they will fill your heart as they have mine.

Mensaje del Presidente: Kevin C. Dinnin

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Together (Juntos)… el título de esta revista, pero aún mucho más que eso. BCFS, un sistema internacional de organizaciones sin fines de lucro proporciona programas que cambian vidas en todo el mundo y en las poblaciones históricamente más marginadas de este país. Juntos, con el apoyo de usted, nuestros depositarios y donantes, respondemos a las necesidades de millones de niños, adultos, familias y comunidades que se encuentran en circunstancias severas y enfrentando dificultades insuperables. BCFS asume esta responsabilidad, cuando ninguna otra organización lo hace. ¡Y lo hacemos juntos!

El 2016 marca mi trigésimo aniversario con BCFS, y no ha pasado ni un día en que no refleje sobre la visión y misión de esta organización, y cómo hemos ayudado a las millones de vidas que hemos tocado. Cuando fui llamado para servir como presidente, BCFS tenía solamente 30 miembros sirviendo como personal de toda la agencia, y contábamos con un presupuesto anual equivalente a sólo una fracción de lo que es hoy. Nuestro equipo ha crecido de manera exponencial, a tal grado de ahora incluir a más de 3,000 individuos dedicados, aunados a los innumerables individuos que se unen a nuestros esfuerzos de emergencia y tareas críticas.

Aunque muchas cosas han cambiado a través de los años, y a pesar de la amplia expansión y crecimiento que ha tenido la organización, lo que no ha cambiado son nuestros valores, nuestros principios fundamentales, y nuestra responsabilidad en el manejo de los fondos que han sido puestos a nuestro cuidado, y por sobre todas las cosas, el amor y compasión hacia los que han sido puestos a nuestro cuidado. Nuestra División de Servicios a la Comunidad y División de Servicios Residenciales continúan trayendo esperanza y sanación a los niños, jóvenes y familias de los Estados Unidos… Nuestra sede internacional, Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), recientemente celebró 15 años de cambiar vidas, proporcionando protección y seguridad a niños vulnerables engañados por traficantes de personas bajo una falsa promesa de dinero o comida… En nuestro recinto residencial, Breckenridge Village de Tyler, residentes con un rango de discapacidades intelectuales prosperan en un ambiente de amor donde su salud y bienestar son lo más importante.

Otro sector importante de nuestro sistema BCFS es nuestra División de Manejo de Emergencias (EMD por sus siglas en inglés). EMD es un líder reconocido a nivel nacional por su labor de manejo de emergencia, manejo de incidentes, respuesta durante desastres, salud pública y planificación para las poblaciones vulnerables. Cuando las inundaciones sin precedentes devastaron el área de Houston, el gobierno federal solicitó la ayuda de EMD para ayudar a las miles de víctimas en su recuperación, desplegando una operación de Manejo de Caso de Desastres Inmediata (IDCM, por sus siglas en inglés) para servir a 14 condados, impactando a las más de 36,000 personas que se registraron con FEMA como sobrevivientes de un desastre.

EMD también es un equipo muy solicitado por su competencia para su manejo de emergencias que salva vidas, ofreciendo entrenamientos a los primeros intervinientes y a los administradores de emergencias de cuidado masivo y planificación para la comunidad entera; el manejo masivo de víctimas fatales, planificación para evacuaciones, alojamiento médico, manejo del cuidado médico durante los eventos de armas de destrucción masiva, y más. Listo con recursos y suministros comprensivos, EMD está preparado para desplegar y responder en cualquier momento — sin tener en cuenta que tan grande o pequeña sea la labor.

Gracias por ser parte de esta jornada y recorrer este viaje, Together (juntos). Los invito a ver y leer las historias sinceras, memorables y significativas de aquellos a los que servimos, las cuales se revelan en las siguientes páginas. Sé que tocarán su corazón de la misma manera que han tocado el mío.

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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BCFS Hill Country Resource Center: Where Collaboration Meets Compassion

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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

Moms get a HEAD START In Their Careers from BCFS Education Services’ Head Start

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In Head Start classrooms operated by BCFS Education Services, 3- and 4-year-olds learn the alphabet, practice new vocabulary words and prepare to hit the ground running when they start kindergarten. In addition, learning opportunities outside the classroom – in the lives of Head Start parents – are also making a profound impact on the family’s quality of life and their future.

“We conduct family assessments to discuss the parents’ goals and help improve the family dynamic,” says Jhanirca Velez Ramos, a Family Specialist for BCFS Education Services. “If a parent would like to earn their GED, for example, I provide them directions for how to obtain it. I encourage them to follow through. I make myself available and follow up throughout the school year if needed. My real passion is empowering people.”

The federal Office of Head Start lists family well-being initiatives as one of the program’s three core services, alongside children’s health and early learning. So, when moms in two Spanish-speaking families of Head Start children in Seguin told their Family Specialist Jhanirca they wanted to learn English, Jhanirca was excited to help!

Jhanirca referred Ms. Hernandez and Mrs. Garcia to the local school district where they completed an English as a Second Language (ESL) course.

After working at a local restaurant for 10 years, Ms. Hernandez was finally offered a promotion. Confident in her new bilingual skills, she accepted the promotion to serve as a Team Leader. She doesn’t plan on stopping there.

“At first, I didn’t want to accept the job because I didn’t know much English,” she explains. “I wanted to learn a bit more English first and then accept the position. Now, I want to go back and learn even more, because I’d like to move up to another position at work.” While Ms. Hernandez was settling into her new role as Team Leader at the restaurant’s corporate offices, her 5-year-old son, Sebastian graduated from Head Start and began kindergarten at his local elementary school. Just like his mom, Head Start helped build Sebastian’s skills and cultivated in him a love of learning.

Mrs. Garcia, another Head Start mother of four, had always wanted to learn English. She picked up some phrases from her kids and from hearing other people speak, but had never taken English classes.

“I wanted to be able to help my kids with their homework, and develop myself more, and not struggle so much,” said Mrs. Garcia. “It’s beautiful to know how to speak both languages.” Mrs. Garcia, who works independently as a maid, hopes to use her new English skills to open her own cleaning business. “I want to gain my commercial license so that I can clean government buildings or stores,” she says. “To be able to expand and make my business official.”

Both mothers are grateful for the help that BCFS Education Services has provided.

“Head Start has helped us a lot,” said Mrs. Garcia. “My daughter has learned a lot in the classes, and it helped us learn how to be better parents. Everything (in Head Start) is very good, very organized. (Family Specialist Jhanirca Ramos) is always motivating us and pushing us to go further.”

Mrs. Garcia’s daughter, Paula, has also graduated from Head Start, ready for kindergarten. “She’s more prepared, she knows more about the routines of going to school,” Mrs. Garcia said of her daughter’s first year of elementary school. “She learned a lot, and while some of the other kids didn’t go to pre-K, she is a bit more advanced because she attended Head Start.”

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Shortly after the Garcias enrolled their youngest son, Maximiliano, in BCFS Education Services’ Head Start, Max’s parents, Elizabeth and Alfonso, lost their jobs unexpectedly. “My husband and I were working for an oilfield company and the owners sold the company,” Mrs. Garcia recalls. “One day, we went to work and they told us to get our personal stuff and leave because the company had filed for bankruptcy.” For this hard-working family of five, it was devastating news. “They didn’t pay us for two weeks,” Mrs. Garcia says. “We (Mr. and Mrs. Garcia) were laid off at the same time and we were struggling really badly.” In her son’s Head Start classroom one afternoon, Mrs. Garcia confided in her BCFS Education Services Family Specialist about their situation. Without work or any income, they couldn’t afford to put food on the table. Mr. and Mrs. Garcia needed to get back to work, and fast.

Every family with a child enrolled in Head Start is assigned a Family Specialist who conducts home visits, assesses the family’s needs, and provides emergency assistance and crisis intervention as needed.

“Our (BCFS Education Services) Family Specialist gave me information about job fairs in the area; she told me where to go to apply for food stamps and encouraged me to apply for Medicaid,” Mrs. Garcia says. “She also gave me a number for a food pantry.”

At BCFS Education Services’ recommendation, Mrs. Garcia braved the job fair, armed with a resume and newfound confidence. There, she was hired on the spot for a medical products firm.

She picked up meals for her family from a local food pantry, with her Family Specialist’s referral. Later that summer, Mr. Garcia was hired as a carpenter in a small town outside Dallas. Things were starting to improve for the Garcias!

Max graduated from his Head Start classroom in the summer of 2016 and shortly afterwards the Garcia family moved to northeast Texas. They’ve since settled into their new home and both Mr. and Mrs. Garcia are gainfully employed with stable companies. Max’s mom says he’s excelling in his kindergarten classroom.

“He’s doing really well. Max’s teachers told me that he’s really ahead of the other kids because he’s reading,” Mrs. Garcia explains proudly. She attributes Max’s success to his time in the Head Start program.

“At first, I felt guilty waking him up at six in the morning, sometimes 5:30, and putting him on the bus by 6:30,” says Mrs. Garcia. “It was still dark, and I would feel guilty because he’s my baby. But I don’t regret it at all. He’s very smart, he’s in kindergarten and he’s reading already!”

Max’s teachers aren’t the only ones who have noticed how he’s made strides in the classroom.

“My other kids told me that they were surprised at Max’s progress. They asked me ‘how come you didn’t put us in Head Start? Max is really smart, and I don’t remember learning how to read by five years old,’ ” Mrs. Garcia laughs. “Of course, I’m not expecting that all my three kids are the same, or that they have the same ways of learning things, but it could be because Max started school earlier in Head Start.”

Mrs. Garcia says getting help from her Family Specialist was a life changer. “She would listen and talk to me, she knew that I was stressing out. When you’re so used to working and providing for your family and this (losing a job) happens to you, you want to go crazy, you don’t know where to go or what to do. She would encourage me, saying ‘don’t stress out, you’ll find a job,’ and then I was able to find work at the laboratory.” Today, the Garcia family is thriving. Max’s 13-year-old sister, Fernanda, is now in 7th grade. His 18-year-old brother, Sebastian, is helping their father with home renovation projects while he prepares to start college in the spring.

Through it all, the Garcia family stayed positive. With support from BCFS Education Services, the Garcias were able to regain some stability, and help Max get ready for kindergarten, better prepared to achieve academic excellence in elementary school, middle school and beyond!

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Single Mom, Annette Herrera

Annette Herrera is a 27-year-old single mother raising her 5-year- old daughter, Rayne. As a first-time mom, anxious to get prepared during her pregnancy, she began taking parenting classes before her daughter was even born. Like Emma, Annette also graduated from BCFS’ Precious Minds New Connections and Texas Families: Together and Safe classes.

“I know some people don’t like to take parenting classes because they think, ‘I must be a bad parent,’ but I never thought about it in a negative way. You’re not a bad parent – you’re actually trying to better yourself and your relationships,” says Annette. “Once you go to a class, you see that every parent gets stressed and frustrated, that’s normal. There’s so much the class can do for you – sharing experiences, making you more confident, or giving you better techniques to use.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 4.19.37 PM.pngSome of the most valuable lessons Annette learned pertained to managing the complexities of blended homes. “Our instructor had a stepchild and talked about the importance of other adults in a child’s life, even if they’re not the mom or dad. I just introduced my boyfriend to my daughter. I feel like it’s an honor to meet her – she’s my world, my princess. If he’s stepping into our world he needs to be accepted. I appreciated our instructor’s perspective and advice on dealing with that.”

BCFS parenting education programs also connect families to wrap-around social services and resources in their community that provide food, clothing, baby items, transportation, and other services aimed at improving the family’s quality of life.

“There’s not always one perfect answer when it comes to parenting questions,” says Annette. “Learning new techniques was what I appreciated the most. That’s what I really love about the classes – hearing people’s stories and all the different ways people approach parenting.”

Having Rayne has changed Annette’s life immensely – and so have BCFS parenting classes. Annette now has more confidence, and a more positive, appreciative outlook on life. She says her daughter is her hero, but by the sound of this mom’s dedication to her little one, the feeling is definitely mutual! 

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.”

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.

Nourishing Bodies & Minds through CERI’s Food Security Program

By Leonard Favela

In villages across Sri Lanka, many mothers struggle with the harsh reality that they are unable to provide healthy food for their children to eat. Many are either too poor to put food on the table consistently, or they don’t know what healthy food is and how nutrition impacts the bodies and minds of their growing children. Children who grow up malnourished are more likely to struggle with illnesses and developmental delays, leading to more medical issues as they get older. 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).

CERI’s Food Security Program (FSP) teaches mothers in impoverished Sri Lankan villages how to cook healthy meals using affordable, nutritious ingredients they can acquire locally. Since 2013, CERI’s FSP has helped more than 400 children in villages which were identified by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health as struggling with malnourishment. CERI partners with churches, healthcare professionals, community leaders and volunteers to educate families about the importance of proper nutrition for their children.  

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First, CERI staff assemble a group of “Leader Mothers” in each village to participate in a training that explains the program to the local community. The training is co-facilitated by local midwives, nurses and other community leaders. Leader Mothers learn how to administer each child’s initial assessment, where heights and weights of the children help determine the needs for the Food Security Program in the village. The assessment data is used to identify which children are underweight and then their mothers are invited to a local kitchen where the FSP nutrition curriculum is taught over 12 days.

The program teaches mothers the types of foods that ensure the healthy development of their children and prevent chronic health issues. The curriculum, titled Intentional Cooking, offers a new nutritious meal recipe each day prepared with locally grown ingredients. Mothers are taught the critical importance of nutrition in their child’s development, as well as the importance of hygiene and hand washing.

Cooking trainings are hands-on and mothers are encouraged to bring their children to class in order to prepare and eat the food together. At the end of each day, CERI gives each mother a week’s supply of food, including ingredients from that day’s cooking lesson. The dishes are healthy, easy to cook, and reflective of Sri Lankan culture. Fruit salad, vegetable rotti, dosai and upma are traditional Sri Lanka favorites on the menu.

One mother of a 4-year-old girl learned the meaning of “brain food” while in the program, and how certain foods support healthy brain growth.

“The brain needs its own kind of fuel,” she explains. “It requires healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, protein and adequate vitamins and minerals. Before, I was worried that my daughter was so inactive and her memory was so short, but when I started feeding her differently, she became more active. I can see her development every day. I can see that she became a better child by eating better food.”

Measuring Success & Health

Families in the FSP learn how to use a weight-tracking log to measure the program’s short-term and long-term impact on the children. Children are weighed on day 1, day 12, and 30 and 90 days after their mothers complete the program.

An early increase in the child’s weight indicates that the lack of a healthy diet was the main reason for the child’s low weight. When the child gains weight over time, it usually indicates that mom is using the skills and knowledge she learned during the Intentional Cooking classes.

FSP Class in actionMothers whose children demonstrate healthy weight gain are asked to be a “Leader Mother,” and encouraged to share their experience, skills and knowledge with other mothers in their village.

Holistic Wellbeing

The FSP goes way beyond just group cooking classes. The program is a multifaceted, family-centric learning experience that educates women on how to build a healthy family, teaching family planning, breastfeeding, and effective parenting techniques. The program also includes a spiritual component where children are taught lessons from the Bible.

CERI Executive Director, Connie Belciug, says the FSP has extended helping hands to mothers who have endured dreadful hardships while trying to provide for their families.

“As a mother, it’s gut-wrenching and painful to see your child suffer and feel powerless to stop it,” says Belciug. “That is how so many families feel in the areas CERI serves. Programs like FSP make a lasting impact on families, and entire communities, by empowering women through education.”

Outcomes & Impact:

Last year, the FSP helped 123 children in nine villages in Manmunai North and Manmunai West.

In 2016, CERI is focusing FSP efforts on six villages in a war-torn area of Sri Lanka’s Kiran Division, expecting to serve 125 children.

About CERI:

Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) is a Christian health and human services organization that brings hope to children living in extreme poverty around the globe. Our one-of-a-kind approach features professionally delivered social services, humanitarian aid campaigns, one-on-one child sponsorships and missions that address the material and spiritual needs of humanity. Our goal for each child is a lifestyle of resiliency, determination, hope for the future and faith in God.

CERI is the international division of BCFS, a global system of non-profit organizations with expertise in health and human services.