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.

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The Power of FAITH

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For most of her adolescence, 17-year-old Faith Garcia was angry. “I didn’t listen to anybody,” says Faith. “Basically, I did what I wanted. I was always with the wrong crowd, and doing everything wrong. I would choose my friends over everything – even over school.”

Years of negative peer pressure and self-destructive behavior culminated in a serious incident at Faith’s school. She was arrested for assaulting an authority figure on campus – but even after this dramatic incident, she was given another chance. However, she continued to stray down the wrong path and was arrested again – this time on criminal mischief charges for a separate incident off campus. Faith found herself in the juvenile justice courtroom standing before Bexar County Judge Laura Parker, an experience she would later say was a personal turning point.

Judge Parker’s court is better known as the Crossroads Girls Mental Health Court, which works closely with the BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio KAPS program, or Kids Averted from Placement Services. BCFS-San Antonio KAPS and Crossroads work in tandem to provide young women in the juvenile justice system with case management, counseling, life skills training, job search assistance and educational services. The goal is to help them avoid repeating their past transgressions, and build a brighter future.

One of the most unconventional components of the program turned out to be the most impactful for Faith: equine therapy and horseback riding. She enjoyed connecting with the calm, majestic animals and being outdoors. Through equine therapy, plus intensive writing workshops, Faith learned to redirect her anger and calm her destructive impulses.

“They told us that the horses pick up on who you are, and what your attitudes are like. At first, I was scared, but then I just talked to it and said ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’ My anger calmed down because they made me write it all on paper, or work with animals – things that I don’t get to do regularly.”

Faith did so well in the program that when she graduated, BCFS staff asked her to return to mentor other girls. Today, she’s preparing to graduate high school and pursue her dream to become a firefighter.

Faith uses her past to motivate her younger brother and sister to make wise choices. “I tell them, ‘You see how I was,’ and they’re nothing like me,” says Faith. She warns them to not be controlled by others and avoid the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol, sentiments she learned from her mother and stepfather.

“It put me in a place where I’m more calm,” Faith says of KAPS/ Crossroads. “If I get angry, it’s on me. I’m the one that’s going to pay the consequences.”

Words of wisdom Faith received from her strict but loving stepdad, Moises Martir, helped change her outlook:

“Your friends are not the ones that are going to be controlling your life, later. They’re going to be the ones walking when you’re stuck back here. You don’t need to be like other people, you need to be yourself. You need to learn how to control yourself and push through.”

In 2016, the Crossroads Girls Mental Health Court won the National Criminal Justice Association’s Outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award for the Western Region

Award-Winning Resiliency

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Starla Huff and Nickolas Wilkerson are two youth from the foster care system who have faced more than their fair share of tragedy and injustice. By holding onto their faith, working hard, and a little help from supportive foster families and BCFS Health and Human Services-Tyler, today Starla and Nick both stand tall – ready for whatever tomorrow may bring.

Meet Starla

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Starla and her three brothers lived with their grandmother for many years while their mother battled drug addiction.

“My mom was a user. She did drugs while I was in her presence,” Starla remembers. “Often, she would take me with her wherever she was going.”

That experience, along with several instances of abuse, led Starla to her own struggles with chemical dependency and self-harming behaviors at a young age.

“I started doing drugs when I was 10 or 11, smoking and drinking,” Starla says. “I used to cut myself and I tried to commit suicide multiple times, and I was going to a dark place and most of it was because I was on drugs.”

“My family’s not very close, so I didn’t really know any of my family, except for, like, my immediate family, and they never cared for any of my mom’s children because my mom was, like, the black sheep in the family.”

Starla entered the foster care system on her 15th birthday and was moved to Waco’s Trinity Home of Faith, a shelter for youth in foster care. Two months later, on October 4, she arrived at the foster home of Mr. and Mrs. Rohus in a small East Texas town.

“I still wasn’t the best kid,” she recalls. “I’d get in trouble at school, I did not have a filter, I said whatever I wanted. I was still smoking.”

A year later, on her 16th birthday, Starla left the Rohus foster home and moved in with her biological father, a decision she now considers one of the worst she has ever made. According to Starla, her father sexually assaulted one of her friends.

A month later, Starla returned to the Rohus’ foster home, where she met a new group of foster youth who helped change her perspective.

“I’m so blessed that the foster home still had an opening,” she says. “When I came back, I was the oldest in the house, and so I had a lot of responsibilities. We started getting younger (foster) kids, so I straightened myself out. I told myself that I couldn’t do what I did when I was growing up, that I had to be a role model – so I did.”

Meet Nick

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Nickolas Wilkerson is an Oregon native who, like Starla, grew up in a family ravaged by the damaging effects of substance abuse.

“My mother and father were very abusive to each other,” Nick recalls of his parents, who both battled addictions to drugs and alcohol. “They couldn’t hold a job, they fought all the time, so we were finally placed with my grandma because my parents weren’t fit to care for us.”

Nick’s grandmother wanted him to have mother and father figures, so she sent him to live with an aunt and uncle in Texas when he was 8 years old. Nick moved to the remote Texas town of Harleton, where he stayed for four years.

“My aunt and uncle adopted me,” he explains, “but my aunt was really abusive. One night, I kind of felt like my life was threatened, so I ran away. It caused a whole ordeal with police, and the neighbors found out that she was abusing me. My aunt and uncle decided that they would put me into the [foster care] system.”

Nick entered the foster care system at 12 years old; at 13, he moved into the Hall family’s foster home. “They’ve been my support,” Nick says affectionately of the Hall family, who welcomed him with open arms and provided the stability and support system of a loving family.

“My mom showed me that through God I could accomplish anything,” Nick says of his foster mom. “They strengthened my religion; it was one of the biggest things they did for me. I was into sports, and they were very supportive of that,” he says. “They were just there for me.”

Preparation for Adult Living (PAL)

Soon after Starla’s return to the Rohus’ foster home, Mrs. Rohus told Starla about BCFS-Tyler and the Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program. Nick first came to BCFS-Tyler when he turned 18, eager to take advantage of programs for youth who aged out of the foster care system.

Starla and Nick completed the PAL program operated by BCFS-Tyler. PAL teaches youth how to set and achieve their goals, create healthy relationships and learn positive self-guidance. From how to write a check to filling out scholarship applications, the PAL program teaches youth the skills needed in the “real world,” and how to succeed on their own.

“They helped with my FAFSA, they set me up with classes, and bought my books,” Nick said of BCFS-Tyler. “From there on, anytime I called them and needed help with college things or if I had a problem that I couldn’t solve by myself, they were there. They’re my support line.”

Starla says the PAL program instilled in her a newfound confidence.“They taught me a lot about self-respect and to accept yourself for who you are. That’s really helped me, because I used to have really low self-esteem and I’ve gotten better about how I feel about myself.”

Award-Winning Resiliency

When Starla and Nick graduated high school one year apart, their case managers from BCFS-Tyler were right alongside them to celebrate. Shortly after graduation they were each awarded a prestigious accolade: the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) Foster Youth of the Year award.

The award is granted annually by DFPS to one outstanding youth in each of the 11 DFPS regions in Texas. Nick garnered the award in 2015, and Starla in 2016, marking the first time two youth from BCFS Health and Human Services have won the award back to back, much less both from the small East Texas town of Tyler.

“To win this award, the youth must demonstrate strong leadership skills, motivation, academic excellence and extracurricular involvement,” explains Carla McCalope, BCFS-Tyler Program Director. “Starla and Nick are both very grounded, motivated and determined to make it.”

“Starla and Nick are proof that through hard work and help from supportive families and effective youth programs, good things can happen. We can break generational cycles of abuse and poverty,” McCalope says. “We are so proud of them, and can’t wait to celebrate their next accomplishments.”

A New Beginning

Today, Nick and Starla attend Tyler Junior College. Nick is a biology major who aspires to go to medical school. Starla is working toward a bachelor’s degree in nursing, with plans to become a flight nurse in the Air Force.

“I want to finish college, I want a degree,” says Nick, matter-of-factly. “I want to make something of my life. My goal is to be a doctor. If God has another plan, then so be it, but that’s what I’m going for!”

“When my aunt and uncle put me back in foster care, I was angry and I didn’t really have anybody to turn to,” said Nick. “My foster parents that I have now, they took me to church and through that, I found that God had a plan for me; I found faith in myself and Him. My confidence was lifted and my joy was lifted.”

“Before I came into foster care, whenever I had gotten really into drugs, I claimed to be an atheist. I guess because I was so angry,” said Starla. “When I came to this foster home, they were going to church and said I had to come. The minister was talking about drugs and alcohol and basically everything that was my life. I started crying and praying, ‘Jesus, I need help, can you please guide me,’ and He did.”

Although they did not know each other until recently, Nick and Starla both followed similar paths: Both spent time in foster care, turned to BCFS-Tyler for assistance and, one year after the other, they were awarded the Foster Youth of the Year award by the state of Texas.

Too many youth across the United States experience abuse or neglect, and struggle to overcome the emotional and physical scars left behind. But just as Nick said, inspired by the Godly wisdom of his foster mother, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), and with God ALL things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

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India’s Son Returns to Give Back CERI expands to India led by Ian Anand Forber-Pratt

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Whether you’re in a rural Indian village or in the hustle and bustle of a crowded urban street, it’s clear: India is a vibrant, intoxicating nation, bursting with color and so full of life. The food, the smells, the sounds, the ancient temples, the varied dialects, and the sense of order hidden beautifully in the chaos – a faint-of-heart traveler might even say it borders on sensory overload. This proud nation of warm and resilient people is also, unfortunately, the source of some staggering social and economic epidemics.

India is home to 1.2 billion people, twenty-two percent of whom fall below the international poverty line. In 2015, the average annual income of each family equated to a meager $4 per day.* Imagine the futility of trying to stretch these few dollars to pay for safe housing, medical care, food, clothing, education and other essentials.

Poverty coupled with lack of education, unemployment, child labor, homelessness, substance abuse, physical and mental health needs, child abuse and neglect, violence and inability to access resources are just some of the horrific challenges India’s children face every day. In response, the international arm of BCFS, Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), launched a new organization in New Delhi, India, in partnership with other thought leaders and agencies, to strengthen families and protect children.

The Centre of Excellence in Alternative Care of Children will support and strengthen family-based care and protection for millions of children in India through proactive initiatives that will bridge the gap between government policies relevant to child care and protection and how these initiatives are implemented at the ground level.

Heading up this transformative program is scholar, researcher and sociologist, Ian Anand Forber-Pratt, a man following his lifelong dream of bringing progressive alternative child care to India, and promoting the idea that every child deserves to live in a healthy, happy, loving family setting. Ian aims to revolutionize the social service systems for children in his native India to include foster care and kinship care for orphan children.

Born in Kolkata, India, Ian was adopted from a home for unwed mothers when he was two months old by a Canadian mother and an American father. Ian was raised and educated in the United States, along with his adopted sister from India, Anjali, and his brother and sister (biological to his adoptive parents). His adoptive parents, determined to connect Ian and Anjali to their Indian heritage, exposed them to Indian cultural events where they learned about native foods, dance and language. However, it was not until his first trip back to India in 2006 when he said his “internal circuits” really connected with his ancestry.

“I felt at home, and not at home, in the same emotion,” Ian recalls of this trip. “I finally felt like I’d found a sense of purpose. I was going to use the gifts I’d been given in life to honor my adoptive parents and give back to the country that gave me life.” Even before that memorable trip, however, Ian dreamed of giving back to his birth country, he was just unsure of exactly how.

Ian ventured out to be a catalyst for change, taking those first few steps, no matter how small. Two years and thousands of emails and phone calls to potential partner agencies mustered Ian only one connection with another organization. However, he remained dedicated and slowly started to see results. He knew he needed to collaborate with existing service providers to make a real impact. New connections trickled in from partnering agencies, including important policy makers, government officials and leaders in social services. This established a network of advocates that would, in the next ten years, have the power to change state government and pass critical policies.

Today, critical legislation and social service guidelines are in place, including the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2015, Central Adoption Resource Authority Guidelines on Adoption 2015, the Model Guidelines on Foster Care 2016 and the Integrated Child Protection Scheme 2014. Ian served on advisory committees for both state and national legislation on foster care in India.

Together with partners from governmental and non-governmental sectors, the Centre of Excellence is slated to continue making significant changes and much-needed advancements in India’s child care and protection system.

In the words of renowned human rights advocate, Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Leaders and visionaries like Ian and CERI are spearheading that change in India, every day.

Partners of the Centre of Excellence include the Core Assets Group, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, and Washington University Visit http://www.AlternativeCareIndia.org

*Sources: Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook; World Bank

Building A Young Leader

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Twenty-year-old Leroy Berrones-Soto sits attentively in one of his undergraduate classes at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Considering his background and upbringing, to sit in this class, on this college campus, he knows is an accomplishment. In the back of his mind, Leroy knows he’s come a long way. Leroy was born the second of seven siblings in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, minutes from the U.S.- Mexico border. By age four, he had endured sexual abuse at the hands of a family acquaintance. His mother and siblings soon left Rio Bravo, headed for the United States. At age seven, Leroy’s younger sister with Down syndrome passed away.

Leroy in “The System”

The family struggled to settle into their new life in the United States. Leroy’s mom worked long hours, and her children were often left alone. A neighbor reported Leroy’s mom to Child Protective Services (CPS) for leaving her children unattended without food. In 2005, when he was 10, Leroy and his brothers and sisters were removed from their home by CPS. “We had just gotten home, nobody was supervising us,” Leroy remembers of the day a CPS social worker arrived. “We had a long case history, since 2001.” For the next five years, Leroy and his siblings shuffled through different foster homes, shelters and even some return placements with their biological mother and father. During this time, Leroy’s father was tragically murdered while defending his daughter, Leroy’s sister, from a pair of gang members. During one of several stints in a foster home, Leroy’s younger siblings were regularly neglected by their foster mother. Leroy felt so powerless to help his foster siblings that he stopped eating altogether to try to get their foster mom’s attention and end the abuse. His hunger strike caused his health to deteriorate and Leroy was hospitalized for stomach ulcers.

Structure & Freedom

Just after his seventeenth birthday, Leroy was placed with a new foster family, Mr. and Mrs. Santiago and Susana Lopez, who, he admits, were the most stringent of all his foster care placements. The expectations were clear for Leroy and his housemates in the Lopez foster home: follow the rules. “They were strict with us, with our education, but they cared, and they provided us with structure and guidance in our daily lives. I had never felt that care from a foster parent. ” This new structure, surprisingly, brought a new kind of freedom for Leroy. “They were the only foster parents that allowed us to do extracurricular activities,” Leroy recalls. “They took time out of their schedule to take me to school very early in the morning.” Finally enjoying a stable home life, Leroy started exploring leadership roles in high school. He arrived before school each day to help the principal, and eventually became a hall monitor. He also joined the Criminal Justice Club. Leroy credits the Lopez family for encouraging his studies. With their support, Leroy graduated early from Lopez High School in Brownsville, Texas, earning the school’s Lobo Award for Service. Soon after, Leroy began classes in UTRGV’s Social Work program. “Sometimes foster youth think that some of us are just ‘lucky’ to have good foster parents. At the time, I remember fighting with the system, asking the agency to move me from the Lopez home. I’m glad they didn’t. It’s not about luck, but rather a team effort from all parties to gain each other’s trust.”

Inspiration Opens New Doors

While Leroy lived in the Lopez home, CPS conducted periodic visits to check on the family. During one visit, Leroy was approached with an opportunity he could not resist. “The CPS Youth Specialist asked me if I was interested in being on a youth panel,” Leroy recalls. He agreed, and joined a panel of current and former foster youth. Collectively, they provided local CPS staff with their perspective, experiences and struggles while in the foster care system. The panel, Leroy says, was put together to help inspire improvements in the policies and procedures that are part of the daily lives of foster youth. “Social workers can’t always see what we see, as foster youth,” Leroy explains. “When I started serving on the council, youth would bring up their issues, and we would work toward changing the system.” While working to help others, Leroy learned of BCFS Health and Human Services-McAllen, in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. He was 18, aging out of foster care, and looking for some advice on how to prepare for life on his own. At BCFS-McAllen, Leroy received case management, home visits and help planning his transition into independent adulthood. BCFS-McAllen staff also helped him fill out college applications and choose a career path. As a young adult from foster care, BCFS-McAllen helped Leroy acquire funding to pay for his college dorm through the Education and Training Voucher (ETV) program. “I was going to be kicked out of my dorm,” he recalls about his housing situation before BCFSMcAllen stepped in to help pay his housing fees and keep a roof over his head. BCFS-McAllen also gave Leroy some emergency funding to buy food during the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays when campus cafeterias closed. Through working with BCFS case workers – along with his turbulent childhood and experience in the foster care system – Leroy became inspired to choose youth advocacy and social services as a career. “Leroy is one of our center’s most active youth,” says BCFS Case Manager Deyanira Garcia, “because he’s an advocate for other foster youth. He’s always showing me different resources that he comes across that other youth from foster care can use.”

Answering the Call of Duty

“I want to work with Child Protective Services,” Leroy says. “Since I’ve experienced foster care, I can help youth who are in my same situation, and help understand and solve their problems.” In November 2015, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) invited Leroy to join the newly formed Behavioral Health Advisory Committee to represent young adults struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. “I, myself, receive mental health services,” he admits candidly, “and I see other people that need services, and they don’t have the resources, or they don’t know about them. I’d like to work to create something that makes resources available to those who need them.” The HHSC appointment is one of many accolades Leroy has earned since high school. Among them, Leroy was named “Teen of the Month” by the Teen Toolbox Youth Development SPOTLIGHT, and he was named Youth Representative on the HHSC’s Texas Council on Children and Families. He has presented his insight to lawyers from the Texas State Bar’s Continuing Legal Education (CLE) and has been invited by the Angels of Love Foundation to discuss his experience with the foster care system. In January 2016, Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15) bestowed a United States Congressional Commendation upon Leroy. Leroy has also received the Foster Club’s Young Leaders Award, an annual recognition of the success of young people from foster care. Leroy has also been selected to participate in the 2016 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program, where youth from foster care are given the opportunity to share their experiences with federal lawmakers.

“I am not a statistic”

Leroy has indeed defied the odds. Nationally, according to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, only half the youth who have been in foster care will earn a high school diploma, and only 20 percent of high school graduates will attend college. When Leroy earns his bachelor’s degree in 2019, he will be part of the less than 10 percent of youth from foster care who achieve college graduation. He shows no signs of slowing down! “It’s rewarding, being able to help other teenagers,” he says. “Agencies, departments, people call me to go speak to foster parents or teenagers, to motivate them. That spreads the message, which is also what I want, for them to be successful, and not be a part of the negative statistics.” “I feel like people are listening to what I say,” Leroy continues, “and that’s important, because for years, I never felt like my voice was being heard.” After earning a graduate degree in criminal justice, he plans on a long career with Child Protective Services, hoping to be as instrumental in the lives of youth as his BCFS-McAllen caseworkers were for him. “BCFS-McAllen was extremely helpful for me. I really admire their work,” he says. “Without them, I don’t know what would have happened.”

Man 2 Man Mentoring Event Teaches Young Men Life Lessons

TYLER – BCFS Health and Human Services-Tyler partnered with Cuttin Up Barber Shop to present Man 2 Man, a skill-building workshop and mentorship event focused on helping young men look good, feel good, and most importantly, learn how to become gainfully employed. The workshop helped young men, predominantly from foster care, make positive connections in the community to receive on-going support as they transition into adulthood. More than 40 men from BCFS-Tyler and adult mentors participated in Man 2 Man on April 2.

Man 2 Man taught the young men professional attire for an office setting, and daily relaxed, casual wear. Barbershop owners Kierondale Lewis and Kendrick Austin offered free haircuts, grooming supplies and hygiene tips, and demonstrated professional, stylish cuts for the workplace.

Several other community partners rallied around BCFS-Tyler and Cuttin Up to enhance Man 2 Man. Local pastors, a coach from John Tyler High School, a Behavioral Specialist from Tyler Independent School District, DFPS staff, and even a retired FBI agent spoke to the youth about success, education, learning a skill and contributing to their community.

“The mentors were extremely motivational in their speeches to the young men,” BCFS Director Carla McCalope said. “Whether you continue your education after high school or not, you can still have a stable career and be successful, but you have to be motivated. You can’t just give up; you have to work hard.”

One guest speaker on hand, Nick Wilkerson, completed BCFS-Tyler’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program years ago and came back to speak to other young men from similar backgrounds served by BCFS-Tyler – many of them from foster care or unstable home environments. Nick was named Texas Foster Youth of the Year in 2015 by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). He spoke at Man 2 Man to offer his perspective on struggle, perseverance and patience.

“All I can say is get in there and grind it out,” Nick told the young men. “If you can just get it done, push through one day at a time, trust me, it will come; people will notice your good deeds. Work hard, try your best.”

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The workshop materialized when BCFS Director Carla McCalope recognized that the young men BCFS serves needed to develop “simple, soft skills” that would boost their self-confidence and make a good first impression with a potential employer.

“Truthfully, our profession of social services is such a woman-dominated field,” explains McCalope. “Our young men need positive male role models that can offer a male perspective about good decision-making and how to be a man of integrity. One young man came up to me after the event and said ‘I liked this; I like you ladies, I see you all the time. But it is nice to see some other guys.’”

“Our mentors are local men who have wanted to become involved somehow, but were initially unsure and a bit nervous,” McCalope explained. “Now they have a good experience that they can use and they are excited to plan for the next mentor meeting. They are eager to help our young men mature into strong husbands, fathers and contributing members of our community.”

Tyler’s Bodacious Bar-B-Que catered lunch, Tyler Beverages, Inc. provided drinks, and Flowers Baking Company offered breads and desserts.

BCFS-Tyler serves youth from foster care and young adults at risk of abuse, neglect and other challenges, helping them transition into adulthood using a holistic service approach and a centralized location they can access community resources. For more information about BCFS-Tyler, visit DiscoverBCFS.net/Tyler or call (903) 526-0882.

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

Midnight in Paris Prom for Youth in Foster Care a Community Affair

Annual prom hosted by BCFS Health and Human Services and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)

TYLER – Complete with chandeleiers, orchids, and a silk-draped ballroom with a Parisian motif, the fourth annual prom for Tyler youth in foster care was a memorable evening – thanks to the collective efforts of local businesses, organizations and donors.

BCFS Health and Human Services-Tyler along with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) held the annual prom on Saturday, March 5, 2016, at the Hilton Garden Inn. The Midnight in Paris Prom offered youth in foster care the opportunity to enjoy the high school tradition of prom.

About 77 Tyler youth clad in tuxedos and evening gowns attended the prom. The Men’s Wearhouse in Tyler offered a discount on tuxedo rentals for the young men. In addition to some gently used evening gowns acquired through BCFS in Tyler’s Project Cinderella dress drive, Brides and Belles of Tyler boutique donated 42 brand new dresses from which young ladies could choose for their prom night.

“Community support helped make this year’s prom especially memorable,” said BCFS Director Carla McCalope. “In addition to sponsors that we knew about weeks in advance, we had some last-minute sponsors who really helped make Midnight in Paris truly amazing for our youth.”

Youth rode to the prom in style courtesy of Lavish Limousines of Dallas. The youth danced and took home photo souvenirs courtesy of Complete Events DJ & Photography. Additional community sponsors include the Gregg County Child Welfare Board, the East Texas Symphony, Novedades Luly decorations and the Hilton Garden Inn & Suites, who donated the ballroom and food.

“Three ladies from the (East Texas Symphony) Board donated dresses and fresh flowers,” added McCalope. “They also gave a two-dozen red rose bouquet to our Prom Queen, Ms. Shelby.”

Shelby was giddy with excitement when she was crowned Prom Queen, alongside Denver, the young man voted Prom King.

“I feel the prettiest I have ever felt,” Shelby said. “It was the first time I had ever received flowers. I love my dress and thank you to the person that donated it to BCFS for Project Cinderella. It’s beautiful and I’m going to keep it forever.”

“Many of the youth we serve pursue their educations in non-traditional ways like charter schools, GED programs or online courses,” explained McCalope. “Though their circumstances are very unique, we try to offer them opportunities to enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like prom, that other young people may take for granted.”

BCFS Health and Human Services-Tyler serves youth in and aging out of foster care, as well as other young adults facing challenges like homelessness, poverty, or those recovering from physical and emotional abuse. The center is a “one-stop shop” that provides counseling, case management, and assistance with education, employment, housing location and medical care.

For more information about BCFS’ work in Tyler, to volunteer or make a donation, visit DiscoverBCFS.net/Tyler or call the center at (903) 526-0882.

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

 

Foster Parents Share Sound Advice for All Parents

Pam and Geoffrey Farmer always wanted to expand their family, but they were unable to have any biological children. After adopting a child late in life, they explored foster care. Since they made the life-altering decision to become foster parents in 2011, more than 40 teens and youngsters have lived in the Farmers’ home.

After years of caring for dozens of children and youth in need, the Farmers have this advice for parents of their own biological children or foster youth: “Listen, be there for them, have a servant’s heart, put their needs first, and never give up on them.”

Building a family

In 2011, the Farmers partnered with BCFS Health and Human Services and enrolled their youth in foster care in BCFS’ Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program, which serves young people ages 16 to 21 who are in the state’s custody after being removed from their biological parent or guardian for abuse or neglect. The primary goal of the PAL program is to help youth in foster care and those aging out of care transition to adulthood and independence.

The Farmers try to have four youth in their home at a time so they can each have their own bedroom, but they can care for up to six young adults. Today, they have three teens in their home.

A “day in the life”

So, what’s it like to care for this many teens? The Farmers say it’s not easy, and they’ve had to overcome many obstacles. “It’s a constant juggling act between their caseworkers, attorneys, therapists, and making sure everyone is working toward the same goal when it comes to the kids,” the couple says. Plus, with lots of daily appointments at doctors, schools, relatives and dentists, at times they’ve driven 100 miles a day to get each youth where they need to go.

It is common for children in foster homes to have unique needs. They are sometimes  lagging emotionally, socially and developmentally due to trauma they experienced. Many of them have been abused for years, which can leave emotional scars. According to the Farmers, parents must give these children more leeway, stability, patience and support, while showing them they are wanted.

Coming full circle

The Farmers described a difficult “adjustment period” that occurs as each new youth enters the home. They tend to be slightly stand-offish out of fear and anxiety.

“We try to make them feel at home, and ensure that this is their final home,” the couple says.

“Many of them have moved around a lot and think this is just another place to stay until we kick them out. But once they start to trust us, those walls they’ve built up around themselves come down. It’s great to see them grow to that point.”

In the Farmer household, it’s a time of celebration when youth they’ve cared for in the past come “home” to visit and show the current group of youth how their time spent with the Farmers prepared them for the outside world.

Expectations breed success

“We try to help them reach the next level with school, the military or getting a good job,” Mrs. Farmer says. “We have high expectations for them and express that we want the very best for them. If you expect a lot from them, they will rise to that level and succeed. The BCFS PAL program has done a tremendous job in helping us and the young adults reach these goals.”

The Farmers have tapped into all the services built into BCFS’ PAL program to help the youth with their education, employment, case management, life skills, mentoring, and any additional needs identified on their transition plans.

All the Farmers’ hard work is paying off, because most of their youth have gone on to college after high school, and most still come home for the holidays to spend time with the family.

BCFS Program Director Stacy Lee praised the Farmers as outstanding foster parents for the way they take care of the youngsters.

“Being a foster parent means dedicating yourself 24/7, which can be exhausting,” Stacy says.

“The Farmers have a genuine desire to serve and be a positive influence on these young people’s lives. They do an outstanding job of showing them they are all important.

Wise words for any parent

“Our home is a constant teaching environment – they need to learn how to be independent so when they are out on their own they can schedule and keep their own appointments with doctors and school advisors,” Mr. Farmer says. “Constant guidance, family time, discussing the day and listening to them is what we do in our home.”

“If we can help change the life of just one child and get them on the right path, then we have done our job. It is very rewarding when you see them succeed — it’s a feeling that is indescribable. Even if they misbehave, you never give up on them and welcome them home with open arms. Unconditional love is key — even if they do wrong.”

Elijah’s Journey

Elijah Jung came to BCFS Health and Human Services’ youth transition center in Lubbock, Texas with nowhere else to turn. He entered the foster care system at just 10 years old after being removed from an unhealthy home environment. When he aged out of foster care at 18 years old, he experienced bouts of homelessness. Looking back, Elijah says that although that was the most difficult time in his life, he’s a firm believer in “what’s past is in the past.” It was his steadfast nature and refusal to give up that primed him to turn his life around when he first came to the transition center.

First, BCFS Lubbock Transition Center met his most essential needs, providing him gift cards for food. Once he had temporary housing in place, the transition center gave him a bicycle to get to and from school.

He also joined the Launch Project, a hands- on job skills training program offered through a partnership with BCFS, the local state university and workforce commission. The program taught Elijah the ins and outs of joining the workforce, from how to find a job to how to dress for success. Ultimately, this helped him get a job at a local carwash.

During the next month, Elijah was in and out of his home, and began having problems with his bike. BCFS helped him pay for repairs to his bike so he could keep going to work, and referred him to another local non-profit to receive clothing, food, and free haircuts to stay looking professional on-the-job.

Soon after, Elijah got another job at a nearby hotel known for working with BCFS youth.

The transition center partners closely with local employers and businesses, building relationships that help youth find – and keep – gainful employment. In Elijah’s case, this helped BCFS staff get real-time feedback on his performance at work, so they could celebrate his victories along the way, and re-train him in any areas that needed improvement, like rules of attendance and hygiene.

Even with a busy school and work schedule, Elijah still made time to volunteer at the Humane Society. So it was definitely a show-stopper when his only mode of transportation, his trusty bicycle, was stolen. Thankfully, BCFS replaced his bike so Elijah could stay on-the-move.

Until that point, Elijah had been receiving financial aid from a local residential treatment center to help pay rent on his small apartment. When this critical financial aid expired, BCFS picked up the tab and immediately began teaching Elijah how to budget and save. Together they weaned him off outside financial support entirely until he began to pay his rent, utilities and bills on his own.

Even as problem after problem arose, the BCFS transition center was there to support him. Finally, a turning point came for Elijah when the transition center helped him get into a Job Corps program in Utah where he could learn the skills to become a certified welder. So he moved to Utah, but always remembered to call “home” to the transition center to let the BCFS team know how he was doing. Since Elijah was a Texan transplant, unequipped for the cold Utah winters, his BCFS family sent him a care package of warm clothes and plenty of long-distance encouragement. At the Job Corps, Elijah earned his welder’s certification and his driver’s license.

At the annual Hope Chest event hosted by the BCFS Lubbock Transition Center, BCFS honors local high school and college graduates in foster care and those who aged out of the system. At the event, the youth go on a shopping spree for essential household items for their first dorm room or apartment, guided by volunteers with a budget, shopping list and calculator in-hand.

Even though Elijah had moved far away, he was not forgotten back home at the transition center when Hope Chest came around. BCFS paid to fly him back to Texas for the big event, where he was honored alongside the college graduates for earning his certification in welding. He was also given a $1,000 gift card to shop for household and hygiene essentials.

Most importantly, Elijah was able to reconnect with his BCFS mentors that helped him grow into a confident, hopeful and independent young man.

A Road to Faraway Places

Lisa Zamora was only in the 8th grade when she was placed in foster care. The journey would not be easy for her. Tough adjustments had to be made. Trust did not come easy.

“It’s stressful being placed to live with strangers, trying to get them to trust me, and learning to trust them. You don’t know how the household is run, so what you’re accustomed to really doesn’t matter,” said Lisa. “You have to learn to adapt and live in someone else ́s environment which can be difficult – especially when you’re so young and you see other children coming in and out of the household.”

The instability of the transition into foster care caused Lisa to rebel, but her wayward days were short-lived.

“Nothing lasts forever, and hope will get you a long way. You have to find some willpower to accept your circumstances and keep trucking forward,” says Lisa.

With a laser-sharp focus on her education, and a network of inspirational teachers and BCFS programs in place to support her, Lisa began “trucking forward” – toward college. She always knew school would be important to her, and even at a young age she excelled in her classes.

“I believe my teachers saw potential in me and I looked up to them,” says Lisa. “Many of them cared enough, beyond just my school work, and encouraged me to grow up to be a better person, and to aspire to do better for myself in all aspects of life.”

Confidently, Lisa made a profound decision for one so young. “I never wanted to go back to the life I was forced to live when I was young. I always wanted better for myself.”

BCFS Health and Human Services’ Education Training Voucher program helps youth in foster care pay for college tuition and related expenses so they can make a smoother transition to self-sufficiency and adulthood after aging out of the system. Lisa credits the BCFS ETV program for setting her on the right path to earning a degree and stand on her own two feet.

“The program helped me be able to sustain an independent lifestyle. I have always worked, but it helped immensely knowing that I had a program that would provide me with financial assistance to help me reach my goal of obtaining a degree.”

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Juggling the demands of work plus college classes could have overwhelmed Lisa – and unfortunately high college dropout rates among youth in foster care show that’s a disappointing trend – but Lisa says BCFS was her stabilizing force. “When my school course load became stressful and my work hours were cut, BCFS put my worries at ease because I knew I’d be able to stay in school and finish my degree no matter what.”

Lisa acknowledges that her experiences and educational pursuits have forced her to mature in many ways – and even her dreams for the future have changed.

“At this point, I would rather travel the world with a suitcase instead of settle down too quickly and acquire a mountain of debt,” says Lisa. “When I started my first semester as an undergrad, I wanted the ‘white picket fence’ ideal, but now I just want to enjoy my freedom and live an adventurous life, if possible.”

Where does Lisa dream the great adventure of her life will take her? “Somewhere far, far away – traveling.”