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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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

Adoption Days Are The Best Days

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BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio Foster Care and Adoption Program Call (210) 208-5629 or visit DiscoverBCFS.net to learn how you can build your “forever family”

BCFS Health and Human Services has celebrated hundreds of joyful Adoption Days, building loving families across Bexar County.

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Finding Her Way Home: Cassie’s Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lydia’s Drive

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Lydia drove. She had no idea where she was headed, but that didn’t matter. She needed help. Her application for housing had just been rejected and being new to Del Rio, Texas, she had no one to ask for guidance and no one to turn to for help.

Desperate, despondent and with only a small amount of money left, Lydia drove past an unimposing, single-story building with a sign out front that read BCFS Health and Human Services. She didn’t stop at first, but as she continued driving, something inside her told her to head back to that small building.

There, at the BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio office, she met social workers Mary Padilla and Claudia Lopez, an introduction Lydia believes was a divine encounter that steered her new life in Del Rio in the right direction.

Lydia and her family decided to move to Del Rio from Wichita, Kansas to live closer to her husband’s mother. Sadly, when they arrived in Del Rio, what should have been a joyous new beginning quickly turned to sorrow as she learned that her mother-in-law had passed away. Shortly after hearing the news of his mother’s death, Lydia’s husband was pulled over for speeding and was arrested during the stop for outstanding warrants. Unable to pay his fines, he was forced to remain in jail to pay his debt.

With her husband in jail, Lydia found herself in a new town with small children, no family support, no income and no place to call home. After years of struggling with domestic abuse as a child and in her first marriage, she decided to do what she does best in tough situations: Fight back and overcome!

Lydia started looking for work and housing. Several of her job applications were rejected, but she persisted. With the assistance of BCFS-Del Rio, she was able to pay the deposit and first month’s rent on a new place to live. BCFS-Del Rio even helped Lydia secure her and her children’s immediate needs until her husband finally returned home.

Lydia not only found a job, but has done so well that in the short time since, she has already received a promotion. Lydia continues her path to success by accomplishing other life milestones. She received her first driver’s license at the youthful age of 40! She is also enrolling in GED classes, committed to showing her own children that it’s never too late to achieve your goals. “I don’t know what I would have done if I wouldn’t have found BCFS. I am so thankful to Ms. Padilla and Mrs. Lopez for all their help.” – Lydia D.

Healing From the Inside Out: Cristina’s Story

By Ecaterina Babin

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Cristina was born in Moldova, the youngest sibling of four older brothers. Her mother was addicted to alcohol and became increasingly violent and abusive as her drinking worsened. She brutally beat Cristina, while her father did nothing to protect her. Her father neglected Cristina and her brothers, staying away from home as much as possible to avoid the harsh reality that his family was suffering.

Cristina’s mother died of a cerebral stroke in 2009. Even though Cristina has traumatic memories of her mother, she still misses her.

When she was 12, Cristina started having health problems. She had surgery on her appendix and later began experiencing epileptic seizures. She developed a spine tumor — all the while, her father showed no interest in helping her get critical medical treatment. Cristina was put on medical disability and spent most of her time in the hospital. Despite that, she managed to finish middle school with good grades.

After undergoing another surgery in 2011, Cristina found herself with no money or permanent place to live. A woman who worked at the hospital told Cristina about Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), the overseas division of BCFS. Cristina wanted to start a new life and get an education, but her dreams felt hopelessly out of reach. In the fall os 2012, she asked CERI for help.

Cristina spent the next three years in CERI’s Transitional Care program, which privides case management, access to education and vocational training, financial literacy and life skills training, and guidance on how to avoid human traffickers that run rampant in the region. CERI helped place Cristina in a Christian center where she started going to church, and ultimately professed her faith in Christ. Soon after, she was accepted into the Christian University to study social work.

Things were finally looking up for Cristina! She enjoyed her college classes, and had a new church “family” to encourage her — but she was still very ill. She was hospitalized several more times that year, and ultimately underwent radiation therapy.

Today, she has a clean bill of health; she feels much better and believes that God has healed her.

Cristina is in her third year of college and going to class in the evenings. She is a member of New Testament Church in Chisinau, Moldova, where she serves in their Sunday school program.

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