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

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Katrina’s Landfall

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

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

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

Lessons Learned The Hard Way

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

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

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

Inception of ICDM

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

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

Preparations Commence

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

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

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

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

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Record-Breaking Rainfall

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

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

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

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

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

Changing The Mission Profile

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

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

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

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

Powerful Results

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

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

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

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

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From East Texas to Eastern Europe With Love

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In November of 2008, Diane Stone stepped into a sparse but tidy supply closet in the recreation room of an East Texas group home and stumbled across a couple of plastic looms. Nearly eight years and 2,400 hats later, she and nine other women have knitted their way across the Atlantic Ocean, connecting two organizations in the BCFS system in a meaningful way, and most importantly providing warmth and compassion to orphans in Eastern Europe.

Diane has served as a day program leader at Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT), a residential community for adults with disabilities, for almost a decade.

When she first found the Knifty Knitter looms, Diane thought, “Maybe the residents could learn how to make hats with these!”

In the first year of knitting, Diane’s group created 200 hats. The number has grown every year since, reaching 370 hats in 2015.

All of the hats are sent overseas and distributed to orphanages in Moldova in Eastern Europe every December by Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), the international branch of BCFS.

Remarkably, BVT has not had to purchase yarn for any of the 2,400 hats they’ve created since the knitting group began. According to Diane, volunteers collect trunk loads of yarn donations from their churches. Arts and crafts have always been a part of BVT’s day habilitation program, but it was important to Diane that the residents “use their time and talents to serve others, and feel the joy that brings.”

By making hats, BVT meets a very real need. Not only are Moldova’s winter temperatures gravely cold, but utilities and energy resources are scarce. It is difficult to keep buildings warm when the sun goes down, so the children can wear BVT’s knitted hats all hours of the night and day.

When the first batch of hats arrived in Moldova, the CERI team sent a report back to Tyler, Texas, thanking BVT villagers profusely. Eight years later, tears still well up in Diane’s eyes as she remembers what they told her.

“The kids don’t ever get a choice in what they wear,” she said. “They just wear whatever they are given.”

But, in this case it was different! CERI workers laid out the hats, with their brilliant array of colors, almost as many shades and patterns as there were hats, and let them pick!

“The kids didn’t know what to do. Orphanage workers had to take them by the hand and show them how to make a choice.”

Diane’s knitting group has expanded to become an official class at BVT. But the core group of nine knitters continues to meet every morning, sharing life and ministry with each other. “We are just one big family here at BVT,” Diane says. “I have never been anywhere with an atmosphere like this.”

Community service has always been a part of the lifestyle of BVT residents and day program participants. Staff and residents are involved with Meals on Wheels, the East Texas Food Bank, Jesus Closet Clothing Ministry, and other local nonprofits. Expanding their local volunteer efforts to have a global impact was a logical – and inspiring – next step.bvt2

A House Full of Treasures: A Visit To The Goulet Family Home

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From the long, winding driveway, the Goulet family home looks perfectly serene, nestled in the Texas Hill Country. But step inside their expansive estate, and the quiet country scenery gives way to the joyful commotion of children running, playing and giggling.

Mrs. Jill Goulet sits in the family room, recalling when she and her husband, Denis, contemplated their journey to their fulfilling, exciting lives as foster and adoptive parents with BCFS.

“Six years ago, on the very day we got licensed (as foster parents), we got a call for an emergency placement of a six-week old infant that was being discharged from the hospital. That was Nathan.”

Over the course of just five years, the Goulet family took in six children from foster care, and adopted each of them into the family.

The Goulets welcomed Nathan in September 2010. A month later, two-and-a-half year old Judy joined the family as the second foster child. In November 2011, the family fostered Brian and Katie, a sibling duo, and in March 2015, welcomed the sisters, Autumn and Summer.

A Prayerful Beginning

“We always wanted a big family,” she admits. “My husband comes from a family of nine, I come from a family of five.”

They couple shared how they turned to the Lord for guidance when they struggled with infertility issues.

“We started praying about it, and we felt like God was putting it on our hearts to adopt kids,” Mrs. Goulet says. “Family can look different, and a lot of different situations can be considered ‘family.’”

The Goulet Kids

Today, the first child the Goulets adopted, Nathan, at six years old, is the youngest, along with Katie, also six. Brian and Autumn are both seven, Judy is eight, and Summer, at 10, is the big sister. All at once, all six children bound into the Goulet homestead each day at around 3:20 p.m. The calm, quiet household transforms into a bustling scene as Mrs. Goulet quickly adapts from willing interviewee to attentive mom, lovingly tending to each child as they approach her with updates from school, questions about snack time, the dinner menu and the family pet. It’s beautifully frenetic; it’s family.

Brian, the most talkative, is excited about a toy snake he won at school. “His name is Slinky, because he can do this,” as he bounces the swirled rubber toy off the table.

As the kids hear mom begin to talk about family trips, Summer mentions past destinations Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan, Disneyworld and Niagara Falls. Nathan adds excitedly, “and Meemaw’s house!” — Mrs. Goulet’s mother in Pennsylvania.

It’s evident: this energetic, playful group of children enjoys plenty of adventures at home and on the road, and — like most families — they keep a full schedule of hobbies, lessons and sports.

“Autumn and Judy take guitar lessons, and all the girls do ballet and tap dancing. Summer is on the volleyball team at school, and she also does robotics,” Mrs. Goulet says. Before she has time to mention the boys’ activities, Judy asks her mom if she can have candy for snack.

“Nathan is going to be in baseball,” Mrs. Goulet says, before offering Judy a healthier alternative to the treat she requested. “Brian loves to design and build things. He wants to be an inventor.”

The other children have also shared dreams of what they want to be when they grow up and depending on which Goulet child you ask, the answer may vary from day to day (as it tends to for this age group), but their responses are a delightful grab bag of careers: a fashion designer, a chef, a vet and a dancer. Most heartwarming is Nathan’s response. “Without fail, he will tell you he wants to be a dad,” Mrs. Goulet says with pride.

Blessed Beyond Measure

“We’ve never had biological kids, but I can’t imagine loving kids any more than we do… We feel blessed to be a blessing,” Mrs. Goulet says, “and there are so many kids out there that need a home, and we love kids.”

The Goulets adopted all six children through BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio Foster Care & Adoption program. The BCFS team was by their side every step of the way, especially BCFS case manager Erika Noriega, who Mrs. Goulet said was instrumental in bringing their family together.

“Erika gives 110% of her effort,” said Mrs. Goulet. “She really went above and beyond, she was an amazing advocate for the kids.” In many adoption cases, the child’s past experiences and family history can be complicated and upsetting – for a young child, the details may be too intense to understand. For the day when their kids are old enough to comprehend their pasts, Mr. and Mrs. Goulet are ready.

“I have all their case files, all their history,” Mrs. Goulet says. “Everything is packed away so the day they get curious about it, they will be able to read it, because they’re going to wonder. When they’re old enough to understand, we can go through it together. At some point, they may want to reach out (to their biological families), and that’s going to be their decision to make.”

Crazy Fun

While six children may seem like a full house, the Goulets have considered adopting more children. For now, Mr. and Mrs. Goulet focus on nurturing, loving and guiding their own six. More family trips, stay-at-home movie nights and special birthday dinners are penciled in on the calendar for the foreseeable future. The Goulets wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It gets a little crazy sometimes, but it sure is fun,” Mrs. Goulet smiles.

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Prenatal Care Along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Situated along the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas, the colonias (a Spanish word meaning neighborhood or community) of Webb County are some of the poorest areas in the nation. To make matters worse, housing in the colonias is often overcrowded and lacks even basic facilities, like proper plumbing.

Pregnant women living in these isolated communities face additional challenges. Although first trimester prenatal care (FTPN) is associated with improved birth outcomes, Hispanic women living along the U.S.-Mexico border have shown lower rates of FTPN as compared to non-border women or non-Hispanic women, according to a 2014 annual report from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

However, this isn’t the only factor facing pregnant and parenting women locally. Reports from the Texas Department of State Health Services show the rate of fetal deaths, as well as percentages of low birth weights, lack of health insurance, and poverty are higher in Webb County than in Texas as a whole.

For more than 15 years, BCFS Health and Human Services-Laredo has been working to improve maternal and child health outcomes in the colonias of Webb County through the Healthy Start Laredo (HSL) program. Most of the individuals served through the HSL program are immigrants, don’t have a doctor or receive regular medical care, live below the poverty level, and lack health care insurance and transportation. Despite these grim circumstances, BCFS-Laredo staff from the HSL program and the Colonias Promotoras Program (CPP) work tirelessly to enroll clients for services, make sure they receive the earliest possible prenatal appointment at the BCFS mobile medical unit, and help them submit state benefit applications for CHIP Perinate or Medicaid when eligible.

The following accounts offer a brief glimpse into the lives of some of the courageous woman served by BCFS-Laredo. Although each story paints a unique and deeply personal portrait, all of these clients received services through HSL and CPP that have enabled them to obtain a medical provider, health care coverage, quality prenatal care, and the necessary knowledge to live a healthy life. But perhaps most importantly, their babies were given a chance for a healthy in life.

Liliana Caal

liliana-caal-and-familyLiliana Caal was born and raised in the small town of Coban, Alta Verapaz Guatemala. After her father died in an accident when she was only 12 years old, Liliana’s mother struggled but did the best she could to raise her and her four siblings. At the age of 22, Liliana married her husband, both of them hoping for a happy and simple life together. They soon found this was not possible as the violence in her town was escalating and local gangs pressured them to join their ranks constantly. But they refused, deciding the only way out was to move to the United States.

They began their journey to the U.S. with Liliana’s brother and brother-in-law. Each of them had only a few quetzal in their pockets (Guatemalan currency the equivalent of less than $1) and the clothes on their backs. They traveled for several weeks by train and slept in the brush whenever they could, always fearful that they would be kidnapped by other gangs along the way. Barely alive, the couple finally arrived in the U.S. in late November after enduring the cold weather and suffering from hunger and insect bites. After crossing into the U.S., they were picked up by Border Patrol and consequently Liliana was separated from her husband. She was detained for several weeks, during which time she discovered that she was pregnant with her first child.

Upon her release, Liliana found herself alone in an unfamiliar country 1,500 miles away from home. She did not understand what was going to happen to her and no one was able to tell her the whereabouts of her husband. She soon learned that the federal government authorized her to remain in the United States and was taken to live with another refugee family in Laredo, Texas. It was then that Liliana found out about the Healthy Start Laredo (HSL) program.

After enrolling in the HSL program, Liliana was able to obtain CHIP Perinate coverage and was referred to a medical provider for prenatal services. She attended several group health education classes that encourage healthy pregnancy, and with the support of her case manager, she was also linked to other social services such as the Women, Infant, and Children program (WIC).

In May, Liliana delivered a healthy baby girl weighing 7.2 pounds. Liliana has since been reunited with her husband. Thankful for the support they received through the HSL program, the couple now feels that their future looks promising.

Daisy Cardenas

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Daisy Cardenas has lived in Laredo since she was 2 years old. She is undocumented but never let that stop her from living a normal life. She has been a hard worker for as long as she can remember. Growing up, her father made a business from buying and selling various items at the local flea market. Daisy recalls how she always enjoyed going to work with her dad and helping him in whatever way she could.

During her first pregnancy, she and her boyfriend worked with her father to make a living and prepare for the birth of the child. For Daisy, that preparation included enrolling in the Healthy Start Laredo program. Through the program, Daisy was able to obtain health care coverage and received first trimester prenatal care and case management. As a result of the support she received, Daisy delivered a full-term 7.5-pound. baby girl.

Now married and pregnant with her second child, Daisy has followed in her father’s footsteps. Little by little, the couple managed to save enough money to buy a vehicle and start their own small business at the flea market. Daisy has expressed pride in her accomplishments, stating, “My dad is a great provider and always ensured we had everything we needed. He has also taught me one of life’s greatest lessons which is to never give up and that hard work always pays off. My family and I have accomplished many goals through determination and perseverance.”

Luisa Sanchez

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Luisa Sanchez enrolled in the Healthy Start Laredo program when she was pregnant a year ago. When she entered the program, she had been struggling to get health insurance due to a lack of stable housing caused by conflicts with her guardian. With the assistance of the HSL program, Luisa eventually got the coverage she needed and was able to see a medical provider for her prenatal care. As a result, she delivered a healthy 7-pound baby girl, Aryanna.

But the support Luisa received through the HSL program wasn’t limited to medical care. She also credits the program with helping her to develop the skills necessary to become confident and independent. Since participating in the program, she has blossomed and managed to overcome her shyness.

“The BCFS program has helped me during my pregnancy by providing transportation to my prenatal care visits as well as instructing me in classes related to pregnancy and parenting skills. The program has also influenced me to set goals which made me realize that I wanted to continue my education and become a radiologist,” shared Luisa. “I’m thankful to BCFS for the assistance I have received and also for my case manager who has encouraged me to pursue my educational and personal goals.”

Luisa is currently enrolled at Laredo Community College and will soon start courses in radiology.

 

Brenda Onofre

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Brenda Onofre enrolled in the Healthy Start Laredo program as a young mother of two young children, with a third on the way. She lives with her husband and two sons on El Primero Ranch, a horse stable where her husband works as a trainer. Brenda estimates that there are around 50 other residents who call El Primero Ranch their home.

Brenda was born and raised in Allende, Coahuila in Mexico. Deplorable living conditions in Allende, compounded by a lack of work or any type of assistance, forced Brenda’s decision to escape to the United States with her husband and their first son.

Although their small home is only five steps away from the stables, Brenda and her husband are grateful to live at El Primero because they have a place to call home and there is plenty of work. Their days start at 4 a.m. as Brenda wakes to make breakfast before her husband goes to work cleaning the stables and grooming and training the horses, while Brenda stays home tending to the family.

Brenda recently gave birth to another healthy baby boy weighing 7 pounds and is grateful to the HSL program for the medical care, case management services, health education classes, and transportation assistance she has received.

“Thanks to the program, I never missed any of my prenatal appointments, laboratory testing, or sonograms but most importantly I thank them because I gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” Brenda explained.

Today, Brenda continues to count her many blessings and thanks God every day because she was given an opportunity to live a happy and healthy life!

ALL-STAR Lineup In The Special Olympics

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It was forecast to be a particularly rainy Saturday in East Texas, but dozens of athletes and spectators breathed a collective sigh of relief when the weather cooperated for an afternoon of fun-filled competitions. It was finally here, the day of the Special Olympics! Teams from all over Area #7 of the Texas chapter of the Special Olympics donned colorful jerseys and descended on Golden Road Park in Tyler, Texas.

Four times a year, a team from Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) gathers to compete in the Special Olympics. Somewhere between training sessions, team-bonding and practicing good sportsmanship, they each transform into powerful athletes. Breckenridge Village is a tranquil residential community for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Special Olympics is just one of many opportunities BVT residents and day program participants have to develop new skills and make lasting friendships along the way.

Between 20 and 30 athletes from BVT play at each competition, with about six BVT staff members by their side on the field, or cheering them on from the sidelines. Their team name: The LEAPstars!

Each athlete picks their favorite sports from a fun roster of options: basketball, track and field, softball, bocce ball, bowling, swimming, golf and even horseback riding.

BVT athletes are given opportunities to train and prepare for the competitions year-round. Bowling is the team’s favorite – they go to the local bowling alley at least once a month, and some even bowl weekly. BVT’s annual bowling tournament, dubbed the Turkey Bowl, is another fun way the athletes prepare. The residents break up into teams and whoever wins the coveted Turkey Bowl trophy gets to display it in their classroom at BVT all year long – and enjoy the bragging rights that come with it.

Alvin Davis, BVT’s Recreation Coordinator, serves as BVT’s Special Olympics Coach. “Personally, the Special Olympics has been a real eye opener for me,” said Coach Alvin.

“When I first started, athletes were participating in just one sport, bowling. Now we participate in five different sports throughout the year. I’ve seen athletes come out of their shells both mentally and spiritually. Being a coach for this special group of people has allowed me to see a different side to them. They don’t allow their inabilities to slow them down or even stop them from trying.”

For the folks that call BVT home, the LEAPstar athletes, BVT staff, Coach Alvin, and the families and loved ones of the athletes, the Special Olympics experience is priceless. Lifelong memories are created, and bonds are strengthened between teammates, and even opponents – all in a fun, safe, inclusive environment.

Meet A Few of the BVT LEAPstars on the Team Roster

Dawn

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According to Coach Alvin, preparing for the Special Olympics has given BVT an opportunity to teach the residents about the process of goal-setting, and working to achieve those goals. Dawn, a BVT LEAPstar on the softball team, worked hard for weeks before the competition.

“Dawn has a hunger to learn new skills because she wants to be better,” said Coach Alvin. “Off the field, Dawn has been working with her parents on her batting, catching and throwing skills. I see her confidence on the field when she plays. Dawn has consistently asked for feedback and I always reassure her that her hard work is paying off on the field.”

Brian

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Today, Brian Freeman is an energetic BVT LEAPstar and team player, but he had to step out of his comfort zone to join in the fun. Now, he says he loves playing on the bowling, softball and track teams.

Coach Alvin was pleasantly surprised when Brian said he wanted to try out to join a team.

“Brian is very quiet and even when you speak to him he doesn’t have much to say,” said Coach Alvin, “but when he is on the field he really comes to life. He interacts well with his teammates. I am proud of him for stepping out and trying something new.”

Tammy

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At a 3-on-3 basketball game in Nacogdoches, Coach Alvin was amazed by another LEAPstar athlete, Tammy Kidd.

“Tammy is a funny and caring individual, but on the court she is competitive and relentless! Her competitiveness drives her to perform above and beyond any expectation. Everywhere she goes she meets new people and knows how to make people laugh,” Coach Alvin shared.

Tammy was driving the basketball for layups, stealing the ball from opponents, and shooting from just under the three-point line. “This was not the same person I saw in practice!” said Coach Alvin, with pride.

Cyndy

 

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Cyndy Snider, a LEAPstar athlete who has cerebral palsy, won’t allow her condition to determine her mental or spiritual state.

“Cyndy is always looking for the next sporting event she can participate in,” said Coach Alvin. “She doesn’t care if she wins, she just wants to do her best with what God has given her.”

Casa Dulce Casa

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Many of the youth and young adults CERI serves in Moldova face a constant struggle to meet their basic needs – their living environment is often unstable, food is sparse, and hand-me-down, ill-fitting clothing and shoes do little to protect them from the cold, harsh winters. Moldova is one of the poorest nations in Europe, and the primary source country for victims of human trafficking, where impoverished youth in this former Soviet republic are especially vulnerable.

In 2011, responding to the plight of homelessness facing young adults in Moldova, CERI opened two transitional apartments, one for males and another for females ages 16 to 23 years old. In these apartments, CERI provides free, safe and stable housing to young men and women who are at a dire crossroads in life.

While living in the apartments, the young adults participate in CERI’s Transitional Care program which provides case management, education and career services, counseling, life skills trainings, medical treatment referrals, volunteer opportunities and more. The CERI apartments house 10 to 12 young adults at any given time who are working towards earning a college degree or completing a vocational training program so they can find a job and transition out to live on their own.

As part of this unique program, a Christian mentor lives in the apartment building with the young adults and serves as the “parental figure” who encourages, supports and guides them. The mentor helps them build their life skills by teaching them how to prepare healthy and affordable meals; how to budget and save money; how to keep their apartments clean and organized; and proper personal hygiene practices, among many other things. The mentor also organizes a weekly Bible study group which just recently completed the book How To Love God and Our Neighbor. Through this book, they learned practical ways to show love and cultivate healthy relationships by looking to God as the supreme example.

“The living conditions [in the CERI apartments] are very good. I like the meetings with the girls,” says Nadejda, who currently lives there. “Usually we cook together. We have an excellent mentor. She is a good example for us and every day we learn something new from her.”

Through the support of faithful donors, CERI is able to provide essential services to vulnerable youth who could have easily fallen victim to unconscionable suffering and abuse, but thankfully are now in a loving environment, breaking a cycle of poverty, illiteracy and hopelessness.

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