Families Win at Loteria Event hosted by BCFS-Del Rio

Photo: BCFS Staff Member with Loteria Event Participant

Nonprofit’s annual event features free food, prizes and fun for families who completed STAR

DEL RIO – Thirty families from the Del Rio area participated in BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio’s New Year, New You Loteria event for families and children, featuring free food and desserts, and prize giveaways including a flat screen TV.

The event is held annually for families who have completed three sessions of the Services to At Risk Youth program (STAR). STAR helps families improve their relationships, habits and communication in the home by providing intensive workshops, counseling and trainings to youth and their parents.

“We called the Loteria New Year, New You to express that the STAR program truly improves family relationships which feels like a clean slate for parents and their children,” says Delia Ramos, Director-Community Services at BCFS-Del Rio. “At the start of a new year, everyone enjoys the chance to feel refreshed by starting anew, especially with the things and people that matter most.”

The families at the Loteria received prizes including household items like roasters, laundry detergent, irons, quilts and comforters, towels, and toaster ovens. One lucky winner claimed the grand prize 40” flatscreen television. Decorations for the the event were generously donated by Del Rio’s Sugar & Spice Event Decoration.

BCFS-Del Rio operates STAR, which helps families create stable, loving home environments by providing free counseling, training for youth and parents, tips on how to deal with stress, and help with reducing family conflict and delinquent behaviors in youth.

“Families have so much fun at our Loterias,” says Ramos. “It’s a great way to celebrate the progress they made as a family in the STAR program.”

For more information about BCFS-Del Rio visit DiscoverBCFS.net/DelRio or call (830) 768-2755.

Toddler with Autism Thrives in Head Start Classroom

At three years old, Iridessa struggled to communicate, to sit still and to follow directions – all difficult symptoms of her autism diagnosis. Her mom, Audrey, was unsure where she could enroll her daughter in a preschool environment that would help her excel. After Audrey met with the local school district, Iridessa was referred to BCFS Education Services Head Start in Skidmore for the 2016-17 school year.

Photo: Iridessa

“We spoke with her mom about Iridessa coming into the program,” explains Head Start Director Roxanna Lopez Garza, “and she was apprehensive because she knew Iridessa had never been in a school setting. She worried about how she was going to react in a classroom of other children.”

Head Start promotes school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children by providing educational, health, nutritional, social and other services to enrolled children and their families.

“It’s the most appropriate setting for a child that age,” says Lopez Garza of the Head Start classroom. “Our students are around other children the same age, our classrooms offer students consistency and of course, our academics prepare them for when they start school.”

With the characteristics of Iridessa’s autism, her first days in Head Start were, admittedly, challenging.

“She would run out of the room, she might throw a tantrum and be inconsolable, and be aggressive,” recalls Lopez Garza. “She wasn’t doing it to be malicious, that’s just how she was expressing herself.”

Iridessa began the school year incapable of using eating utensils or drinking through a straw, she could not sit still with her other classmates and would lash out when her teachers tried to redirect her. Head Start instructors immediately began working to help stem her disruptive behavior. Exciting results soon followed. Halfway through the school year, Iridessa’s instructors reported noticing great strides in her classroom conduct.

“She has learned so much,” beams Head Start teacher Blanca Sanchez. “Her self-help skills have improved, she has a little bit more patience and she can clean up after herself.”

Sanchez also mentions that Iridessa is more accepting of redirection and manages her feelings much better than at the beginning of the school year. And though she is nonverbal, Iridessa will join in the Pledge of Allegiance with her classmates, and she even tries to participate in class singalong time. These improvements were some of the most thrilling for Iridessa, her mother and teachers to celebrate in their attempts to improve Iridessa’s communication skills.

Iridessa’s teachers have also noticed that she is learning the routine of the classroom, a noteworthy milestone for a student Iridessa’s age with her diagnosis.

“At first, she wasn’t able to come sit with us for circle time,” explains Sanchez, “but now when I call her group, Iridessa is ready. She sees me sitting in my chair and she knows that we’re ready to start the day.”

While Iridessa has made tremendous breakthroughs with Head Start, her instructors are anxious to see her make even more progress.

“We would love to hear her using words, and also to see her learn her colors, her alphabet, and a little more of her self-help skills,” explains Sanchez, “because right now, she’s not potty trained yet.”

True to the Head Start model of engaging parents in their children’s education, Iridessa’s mom also works with Iridessa at home on her daughter’s educational goals. A few months into the school year, Iridessa’s mom and Mrs. Sanchez witnessed a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime moment for little Iridessa.

“She told Mrs. Trevino, our supervisor who works closely with Iridessa daily, ‘I love you,’” says Sanchez, “and her mom started crying because she said she had never heard Iridessa say that.”

While Iridessa’s educational needs differ from those of her classmates, Head Start instructors ensure she receives the attention and guidance necessary to keep her on a path toward becoming prepared for academic success as she gets older. In only the first half of the school year, with all the challenges that autism presents her, Iridessa has shown exceptional developmental growth through the support of her attentive Head Start teachers.

For more information about BCFS Education Services Head Start, visit DiscoverBCFS.net/HeadStart.

Kugasaruthy & Satheeska

Photo: Kugasaruthy and Satheeska

Two young girls and the transformational power of CERI’s Food Security Program

By Bonita Nirmala Samuel and Leonard Favela

Featured in the 2016 annual BCFS together magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Poem for Precious Minds, New Connections

Photo: Elizabeth Guajardo Walsh

A poem by Elizabeth Guajardo Walsh
Featured in the 2016 annual BCFS together magazine

Inspired by the author’s experience in BCFS Health and Human Services’ parenting education program, Precious Minds, New Connections.

Inspirado por su experiencia en el programa de educación para padres Precious Minds, New Connections de BCFS Health and Human Services.

From stressed out and controlling,
To flexible and understanding,
Today I praise independence
By practicing empathy and patience.

It sounds fun and easy,
But parenting takes a toll.
Now memories of my childhood
Empower my new role.

I’ve learned that communication
Provides the connections
Between high expectations,
And our own situation.

A new way to play by the rules,
This course just gave me the tools.
My children are one of a kind,
In my hands lays each precious mind.

PMNC was funded by the Kronkosky Charitable
Foundation in Bexar County

Del “¡Ten cuidado! a un “Te amo . . .”,
De “¡Más te vale!” al “¡Así se hace!”,
De la impaciencia a la convivencia,
De gritar y controlar a interactuar y acariciar

Suena fácil — no lo es.
Pero HOY veo las conexiones
Entre mi estilo de crianza
Y los recuerdos de mi niñez.

Todo es tan lógico
Debí de haber sabido
Con el perfecto ejemplo de mis padres
Debí de haber tenido.

Sin embargo, cada situacion es diferente.
Y gracias a este curso, ahora tengo presente
Ser cada día más flexible y tolerante,
¡Porque la mente de mis hijos es brillante!

El programa de PMNC fue financiado por el Kronkosky Charitable Foundation en el condado de Bexar

All-Star Lineup in the Special Olympics

By Yvonne Paris Rhodes
Featured in the 2016 annual BCFS together magazine

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.

Photo: Leapstar on first base

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

Photo Illustration: Dawn Blackwell Baseball Card


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.”

Photo Illustration: Brian Freeman Baseball Card


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.”

Photo Illustration: Tammy Kidd Baseball Card


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 threepoint line. “This was not the same person I saw in practice!” said Coach Alvin, with pride.

Photo Illustration: Cyndy Snider Baseball Card


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.”

THE OATH OF THE SPECIAL OLYMPICS ATHLETE: “Let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt.”

Prenatal Care Along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Featured in the 2016 annual BCFS together magazine

Photo: Liliana Caal with her family

Liliana Caal

Liliana 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, thecouple 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.

Photo: Daisy Cardenas with her daughter

Daisy Cardenas

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.”

Photo: Luisa Sanchez with her daughter

Luisa Sanchez

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

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.

Photo: Brenda Onofre with her two children

Brenda Onofre

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!

Casa Dulce Casa: Home Sweet Home

In response to the the plight of homelessness facing young adults in Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Eastern Europe, BCFS’ international arm, CERI, opened two transitional apartment complexes to help young Moldovan men and women embark on a path to self-sufficiency.

Featured in the 2016 annual BCFS together magazine

Photo Collage: Moldova Students at DinnerMany 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.

Photo: Bedroom

“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.

For information on CERI’s work, how to become involved or to make a donation, visit CERIkids.org.

Moms Get a HEAD START In Their Career from BCFS Education Services’ Head Start

Featured in the 2016 annual BCFS together magazine

Photo: Head Start Student

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

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

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

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

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

“At first, I didn’t want to accept the job because I didn’t know much English,” she explains. “I wanted to learn a bit more English first and then accept the position. Now, I want to go back and learn even more, because I’d like to move up to another position at work.”

While Ms. Hernandez was settling into her new role as Team Leader at the restaurant’s corporate offices, her 5-year-old son, Sebastian graduated from Head Start and began kindergarten at his local elementary school. Just like his mom, Head Start helped build Sebastian’s skills and cultivated in him a love of learning.

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

“I wanted to be able to help my kids with their homework, and develop myself more, and not struggle so much,” said Mrs. Garcia. “It’s beautiful to know how to speak both languages.”

Mrs. Garcia, who works independently as a maid, hopes to use her new English skills to open her own cleaning business.

Photo: Ms. Garcia with her GED

“I want to gain my commercial license so that I can clean government buildings or stores,” she says. “To be able to expand and make my business official.”

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

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

Mrs. Garcia’s daughter, Paula, has also graduated from Head Start, ready for kindergarten.

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

For more information about BCFS Education Services Head Start, visit DiscoverBCFS.net/HeadStart.

Making Ends Meet

Featured in the 2016 annual BCFS together magazine

Photo: Maximiliano

Shortly after the Garcias enrolled their youngest son, Maximiliano, in BCFS Education Services’ Head Start, Max’s parents, Elizabeth and Alfonso, lost their jobs unexpectedly.

“My husband and I were working for an oilfield company and the owners sold the company,” Mrs. Garcia recalls. “One day, we went to work and they told us to get our personal stuff and leave because the company had filed for bankruptcy.”

For this hard-working family of five, it was devastating news.

“They didn’t pay us for two weeks,” Mrs. Garcia says. “We (Mr. and Mrs. Garcia) were laid off at the same time and we were struggling really badly.”

In her son’s Head Start classroom one afternoon, Mrs. Garcia confided in her BCFS Education Services Family Specialist about their situation. Without work or any income, they couldn’t afford to put food on the table. Mr. and Mrs. Garcia needed to get back to work, and fast.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Head Start Graduate Maximilano

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

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

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

Mrs. Garcia says getting help from her Family Specialist was a life changer.

“She would listen and talk to me, she knew that I was stressing out. When you’re so used to working and providing for your family and this (losing a job) happens to you, you want to go crazy, you don’t know where to go or what to do. She would encourage me, saying ‘don’t stress out, you’ll find a job,’ and then I was able to find work at the laboratory.”

Today, the Garcia family is thriving. Max’s 13-year-old sister, Fernanda, is now in 7th grade. His 18-yearold brother, Sebastian, is helping their father with home renovation projects while he prepares to start college in the spring.

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

Families Receive Free Thanksgiving Meal from BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio

Photo: BCFS Staff Member with a family

DEL RIO — A total of 86 Del Rio families will receive a turkey and all the trimmings in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday. Families will receive the meal as congratulations for completing the STAR program operated by BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio. The Services to At Risk Youth (STAR) program provides counseling, trainings and other services to help unify and strengthen families.

Last month, BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio announced the meal giveaway as part of a registration drive for STAR. The meals would be available to families who completed three STAR sessions before Thanksgiving. For its efforts, STAR enrolled more than 100 new clients and gave out 86 Thanksgiving meals. Some meals have already been delivered, and by Tuesday before Thanksgiving all eligible families will have received their meals.

BCFS-Del Rio Director Delia Ramos was elated about the community response to the STAR registration drive, and the opportunity to help local families.

“For many families we serve, it’s hard or just impossible to put a full Thanksgiving dinner on the table,” says Ramos. “With the meal giveaway, we wanted to help families enjoy the holiday, but also give them some longer-lasting knowledge and information through STAR."

STAR helps families build stable, loving home environments by providing free counseling, training for youth and parents, and help reducing family conflict and delinquent behaviors in youth, like truancy and running away from home. STAR serves families with youth 17 years old and younger.

For more information about BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio, call (830) 768-2755, visit 712 E. Gibbs Street, Suite 200, or go online to DiscoverBCFS.net/DelRio.