Literacy Event in Harlingen, Friday January 29

BCFS Health and Human Services hosts literacy event for Harlingen families

BCFS Health and Human Services’ Project HOPES program welcomed more than 60 children and parents from across Harlingen in the Rio Grande Valley for a children’s literacy event at the Los Vecinos Apartments on Friday, January 29.

Photos of the event on our Facebook page

The free event featured readings from several children’s books, face painting, and a hands-on crafts making workshop. Members of the Harlingen Police Department led story time and Harlingen Police’s CyberCop posed for photos with the kids. At the end of the event, families received gift bags for their participation and were encouraged to take books home to share in the joy of reading with their youngsters.

“Reading time between parents and their children not only strengthens the parent-child bond, but also helps children achieve educational benchmarks,” says Jeff Wolpers, BCFS Director – Community Services. “We want to help grow healthy, stable families, and our literacy events remind parents about fun and creative ways to interact with their child and inspire a love of reading.”

Project HOPES is a community-based program for families with children five years old and younger that provides parenting education, support groups and counseling to help families overcome a variety of challenges. The program serves families in Cameron County and is funded by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. For more information about BCFS’ work in Harlingen, call (956) 230-3849 or visit

Meet the Campbells: A Family Meant To Be

Photo: Campbell Family

By Leonard Favela
Featured in BCFS’ annual together magazine

“It’s pretty simple,” begins the Campbell family patriarch, Mark. “You look in James, Chapter 1, and we are commanded to take care of the orphans and children and widows of the world. It’s not an option. God says, ‘this is what I want you to do.’”

With this scripture as their guiding principle, the Campbell family was made whole. Although the divine command sounds simple enough, working through the earthly challenges proved trying for the Campbells, their two biological children, and their adopted daughter, Desiree. Mark and Kathy Campbell already had two small children when they decided to become foster parents through BCFS Health and Human Services.

“We were foster parents for about an hour before we got the call that there was a baby that needed a place to stay,” says Mark. That’s when the Campbells met a sweet little toddler, Desiree.

Desiree was born to a 15-year-old girl, unprepared for the rigors of motherhood and still just a child herself. Less than a year later, Desiree was removed from her mother’s care by the state. During the next few years, Desiree bounced back and forth between her mother and the Campbell household. In an attempt to break the cycle, they tried something new. Desiree’s mother moved into the Campbell home with her daughter. This only lasted a few months, as Desiree’s mom struggled to abide by the house rules intended to keep the home peaceful and stable. After this failed, the “foster home shuffle” resumed for another year.

“The goal is always to reunite the child with the biological parent,” says Mark, “and we agreed that was the best thing to do. But, Desiree just kind of disappeared. We didn’t know where she was, and we found out that she ended up in another foster home.”

Cautiously Optimistic

The Campbells fostered a pair of sisters during the span of two years without Desiree. After a chance encounter between Kathy and Desiree’s caseworker, the caseworker asked if the Campbells were interested in adopting Desiree. The Campbells began to prepare for the possibility that Desiree could join their family for good – with cautious optimism. But questions remained.

“Would she stay a year? Was that possible?” Kathy wondered. “Because for our kids, it felt like a death in the family with Desiree coming in and out of the house.”

They went to court and presented their home as the safest, most stable place for Desiree. But after an error in court proceedings and documentation, Desiree was deemed unavailable for adoption and would remain in state custody. The Campbells continued to fight for custody of Desiree, and another chance encounter (plus a lot of gusto from Mr. Campbell) caused a breakthrough in the case!

Mark was a member of his local Rotary club, as were all the judges that preside over foster care cases in the county. The judges led a presentation during a Rotary meeting, and when the presentation ended, Mark rose and told the crowd, in no uncertain terms, that the courts were threatening the unity of his family. His rousing, impromptu speech earned a standing ovation from his fellow Rotary members, and caught the attention of the judges.

During this time, Desiree’s mom had visitation rights but rarely came to see her daughter. She missed several scheduled visits – all the while, she vowed that she’d fight for custody as long as it would take. When a trial date was set, nerves set in and Desiree’s mom did not want to appear before the judge. She told her attorney she wanted to meet with the Campbells.

Mark’s voice quivers as he recalls that meeting. “Desiree’s mom said, ‘it’s best for you guys to take her, because I can’t do it.’” Another emotional breakthrough – but more roadblocks stood in their way. In the final phase of the legal proceedings, the family’s lawyer attempted to double his fees to complete the adoption. Outraged and out of options, Mark called BCFS President Kevin Dinnin, who immediately assigned BCFS’ lawyers to their case.

The adoption was finalized in court two weeks later, February 2, 2005. Desiree was officially a Campbell!

In Her Own Words

Desiree, now 16, sits comfortably beside her mom and dad in their living room, where Christian artwork and scriptures adorn the walls.

“I don’t know where I’d be without them,” Desiree says of her mom and dad. “They’re a big part of my life, they’re always there, and I’ll always have somewhere to go.”

Photo: Campbell Sisters

The family calendar is full – weekend getaways, family game nights, soccer, swimming and golf. Desiree now has her driver’s license. By the time she graduates high school, she’ll have her cosmetology license, but in the meantime (license or not) she is the “go-to” hair and makeup stylist for her sister and friends.

She traveled to Central America on a church mission trip to disciple youth in a Guatemalan orphanage. “Last year, I brought someone to Christ,” Desiree says. “They wanted me to sign their Bible. It was a really cool experience.”

What Now?

In every adoptive family, the parents must decide how best to communicate with the child about their history, their biological parents, and the future of the parent-child relationship. The Campbells decided early on they never wanted Desiree to look back and feel as if she had been “stolen from her mother.” So they determined two things would be key – gratitude and honesty. Kathy and Mark reminded Desiree to be grateful to her mother for helping her have a bright future.

“It would’ve been easier for a 14-year-old girl to make a very poor choice about her pregnancy,” says Mark. “So she did two things for Desiree; she gave her life and then she said, ‘I can’t take care of her and I don’t want her to go down the same path that I have, so here’s another option for Desiree.’ I can’t think of two greater gifts of love that you can give another person.”

Desiree and her biological mother haven’t spoken since the adoption was finalized more than 10 years ago. Desiree is uncertain about the future of their relationship.

“So many things run through my mind, like if I were to find her, would she ever want to meet me back? Maybe her mind has changed and she wants to meet me,” wonders Desiree. “Or, what if I meet her and I’m not what she expected…I definitely, probably would, in the future, want to meet her.”

“The fact that my parents are open with me about my adoption and that they’ve allowed me to ask questions really helped me trust them and grow up and be okay with the fact that I was different, and I didn’t look like them…and they don’t go a day without telling me they love me.”

Desiree dreams of one day adopting a child of her own. With her courageous parents by her side, she’s bound to follow in their footsteps gracefully and prove her father right when he says, “God’s always got a way of working these things out. There’s always a good place for a child.”

Inside Out: Calvin’s Story

By Stephanie Pelech & Yvonne Paris Rhodes, Featured in BCFS annual magazine, together

How childhood learning is impacted by what happens IN and OUT of the classroom

Calvin is a bright, friendly 4-year-old boy. He excels academically and socially in the BCFS Education Services Head Start classroom he attends. But that wasn’t always the case. When Calvin first joined Head Start, he struggled to get along with his classmates. He was often reprimanded for hitting other students, and was suspended from riding the bus for repeatedly disruptive behavior. Calvin’s mom, Nichole, asked for help from BCFS Family Specialist Stephanie Pelech. Stephanie advised Nichole on healthy family routines to adopt at home, and gave the weary mom some much-needed support and encouragement.

During a home visit, the BCFS Family Specialist Stephanie asked Nichole about her son’s playtime habits. Turns out, Calvin was watching about 4 hours of television each day, including some violent shows and cartoons. It was also revealed that Calvin had witnessed violence in the home between his parents.

Stephanie explained that if Calvin continued to witness violence in the home and on TV, he’d be more likely to replicate violent behaviors. Calvin’s mom committed to regulating her son’s TV habits. More importantly, she asked Calvin’s father to leave the home to create a peaceful environment for their son. “It was crucial that she recognize that was unhealthy,” says Stephanie. “She was willing to accept our help and advice.”

Calvin’s eating habits were also a concern. He refused to eat anything except fried chicken, French fries, and macaroni and cheese. Chocolate milk and sweet tea, both chock full of sugar and caffeine, were his go-to drinks. The BCFS team educated Calvin’s mom about how the food and drinks children consume impact their health and behavior, and she agreed to meet with a nutritionist. Nichole was determined to improve her son’s diet, but she admitted she had a bad habit of giving in to his dinnertime tantrums too often – a pain MANY parents can relate to.

“I encouraged her to continue to be a good role model to him,” Stephanie explains. “Eat healthy foods and get Calvin as much exercise as possible. These habits would promote better behavior in school and better outcomes overall. Even if he gets mad about his meals, she knows she is doing the right thing giving him healthy food.”

As the year progressed, Calvin’s literacy and math skills improved. His behavior on the bus improved, as well. Their hard work was paying off – Calvin was demonstrating he could compromise, share and problem-solve. He showed early signs of emergent reading and writing skills, composing short consonant-vowel-consonant words. Sometimes, he’d get so excited about his writing that he’d wave the paper in the air and proudly ask to show the teacher or office staff his work.

Calvin’s transformation amazed his mother, the BCFS team and the school district. At another home visit, Nichole expressed her gratitude and excitement about Calvin’s development.

“It was such a good feeling,” Nichole said, “to leave him at Sunday school class and know he wouldn’t hurt another student.”

Even his dinnertime habits have improved. There are more veggies Calvin likes to eat, and he’s happy to wash them down with white milk instead of chocolate. Calvin’s healthier habits and improved behavior freed up Nichole to work full-time and accomplish more in her own personal life.

Kassandra Ventura

Kassandra Ventura:  Babies & Mothers Get A Healthy Start

By Araceli Flores                                                                                                  Featured in BCFS’ annual magazine, together

A group of women with plaquesKassandra lives in the colonias along the Texas-Mexico border. Spanish is her first language, and although she struggled to learn English when she started school, against all odds, she passed her classes and made it to high school.
Kassandra married her high school sweetheart, and soon after she was expecting her first child. Elated by the news, Kassandra and her husband welcomed their baby boy nine months later. With a newborn bundle of joy at home —and all the questions and uncertainty of a first-time mom — she joined the BCFS Health and Human Services Healthy Start Laredo (HSL) program.
Healthy Start is a nationally recognized program of BCFS Health and Human Services that provides medical care and case management for women who are pregnant or raising a child under the age of two for the purpose of reducing infant mortality, preventing child abuse and assisting families in meeting basic health needs (nutrition, housing and psychosocial support).
“There was a time when I felt like just staying at home with my baby, and school was not a priority. Healthy Start helped me determine what was important for my future and family. Thanks to my BCFS case manager, Erika Garcia, I have come to realize that even though life is not easy, I am able to overcome the challenges and be a successful mother, wife, student, and a future nurse!” —KASSANDRA
BCFS conducted home visits with Kassandra to provide one-on-one parenting classes facilitated by a case manager, including lessons on how to properly nurture infants and care for them as they grow into toddlers and preschoolers. In addition, BCFS connected Kassandra to group parenting classes and community services for medical care, housing, and food assistance. Through counseling, parenting education and the guidance of her case manager, Kassandra set short-term and long-term goals for the health and stability of her growing family.

Jalie and Julie

By Christina Burghard

*Featured in BCFS’ annual together magazine

Julie Garcia and Jalie Carrasco are a dynamic mother-and-daughter team. Julie is a single mom to sweet little Jalie, a 4-year-old student in BCFS Education Services’ Head Start program. Julie and Jalie have unwavering faith in one another as Jalie bravely battles leukemia.

Julie was confident about enrolling her daughter in Head Start and felt blessed when she was accepted. Several of Julie’s nieces and nephews attended Head Start in prior years, so she knew it would be the perfect environment for her daughter.

Before cancer hit her little world, Jalie was excelling in school and mom Julie was enthusiastic about her bright future. Unfortunately, after the diagnosis, numerous rounds of chemotherapy and exhausting treatments, Jalie’s little body was worn out and she wasn’t quite the same spirited little girl.

Julie said, “that’s where Head Start came in and saved her! She developed her social skills again, had the joy of singing her ABCs and other pre-K songs again, and overall built back her confidence and love for school. Head Start gave me peace and joy in my heart that my daughter’s world was coming back together and she was where she always loved to be – in school.”

On days that were especially difficult, when Jalie wasn’t feeling well, her teachers showed Jalie and her mother love and encouragement that made her feel like everything was going to be okay. That meant the world to Julie.

“Head Start is a great start to a bright future. With small class sizes, there is more time and attention for each child in all areas,” said Julie.

Throughout their journey, Julie has passionately advocated for her daughter. Her goal is for Jalie to feel encouraged, always reach for the stars, remember that school is important, and always help a friend in need.

“Head Start helped me in such a great way,” said Julie. “Especially when your life has changed in a moment due to your child having a life-threatening disease… As a single mother you always feel like you are forgetting something or you are running behind, but when your child is in an environment where they have your back, Jalie has nothing to fear.”

Update as of November 2015

According to Julie, Jalie’s mom, Jalie has been doing phenomenal in and out of school. She is involved in dance and is expecting to be a big sister on New Year’s Eve. Julie said that she is able to do more physical things this year and dance is her favorite activity at the moment. There is one more year of chemotherapy treatment that is predicted for her which is huge progress. Jalie still asks how her friends are doing in Floresville and hopes to soon visit her old classmates at school one day. Julie thanked us again for all of our support throughout last year and hopes we are all doing well.

Ann M. Osborn, Program Director for BCFS Education Services

Healing from the inside out

Healing From The Inside Out

By Ecaterina Babin

*Featured in BCFS’ annual together magazine

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 at 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 of 2012, she asked CERI for help.
Cristina spent the next three years in CERI’s Transitional Care program, which provides 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 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.


Kerrville Celebrates the Grand Opening of the BCFS Hill Country Resource Center

Photo: BCFS Resource Center building

It was standing room only today at the celebration to mark the grand opening of the BCFS Hill Country Resource Center. The 20,000 sq. ft. facility on Main Street is the cornerstone of the city’s non-profit block, offering comprehensive, “one stop” services to local children, teens, young adults and families in need.

The event was hosted by BCFS and featured Kerrville family physician and longtime BCFS board member Dr. David Sprouse as the master of ceremonies, entertainment by the Tivy High School Marching Band and lunch catered by Don Strange. The celebration also included a dedication of the building in honor of Babs Baugh, a passionate advocate for children’s causes, who was named “BCFS Chairman of the Board Emeritus.” Dr. G. William (Bill) Nichols, a nationally recognized artist who lives in the Hill Country, was commissioned to paint a portrait of Baugh that was unveiled following the ribbon cutting ceremony and will hang in the building’s entryway.
For years, Sandy Cailloux dreamt of creating a non-profit block of community organizations where, together, agencies could leverage their combined talents, resources, passion and compassion to generate a powerful force for good. Nearly four years ago, The Cailloux Foundation, who had been a longtime supporter of the transition center model operated by BCFS Health and Human Services, launched a $500,000 challenge grant to build a new center.
The facility will now house several area non-profit organizations, including Art2Heart; BCFS Health and Human Services; Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas, Inc.; Families & Literacy, Inc.; Goodwill Industries of San Antonio; Hill Country Ministries, Inc.; and New Hope Counseling. BCFS Health and Human Services’ transition center will also offer free space to organizations on a daily, weekly, monthly or as needed basis; making important resources efficient and easily accessible, without duplicating services already available in the community.
“Today, the BCFS Hill Country Resource Center stands tall as a beacon of hope and healing for anyone needing help. It offers efficient access to critical resources for those who are struggling; bolsters the community’s ability to quickly intervene during crises; and instills a strong sense of personal responsibility in youth and families by creating an environment of accountability for turning their lives around,” stated BCFS President Kevin C. Dinnin.
The center is open to anyone in need, including youth in and aging out of foster care, as well as other young adults struggling with homelessness, poverty, truancy and substance abuse. Under a single roof, individuals have access to counseling, case management, literacy and educational support, job training and placement with local businesses, housing location and more. The center also offers programs that strengthen families, providing parenting support groups and classes that help open communication and teach innovative, healthy ways to set boundaries and discipline; as well as creative art therapy and counseling for individuals of all ages.
For more information about BCFS’ work in the Hill Country, visit or call (830) 896-0993.

BCFS Hosts Thanksgiving for San Antonio youth

Thanksgiving luncheon for youth from foster care and foster families hosted by BCFS

The luncheon, held Tuesday November 24 at Sunset Station, brought together approximately 200 youth from foster care, foster families, and BCFS’ community partners including the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS).

The “family-like” setting for the luncheon, complete with long banquet tables and a football game in the background on projector screens, was a big hit with guests.

Two youth from foster care spoke to the crowd, sharing how thankful they were for BCFS Health and Human Services’ PAL program, among other blessings.

The PAL program, or Preparation for Adult Living, helps youth from foster care prepare for life on their own by teaching life skills like budgeting, healthy relationships, and how to access critical resources.

The youth played games with BCFS staff and mentors, like a football toss, giant outdoor Jenga, and card games.

BCFS’ Healthy Start Teaches Families How to Keep Their Babies Safe

September is “Infant Mortality Awareness Month”

Photo: Teresa Arthur, her child, and Araceli Flores

Teresa Arthur (left) and Araceli Flores (right) smile with the Arthurs’ newest bundle of joy. Teresa, from Nigeria, and her husband, from Uganda, have lived in the colonias for two years. Teresa joined Healthy Start’s program when she was pregnant with her third daughter, the youngest of her two other girls ages 5 and 3.

In recognition of September as “Infant Mortality Awareness Month,” BCFS Health and Human Services is doing its part to raise awareness on how to have a healthy pregnancy, and safe sleep practices once babies arrive.
The organization, which serves expectant mothers and those with children younger than 2 years old living in the colonias, has awarded participation in its parenting classes by giving away new bassinets to several families in need. Parents are also connected to partner resources such as the March of Dimes, Nurse Family Partnership, and City of Laredo Health Department Maternity Clinic, which also lead initiatives to reduce infant/fetal mortality in the community.

BCFS is also hosting interactive community events aimed at boosting awareness on how to prevent infant mortality, along with a baby buggy walk, balloon release and light luncheon for families on the following day.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Webb County experiences 5.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. While not every death can be prevented, there are several ways to mitigate such tragedy. Factors that contribute to infant deaths include poverty, limited access to health care, stress, and diet and nutrition.

“Having a healthy baby begins first with a healthy pregnancy,” said Araceli Flores, RN, BCFS Health and Human Services director. “Learning about safety can ease new parent nerves, while also ensuring that our little ones grow and thrive.”

The infant mortality rate is an estimate of the number of infant deaths for every 1,000 live births. The CDC uses infant mortality rate as an indicator to measure the health and well-being of a nation, because factors affecting the health of entire populations can also affect infant mortality rates.

Since 2001, BCFS’ Healthy Start program in Laredo has provided medical care and case management to residents in the colonias along the U.S. border with Mexico. This continuum of care extends beyond the welfare of newborns and includes mothers, fathers, and families – essentially the whole community.

For more information about BCFS’ border health initiatives, please visit

Tyler Youth in Foster Care Celebrate Back-to-School

BCFS Health and Human Services hosts annual trip to encourage youth to stay in school

BCFS Health and Human Services celebrated the end of summer with 90 youth, enjoying a day of rollercoasters, zip lines and boat rides at Kemah Boardwalk for its third annual Back-to-School Bash on Friday, July 31. BCFS operates a resource center in Tyler that serves youth in and aging out of foster care, as well as other young adults facing challenges like homelessness, poverty, or those recovering from physical and emotional abuse. The center is a “one-stop shop” that provides counseling, case management, and assistance with education, employment, housing location and medical care.
Each year, the agency organizes an annual Back-to-School Bash as a reward for youth who have stayed in school, focused on their schoolwork and participated in BCFS programs and events throughout the year geared toward keeping them on a solid path toward success and independence.
“This event celebrates the accomplishment of the youth completing the year, and gets them excited and geared up to go into the next school and program year with us,” explains BCFS director Carla McCalope.
“We update the youth on programming available at the center for the coming school year, too. Our motto with the youth is ‘Stay Connected,’ and the Back-to-School Bash helps us do just that.”
BCFS works with youth in and aging out of foster care, and those at-risk of facing challenges such as homelessness, poverty, abuse, or neglect. Statistically, youth in foster care are less likely to excel in school, graduate high school or go to college. McCalope says the Back-to-School Bash is also a way to encourage the high school juniors and seniors in attendance to discuss and prepare plans for college.
Community partners that supported the Back-to-School Bash include BCFS, 4Imprint, Zion Temple, Chuck’s Travel, CiCi’s Pizza and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.