Boots on the Ground: CERI in Ukraine


Employees and supporters of Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) headed to Ukraine for the 2018 Shoe Mission, helping deliver warm boots to children from struggling circumstances as the Shoe Mission has for 19 years across 22 mission trips.

For this year’s Shoe Mission, Ukraine was chosen as the destination of service because of the need CERI witnessed in the country. In 2014, Ukraine’s economy fell to the second lowest GDP per capita in Europe. Such a high poverty rate adds to the risk of separation between parents and children, and increases the likelihood that children will be placed in an orphanage or other institutional facility. Currently there are more than 100,000 children in Ukraine who either lost their parents or were separated from their parents due to war, abuse, or extreme poverty.

Though they cannot spare children completely from the situations they may face, CERI visited the country at the end of December to once again offer relief. The Shoe Mission team spent more than eight days helping children from the cities of Kherson and Odessa in the country of Ukraine. Two organizations – My Home and Heritage – served as partners with CERI to make the distribution process in Ukraine effective. While in the area, 27 CERI volunteers helped deliver 5,000 pairs of warm winter socks and boots to the orphans.

Though it may seem like a small gift from the perspective of more temperate parts of the world, sturdy winter boots give children the freedom of mobility to face the winter season in Ukraine, where at least three months of the year have an average low temperature below the freezing point, and where 40 days of the year are predicted to see snowfall[1]. With torn and tattered shoes, children often suffer frostbite and are unable to attend school due to the harsh temperatures and snow and ice they must trudge through. 

Circumstances like these are complicated and demanding for the children they affect, but the resilience and hope that CERI witnesses in the young people they serve remains evident. Throughout their travels in the orphanages of Ukraine, CERI volunteers were regularly treated to special Christmas shows from the children they visited, sometimes even being offered the chance to participate. Connie Belciug, Executive Director of CERI, shared that although there were some unexpected delays and unavoidable hurdles during the trip, the end result was another successful investment into the lives of children in need.

CERI raised a total of $117,036.72 from more than 100 donors for the 2018 Shoe Mission. Half of those proceeds were used to purchase the boots needed to keep children warm, and half help provide personal case management that ensures more children are given a family to call their own.

Read more about how CERI is helping the lives of children in Eastern Europe, and view photos from Shoe Mission 2018 here.


[1] https://www.climatestotravel.com/climate/ukraine#odessa

BVT Receives Support from Local Company


Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) was one of several winner’s in a local roofing company’s campaign to give back to their community. AVCO Roofing in Tyler, Texas, saved one percent of their proceeds on all residential projects, setting aside $150,000 that was then split among several local charities based on votes obtained and through social media and the AVCO Roofing website.

For BVT, that support through voting – from BVT employees, BCFS System employees, friends, family, and community members – was strong enough to help them finish in the top five!

The result was a donation of over $17,000 at a giveaway event held at the AVCO offices, where Steven Campbell, Executive Director of BVT, and Linda Taylor, Associate Executive Director of Advancement at BVT, attended and accepted the award on behalf of the residents, staff, and supporters of Breckenridge Village of Tyler.

Learn more about BVT’s daily work providing for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities here.


Second Benefit Hunt of 2018 Held in Donley County

 

About 60 miles east of Amarillo, Texas, the Circle C Ranch sits on around 1,000 acres in Donley County, part of the state’s panhandle. Recently, the owners of Circle C Ranch welcomed six youth from foster care for the first Big Country Children’s Benefit Hunt in their part of the state, making it the second such hunt this year led by BCFS System efforts to support a diversity of activities for youth in foster care.

It took many people and plenty of collaboration to make the two-day event possible. Guides and volunteers for the hunt included Randy Bond, Chief Deputy of Donley County; Alana Jeter and Will Meiron, staff members of BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene; and Marshall Davidson, Special Investigations Program Administrator at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Other volunteers and guides came from the Highway Patrol, Department of Public Safety, Donley County Constables Office, and Child Protective Services. Associated Ambulance Authority even donated one of their ambulances and some of their medical staff to be on site for both days of the hunt.

Before the actual hunt took place, the youth, hunting guides, and other volunteers who would attend received hunter education that taught the necessary safety and skills needed for their trip. The participants and hunting guides arrived at Circle C Ranch early in the morning and stayed at the ranch until the next afternoon. While there, attendants enjoyed riding on ATVs, paddle boats, and a 950-foot zip line, in addition to hunting and fishing.

“We totaled it up at the end of the trip, and after the land, accommodations, facilities, equipment, game, and processing that Kerry and Mandy Cartrite donated, the total for the hunt came to over 25,000 dollars,” said Marshall Davidson. Kerry and Mandy, the owners of Circle C Ranch, were presented with an “Above and Beyond” award for their many contributions to the event.

Marshall stated that the support from the BCFS System and BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene has been “the biggest part of the implementation and development of these events.” From the supply of qualified staff and training to the donation of a 16-foot enclosed trailer to meet equipment and storage needs, the organization continues to provide youth from different parts of Texas the ability to invest in their traditions.

Marshall understands how important events like these can be for youth, thinking back on his own childhood. “I still remember my first time going hunting with my dad, being out in the blind. It didn’t matter whether we had anything to take home at the end of the day, just being there in the wilderness and sharing those moments together – that was what mattered.”

 

Learn more about BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene here, and watch coverage from local news here.

 

Youth practice shooting and safety
Randy Bond presents the "Above and Beyond" award to Kerry and Mandy Cartrite
Marshall Davidson teaches a hunting course before the big day
Will Meiron and a fellow hunter load game from the day
The sun rests over Circle C Ranch
Will Meiron thinks about joining the cast of the next Mission Impossible movie while riding down the 950-foot zip line

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The BCFS System thanks supporters and partners of the Big Country Children’s Benefit Hunt in Donley County:

  • Circle C Ranch, Kerry and Mandy Cartrite
  • Top of Texas Taxidermy
  • Randy and Sis Bond
  • Associated Ambulance Authority
  • Craig Cartrite
  • Texas Highway Patrol
  • H-6 Howell Farm
  • Nutrien Ag Solutions
  • A-1 Yellow Jacket Portable Toilets
  • The Clarendon Enterprise
  • KLSR Radio
  • Department of Public Safety
  • Texas Department of Family and Protective Services

PAL Dinner Celebrates the Spirit of Christmas

 

The youth and young adults from BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program set aside a night for genuine celebration, enjoying ballet performances, mariachi music, honest friendship, and a great meal.

More than 260 members and partners from the PAL program came to the Historic Sunset Station to celebrate with the community that has grown around them. To dress for the night, Hair 27 Salon and the National Council of Jewish Women both donated time and supplies to a number of the ladies who attended (starting three hours before the event began to ensure everyone looked their best). Case workers, members of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and staff from across BCFS Health and Human Services made the environment a welcoming space to commemorate the holidays.

To navigate the evening’s events, Omar Davila, Lead Family Support Specialist for Services to At-Risk Youth, served as master of ceremonies. After welcoming attendants and thanking all partners and supporters for their help with the Christmas Dinner, Omar introduced ballerinas from the Ballet Arts School in San Antonio. Each dancer performed her own solo routine, capturing the room’s attention with fluid momentum.

Later, the Mariachi Los Galleros de San Antonio entertained attendants during dinner with a blend of traditional Spanish and Latin-American songs and American Christmas staples. Their finale for the night was a festive rendition of Feliz Navidad.  

Towards the end of the night, attendants took pictures at a photo booth, danced with friends, caught up with case managers, and enjoyed hot cocoa.

Jennifer Conn, a PAL Case Manager, shared that, “The PAL holiday dinner gives our young adults an event that they can look forward to each year. It provides our alumni an opportunity to connect with those they’ve grown up alongside in foster care, and professionals who have supported them through the years. The holiday dinner is a special event that enables our young adults to actually see and interact with the community that surrounds and supports them.”

 

To learn more about the PAL program in San Antonio, click here

 

Mariachi Los Galleros de San Antonio wish everyone a Merry Christmas from the bottom of their heart (from the top of the stairs)
Ballerinas from the Ballet Arts School take a bow
The train outside of the Historic Sunset Station served as the background for many attendants' photos
MC Omar Davila extends an official welcome
Mariachi Los Galleros perform for a table of staff members from several organizations
Santa Claus took a paid vacation day from the North Pole and decided to spend it with the youth and partners of PAL. What a nice guy.
A solo performance from a member of the Ballet Arts School
It's not a dance without a dance circle
(from left to right) Alexa, Omar, and Claudia stand by to serve guests at the Candy Bar
Staff from BCFS Health and Human Services join at the end of the party to commemorate a successful, event-filled night

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BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio thanks the following supporters and partners:

  • The Historic Sunset Station
  • The RK Group
  • Hair 27 Salon
  • Dior
  • The National Council of Jewish Women
  • Ballet Arts School: the Home of Alamo Arts Ballet Theatre
  • Mariachi Los Galleros de San Antonio
  • Texas Department of Family and Protective Services

To Be a Blessing

by Elliott Harris

 

Six years ago, Elijah Brown offered me something not at all unique, and yet just as surely important: a way of looking at the world that would forever change what I saw as valuable in life.

“We are blessed to be a blessing to others,” Dr. Brown said, at the time a humble university professor. And there I was, a less-than-humble college student, jotting down the phrase I had just heard, knowing that even if this sentence never made it to an exam, it was a testament worth remembering. The most meaningful truths are often the simplest.

My biggest regrets and greatest achievements since that lesson have taught me much. But as time passed and things changed, the words of a good professor and greater advocate never faded, and never became less important than the day I first heard them.

Today, I graciously accept one such blessing in my life as I join the BCFS Public Affairs and Communications team full time. In only a few months working alongside the BCFS System in a limited role, I have listened to, read, and shared the stories of many whose lives have been impacted, in ways both infinitesimal and immense, by this organization. They are accounts that have come from both the servant and the served. They are accounts that have been honest, broken, and nuanced, but always filled with hope, and always built on faith.

In this new commitment, I hope to continue building on the relationships I have established and the stories I have come to know. I hope those in the BCFS System who have been so kind and welcoming, from around the world, will continue to share their stories with any and all who may find them beneficial to their own life and applicable to their own circumstances. I hope that the bedrock of service and support which this organization has to offer will continue to grow in the communities that have been established and in communities that have yet to be reached.

Above all, I hope that if you find yourself blessed, you can recognize it is so that you might be a blessing to others.

 

To learn more about the impact of the BCFS System, click here.

Texas Representative Selects BVT Christmas Ornament

 

Since 2009, the Texas Capitol has displayed a Christmas tree in their House Chamber every holiday season. To decorate the tree, Texas House Representatives from each of the state’s 150 districts choose an ornament from an organization, individual, or group that they feel aligns with and is representative of their district’s unique voice and distinct culture.

This year, Representative Matt Schaefer selected Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) as the inspiration for the 2018 Christmas tree ornament for his district. Two BVT residents, Alex and Brynne, served as the lead artists for the ornament, creating a design that featured the Robert M. Rogers Chapel flanked by pine trees, as well as a red rose accompanied by the words, “Tyler: Rose Capital of the World,” reiterating the Texas city’s claim to fame.

Rep. Schaefer visited BVT to pick up the completed ornament. While there, he took time to chat with residents, discuss future plans with administrators, and take a tour of the campus.

BVT is honored to represent Texas House District 6 this Christmas at the state capitol with their hand-crafted ornament. In doing so, they join a list of past artists that has included organizations from Tyler Junior College, in addition to students from both Grace Community School and All Saints Episcopal School.

The ornament by Alex and Brynne will be on display from Nov. 29 till Jan. 2 on the 23-foot Christmas tree in Austin, Texas. To view more pictures, click here.

 

Discover more of BVT here, or learn about the Christmas tree tradition here.

PAL San Antonio Shares Thanksgiving

 

BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program, along with an extensive community of supporting organizations, joined for a Thanksgiving lunch at the Sunset Station in downtown San Antonio, Texas.

Over 200 youth, young adults, and advocates booked a seat in the Arcadian Room for a three-course lunch, including a spring salad, a traditional turkey and stuffing dinner, and a slice of raspberry cake for dessert. Speakers for the event included Chaunice Holley, Miss Black Texas; Shawn Osburn, member of the U.S. Air Force; and Clarissa Acuna, a recent PAL member and future college graduate.

Before lunch was served, Chaunice Holley invited her friend and the lead speaker for the event, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Shawn E. Osburn, to take the stage and share his story. Shawn spoke about his struggles and success as a youth, summarizing his experiences with a reminder on the importance of seeking out a family you can choose; a family made up of close friends and supporters who want the best for your life.

“The world will tell you you’re unlovable and worthless,” said Shawn, “But know this: God says something different about you – the people at BCFS and their partners will say something else about you – you are highly valued and you have a purpose for your life.”

Shawn admitted that making the most of this purpose is not easy, and takes effort, sacrifice, and an honest self-assessment.

“This is the hard part,” said Shawn. “The next part of finding your purpose is looking at your past.” Shawn wanted all in attendance to know that God had a desire for their lives, and that achieving this goal required work and patience; an ability to face life’s troubles with a level head.

After Shawn’s message, the room engaged in small talk and fine dining, provided by the RK Group. PAL members stopped by the tables of case workers, some who they hadn’t seen in years, and caught up on life.

As dessert was served, Clarissa Acuna was invited to share her experience as a former youth from foster care, now a young adult nearing the end of her college career at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. Clarissa urged everyone present not to be scared to ask for help from their supporters in life, reminding her audience that no one would understand their needs if they did not first admit they had any.

Clarissa knows because she was once a PAL member herself. When applying for college, Clarissa depended on PAL to help her work through complex government and educational paperwork. She depended on the staff for advice, direction, and resources. What she was given in return was the possibility for potential.

“It’s not our fault that we were born into the circumstances we faced,” said Clarissa, “but it is our responsibility to make our lives better.”

After Clarissa’s message, attendants transitioned to the outdoor pavilion to enjoy outdoor games and further conversation with friends.

Preparation for Adult Living has several more events planned for the holiday season, where they hope to continue fortifying their community and reminding those from the foster system of the help that is all around them.

To learn more about the PAL program, click here.

BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene Bets the Farm This Halloween

 

The entire BCFS Health & Human Services’ Community Services Division (CSD)-Abilene office got in the Halloween spirit this year. The staff decorated doors and dressed up in costumes in a fun, lighthearted farm theme. BCFS-Abilene invited the families served through the Healthy Outcomes Through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES) program and the youth served through Preparation for Adult Living (PAL), Texas Workforce Commission, and Our House to take part in the event.

This year’s party gave families and youth the opportunity to trick-or-treat in a safe, fun environment on a rainy day. Among the families who celebrated with BCFS HHS-Abilenewasa farmer, a chef, a honey-bee, a pig, and even a corn stalk.

CSD-Abilene has more events lined up for the holiday season, including a Christmas Breakfast for youth, and a Polar Express-themed party for those in the HOPES program to include a special guest appearance by Santa himself.

 

A bumblebee buzzes by.

 

Read more about the BCFS HHS programs in Abilene.

BBQ With CERI & Friends Offers Reflection

 

Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) and a humble group of its partners joined together for a night of sweet celebration and barbecue at the home of Jim and Vera Clark in Kingwood, Texas.

The BBQ with CERI Friends annual event was established as a way to say thank you to CERI’s friends and partners and provide an update on the accomplishments of the year. The party began late in the afternoon in the Clarks’ backyard, decorated appropriately for the occasion. Dearing Garner, Director of Pastoral Care, commenced the evening’s festivities with a blessing.

Once the sun set and things cooled down, the event hit its stride as guests settled around the pool where Connie Belciug, Executive Director of CERI, introduced Eileen Purkeypile as CERI’s new Director of Development and Marketing.

Connie then addressed the crowd with a message of appreciation, compassion, and encouragement. “God has built multiple layers of protection and provision around children, so that they would be truly safe and so that their needs would be met,” said Connie. “He created the family to surround children with love, He wrapped a community around the family to provide support, and He situated the community within a nation to uphold the rights of its children and families.”

At the conclusion of the event, Connie thanked all in attendance, as well as the many contributors worldwide who have supported CERI since its inception in 1999. “These are the best gifts you can give an orphan: a path to family here on earth and a path to family in Christ,” said Connie.

CERI and the BCFS System thank Jim and Vera Clark for opening their home for this event, and for their heartfelt hospitality.

 

To learn more about Children’s Emergency Relief International, visit cerikids.org

Domestic Violence Awareness in Del Rio

 

Each October, BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio joins organizations nationwide in support of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

In a country where intimate partner violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime, and where one in four women have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their life, BCFS-Del Rio works diligently to engage the community and share knowledge to identify and prevent domestic abuse.

As part of the month-long movement, a Candlelight Vigil was held October 16 at the Paul Poag Theatre. BCFS-Del Rio joined in honor of those whose lives had been altered or lost to domestic violence. “136 victims passed away in 2017 due to domestic violence,” said Delia Ramos, Director of Community Based Services at BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio, in an interview. “We want to show our community that love shouldn’t hurt – to show how important it is to walk away from a violent situation, and although it often very difficult, it’s ok to ask for help.”

Bruno R. Lozano, Mayor of Del Rio, presented a proclamation against domestic violence. In its eighth year, Delia said the Candlelight Vigil remains an effective tool at spreading a message that can prevent harm in the Del Rio community, creating knowledgeable warriors for a worthy cause.

Later in October, a few days after the Candlelight Vigil, local representatives gathered for an interagency meeting. More than 50 individuals from over 11 organizations met to discuss how domestic abuse could most effectively be averted.

“It’s a great time to get to know names and faces of our community organizations,” said Delia, noting that the annual meeting is an important avenue for understanding how entities throughout the Del Rio community can work together to reach common goals.

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BCFS HHS-Del Rio recognizes and thanks the organizations and government representatives who attended this year’s interagency meeting (which include but are not limited to) :

  • Laughlin Air Force Base
  • Office of U.S. Congressman Will Hurd
  • Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
  • Val Verde Sherriff’s Department
  • Val Verde Regional Medical Center
  • Consulado de Mexico
  • Consulado de Guatemala
  • Early Childhood Intervention (ECI)
  • Serving Children and Adults in Need (SCAN)
  • San Felipe Del Rio Independent Consolidated School District
  • Del Rio Police Department

Read more about how BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio is working to end violence in their community.