Welcome Project Angel Fares to the BCFS System

On May 15, BCFS System President and CEO Kevin C. Dinnin welcomed Project Angel Fares (PAF) as the newest addition to the BCFS System of nonprofit organizations. We wanted to give you a closer look at this amazing organization that helps make dreams come true for children and families from all over the country. Founded in 2012, PAF is a San Antonio-based nonprofit that works closely with Morgan’s Wonderland, the San Antonio-based theme park for families with children who have special needs.

Since 2010, Morgan’s Wonderland has provided an opportunity for children with special needs to experience the joys of a theme park that is designed to cater to their unique life situation. And beginning in 2016, that includes the water park Morgan’s Inspiration Island. Both parks offer free admission to any and all children with special needs. However, for families that must travel long distances, that is just a small part of the cost burden.

This is where Project Angel Fares comes in. PAF works to help provide families with children who have special needs this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the joys of Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island with a 4-day, 3-night trip with all travel expenses paid.

Also joining the BCFS System family is PAF’s Executive Director Sharon Krietzburg. Sharon works tirelessly on increasing awareness of the organization in the local community and beyond. By expanding financial sponsorships and growing the donor base, she has been able to expand the number of families PAF can bring to Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island.

Sharon Krietzburg

Sharon joined PAF in 2016 after meeting the founder, Kevin Johnson, at an event in San Antonio. She had retired some years earlier in Nevada and she and her husband, Jack, had built their “dream home” in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But she said it wasn’t long before the dream changed and they decided to move to San Antonio to look for their next adventure.

Sharon said she thought she would be a puddle of emotions before taking on her new job, but most days she finds it to be pure joy. “Once anyone comes to the park, it touches you,” she said. “Seeing the look on these children’s faces. You see a calm wash over them as they get to do things they had never been able to do with their families. It is pretty special.”

Like so many other nonprofits, PAF is adjusting to the new normal brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic which dictated the decision to close Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island for the 2020 season. PAF also made the difficult, yet prudent, decision to postpone its annual fundraising golf tournament that had been scheduled for later this summer. But work continues to help more dreams become reality starting in 2021. Sharon will office at the BCFS System Headquarters building later this year. Welcome Sharon and Project Angel Fares to the BCFS System Family!

BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio Receives Gift From Garfield Elementary Student Leadership Team (StuCo)

Even in troubling times, we see the good in people. This week Kasey Ristow, StuCo Advisor for Garfield Elementary School, which is part of the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District, made a donation of gift bags filled with essential toiletries put together by the Garfield Student Council.

Gift bags included shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste and a cozy pair of socks! They will be given to families in need, including victims of domestic violence.

Kasey presented the gifts to Delia Ramos, Director of Community Based Services at BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio, under careful COVID-19 safety guidelines at the organization’s office in Del Rio, Texas.

“We are so honored to accept this thoughtful donation on behalf of those we serve,” Delia said. “I want to thank StuCo for thinking of BCFS-Del Rio and for their kindness even in the darkest times. It’s truly uplifting.”

BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio Recognized With Generous Gift

Unexpected gifts are the best kind!

Last week, BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio received a generous gift of $1,000 from Randolph Brooks Federal Credit Union (RBFCU).

From left: Celeste Garcia and Monica Caballero

Monica Caballero, Business Development Officer with RBFCU, presented BCFS-San Antonio with a donation of $1,000 in support of their programs and initiatives in San Antonio, Texas. RBFCU made donations to nonprofits throughout the San Antonio community who may have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. BCFS-San Antonio was chosen for the positive impact it makes on the community, Monica said.

The check was presented to Celeste Garcia, Executive Director of BCFS Health and Human Services Community Services Division, under careful social distancing guidelines at the Community Services Division Headquarters in San Antonio.

“We are honored to accept his check on behalf of the children and youth we serve,” Celeste said. “I want to thank RBFCU for recognizing how vital these community programs are and how their gift will impact so many people. At BCFS Health and Human Services, we work to transform lives and be part of the positive change some youth need to grow and develop into responsible, contributing members of our communities.”

Dennis Ferguson Talks Programming and COVID-19 on ‘KDT Live’

In the second week since its launch, “Kerrville Daily Times Live” included an interview with Dennis Ferguson discussing the community support that BCFS Health and Human Services-Kerrville offers to children, youth and families in Kerrville, Texas.

Dennis, Director of Community Services at BCFS-Kerrville, spoke on the programs he and his team use to help children and youth ages 10 to 25, including Youth Averted from Delinquency, the Hill Country Resource Center, the Texas Workforce Commission and Our House.

BCFS-Kerrville’s Dennis Ferguson on KDT Live

Louis Amestoy, Managing Editor of “The Kerrville Daily Times” newspaper and host of the show, asked Dennis how COVID-19 has affected those served by BCFS-Kerrville. Dennis discussed their ability to keep in touch with local employers and connect jobs to the young men and women in their care, adding that the mental-health services they provide have been crucial to weathering 2020’s barrage of health, economic and social uncertainty.

“We spend a lot of time just reassuring them and encouraging them – getting them to acknowledge that they are capable of making progress even in these times when we’re not able to get out as much as we used to,” said Dennis.

Louis asked how their city could give back to BCFS-Kerrville. “We thank the community for all they’ve already done and the times they’ve stepped up,” said Dennis. BCFS-Kerrville has been able to accomplish great things over years of service, but Dennis admitted there was much left to be done. They plan to continue utilizing community support, partner organizations, and their own ability to connect needs with resources during COVID-19 and beyond.

Listen to the full interview on Kerrville Daily Times Live.

Flat Stanley Joins BVT Family

With the health and safety of our residents a top priority during the COVID-19 restrictions, access to outside visitors is temporarily prohibited at Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT), so residents got creative to stay connected with their friends and family.

Jennifer Ekins and Rachel Parker – Day Program Group Leader and Day Program Coordinator at BVT, respectively – crafted a BVT take on Flat Stanley, a character based on a later-1900s children’s book of the same name.

Jennifer Ekins, Flat Stanley and Rachel Parker

Residents created eight versions of Stanley and mailed them to a list of 40 friends and family, who have welcomed Stanley to their everyday lives and kept a record of his activity. They then send letters and photographs that include Stanley to their loved ones at BVT, and then send Stanley on to his next home and another family to join in on Stanley’s travel adventures.

The project has taken the eight Stanleys to several U.S. states and family events. See highlights from his travels on BVT’s Facebook photo album, updated every Friday for the duration of the project.

Recognizing Those in Foster Care

BCFS Health and Human Services in honored to join the annual recognition of National Foster Care Month, established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

National Foster Care Month has been headed by the Children’s Bureau (a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) since 1988.

“The more that we’re able to put information out there, the greater opportunity the general public will have to think much more humanely about families who need help or who find themselves in difficult situations,” said Jerry Milner, Children’s Bureau Associate Commissioner, in an interview with Child Welfare Information Gateway. “We need to be reminded that any of us could find ourselves in that kind of vulnerable position given the right set of circumstances.”

“Our staff is focused on the best outcomes for children in foster care 12 months out of the year, but having this one month dedicated to national attention on children in foster care is important to bring much needed visibility and information to potential foster families. It is a tremendous help in the long term for those we serve in our foster care and adoption program,” said Rosa Baez, Associate Deputy Director with BCFS Health and Human Services.

Learn more about how BCFS Health and Human Services helps children in foster care, young adults leaving foster care and parents raising children in the system.

Abilene Observes One-Year Anniversary of Tornado

One year ago, a tornado ripped through a populated section of Abilene causing major damage to more than 300 homes and businesses and impacting more than 147 families. Fortunately, there was no loss of life and in the aftermath the community came together to help their neighbors recover.

BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division (EMD) was there from the beginning to help as homes were restored, windows replaced, roofs repaired and a community was healed.

The Abilene community recognized its recovery from the tornado last October during National Night Out with an event at the new Abilene Police Station and Municipal Court building. A group from BCFS EMD attended  the celebration which included recognition from the Mayor and the Police Chief.

“We always stand ready to support fellow Texans, especially in locations where we have an established presence,” Dakota Duncan, executive director of EMD, told the crowd.

This week as the city of Abilene marks the one-year anniversary of the tornado.  United Way of Abilene sponsored a vehicle parade through the storm-damaged area of town on May 18. It was billed as a “Honk Your Horn” parade to allow people to rejoice and give thanks from the safety of their cars as the community now weathers a new storm called COVID-19.

Mary Cooskey, who directs 2-1-1 Texas which coordinates the community’s disaster response and recovery operations, talked to the local newspaper about the lessons learned from the recovery efforts.

“We learned that we are doing a lot of the right stuff to make sure that we are a resilient community,” she said. “At the core of it all we connect people and organizations with the needs, to people and organizations who can address the needs.

“We … were most blessed by BCFS HHS Emergency Management accepting the request for aid to coordinate recovery operations, which included assisting families with the creation of recovery plans,” she told the Abilene Reporter News.

An Adventure Through Time

Children and youth from BCFS Health and Human Services Transitional Foster Care took a hyperdrive through history on May 14, getting to hear “directly” from notable personalities such as Abraham Lincoln and Frida Kahlo.

Fernando Grinan as soccer star Pelé

Transitional Foster Care helps children 5 to 17 years old adjust to a new life with a new foster family. This process includes continuing education, offering tutoring for difficult schoolwork and visiting families in their home. By necessity, most of Transitional Foster Care’s work has recently turned to virtual solutions as part of larger efforts by the BCFS System to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Crystal Vega as astronaut Ellen Ochoa

Transitional Foster Care has responded to the changes in their workflow by seeing it not as a hindrance but rather an opportunity. Their history lesson via time travel is only the most recent of the program’s efforts to keep children engaged though learning has moved online.

For the children’s time travel class, Mariceliz Ortiz, Lead Educational Facilitator, would briefly introduce each of their renowned guests before starting the time machine that let the class jump to that point in history. Although the sound of traveling through time – something between a UFO and an old washing machine – was played before each of the 12 important figures came on screen, one of the boys on the call couldn’t help but laugh every time.

Karla Cosme Maldonado as Abraham Lincoln

Following the lesson, the children were invited to ask questions of their physics-defying visitors or share their thoughts. One boy mentioned he learned new things about el rey del fútbol, Pelé. A young girl said she enjoyed hearing about the human activism of Rigoberta Menchu, who has advocated for the rights of indigenous people in Guatemala and internationally.

Classes like these, which combine the native creativity of Transitional Foster Care staff with resources available at home, illustrate that a new normal doesn’t have to be lesser than normal.

At-Home Performers Bring ‘Snow White’ to the Living Room

When Karla Cosme Maldonado, Experiential Life Skills Coordinator with BCFS Health and Human Services Transitional Foster Care, saw her students’ faces on a video call, she knew something wasn’t quite right.

“We were taking a virtual tour of the [Pacific] Science Center in Seattle, and I could tell the students were not very engaged,” said Karla.

As classrooms have moved online around the world to slow the spread of COVID-19, educators have kept pace by blending technology with whatever is available from home. Though adapting is not easy, the results often showcase the creativity and resourcefulness of teachers.

Julissa Gonzalez as Snow White

These new limitations have brought the talents from staff at BCFS Health and Human Services Transitional Foster Care to the forefront. Last week their education team put on costumes and makeup for a retelling of “Snow White.”

“Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the performance with our students,” said Sonya Thompson, Executive Director at BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio, “but I was there for rehearsal. I don’t think it was just the kids who had fun; [the staff] definitely had fun too.”

“All you have to do is read the news to know that parents have their hands full right now,” said Melissa Bueno, Regional Director of BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio Foster Care and Adoption. “These are some great ideas that our staff came up with to break up the monotony of the day and take a burden off foster parents.”

Both Sonya and Melissa have been impressed with the innovative and engaging adjustments the Transitional Foster Care program has made to continue serving children during the coronavirus. Last month the teachers challenged their students to create floats at home for a virtual parade, and this week they will take an adventure through history using a virtual time machine.

“I know what we’re all going through, and I want our kids to have a little fun,” said Karla. “Sometimes you can even hear the parents laughing in the background.”

CSD Hosts Motivational Speaker for Texas Youth

SaulPaul – an author, keynote speaker and musician – delivered a message and a bit of music online to youth from BCFS Health and Human Services Community Services Division (CSD) on Tuesday, April 28.

Like many of the youth at the virtual event, SaulPaul began his life with plenty of obstacles that could have kept him from building the life he enjoys today. After losing his mother at 3 years old, his father soon abandoned him. SaulPaul would grow up in the care of his grandmother, who turned 78 the same year he turned 13. “She had a big heart, and instead of seeing that and being grateful, I took advantage of it,” he told the youth.

Source: SaulPaul.com

At a young age he found himself in a courtroom, facing 10 years in prison. He spent time in the penitentiary, but upon release he started attending the University of Texas and soon received a degree. Now as a public speaker who connects with young people wherever they are in the world and in life, SaulPaul says he hopes the point of his story is not that anyone can do what he did, but instead that his life was made much more difficult because of choices he made. He hopes fewer young people will make the mistakes he did, and can find a simpler path to success.

Youth that may have more burdens to bear than others have an advantage, according to SaulPaul. They have a strength that few others possess. “When you lift weights, it makes you stronger,” he said. “When you have weight on your back, and when you don’t let that weight crush you, you’re stronger.”

The speaker ended his message by sharing with the youth that they would each get a copy of his book, “Dream in 3D,” and he had a surprise announcement for the high-school seniors on the call: all are invited to a graduation ceremony in May, which will also be virtual.  

Learn more about CSD’s advocacy for youth in Texas.