EMD Welcomes New Executive Director

BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division (EMD) has selected Dakota Duncan for the position as Executive Director for the division.  

Dakota brings a diverse set of skills to the EMD team, having worked previously as a Firefighter and Paramedic in three states, a State Emergency Management Director for the Indiana National Guard, and an Incident Command Subject Matter Expert for the U.S. Department of Defense. He has earned multiple degrees in higher education, including a master’s degree in public health (MPH) from the American Military University. Dakota’s MPH and focus on public health lends the division another important piece in forming a well-rounded, multidisciplinary approach to emergency management.

Dakota served in the United States Navy for eight years and as a U.S. Army Civilian for two years. He has taught and trained in various capacities throughout his tenure in emergency management and in the armed forces.

Kari Tatro, EVP/COO of Administration, Education and Emergency Operations, is confident Dakota will be “a very capable member of the team who can keep current operations stable while also giving us room to grow.”

The Emergency Management Division responds to crises with incredible speed on an incredible scale, and although the task is demanding, EMD’s track record proves it is also manageable. As the division’s needs grew and adapted around the constituencies they served, the benefits of employing a dedicated position for more specific and specialized roles became obvious. Lauren Maher, Chief of Staff for EMD, explained: “this position is vital to the development of the EMD team and will allow leadership to designate our growing responsibilities to more people; the right people.” 

 “BCFS [Health and Human Services] has one of the most highly respected teams in the world. Our people are absolutely phenomenal at what they do, and it is an honor to lead such an amazing team,” said Dakota.

Learn more about how EMD lessens the burden for populations facing disaster in places close to home and around the globe.

Our House Finds Support From Local Clinic

On February 14, Valentine’s Day, staff members from Peterson Community Care loaded up a car full of supplies and needed items that would be delivered to Our House, operated by BCFS Health and Human Services-Kerrville. As a transitional living program, Our House helps young adults from foster care and other under-served backgrounds find stability in the face of financial insecurity, barriers to education, and even homelessness.

The benefactor of the donation, Peterson Community Care, is part of the Peterson family of services. The clinic is a private, not-for-profit, community-based healthcare facility serving Kerrville, Texas. The Practice Manager at Peterson Community Care, Tracey Richard, said that “We try and do something for the community every quarter. It’s really our job to think beyond the walls of the clinic and beyond the walls of Peterson and say, ‘How can we make a difference?’”

During a Peterson staff meeting near the beginning of the year, Tracey asked fellow employees if they knew any local causes that could use their help. “Amanda [Chmylak, a nurse at Peterson,] thought about Our House and knew what we did and said they wanted to help out,” said Shane Williamson, Case Manager at Our House in Kerrville. With Amanda’s recommendation, Peterson staff soon got on the phone with Our House administrators and were captivated by the simplicity of the organization and its end goal.

Peterson Community Care staff help out at a Relay for Life event in 2018

After identifying the need and committing to the cause, the logistics were the only thing left to put in order. “We made a list of what we needed and took measurements, and [Peterson staff] went out and bought everything themselves,” said Dennis Ferguson, Director of Community Services at BCFS-Kerrville.

In total, 12 employees at Peterson Community Care donated food, gift certificates, first aid items, medicine, window curtains, diapers, baby wipes, and more for a total gift valued at $650.

“It was a great ask. It was simple stuff that honestly makes a huge difference, and it’s just kind of the right thing to do: reach out and help your neighbors,” said Tracey.

Read a personal story from a former resident at Our House-Kerrville, or discover more about how the BCFS System is helping the Kerrville community.

A Night to Shine

For the second year, Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) took part in the Tim Tebow Foundation’s A Night to Shine global event. The foundation describes the occasion as “an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love for people with special needs, ages 14 and older.”

This year, “655 churches from around the world came together to host Night to Shine events for approximately 100,000 honored guests through the support of 200,000 volunteers,” according to the foundation’s website.  

Residents and community supporters at BVT and around the world reserve this night to celebrate a deserving group of individuals.

Taking time to prioritize individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities on the international stage is a way to let these communities celebrate each other – and celebrate with each other – while also garnering support, awareness, and attention of special needs that many do not fully understand.

See what residents had to say about the night, check out photos from the event at BVT, and view the highlights from the global event below.

This was my first year to attend Night to Shine. I really enjoyed the dancing, the meal, and the fellowship with everyone. I felt like a princess, and had the best time riding to the prom in a limo. I had so much fun, and I plan to go again! — Jennifer Wallace

My favorite part about Night to Shine was just getting to see all the new people that attended and to see it all come together for people with disabilities. I had fun watching my friends sing karaoke. I really enjoyed getting dressed up and riding to the red carpet in a blue viper. The highlight of the night was just the opportunity to attend the prom again. I am already looking forward to next year! — Tanner Hensley

I really enjoyed when we got to the prom and walked down the red carpet, they touched up our make-up and hair. My buddy was super awesome, we danced a lot. We took photos in the photo booth together. I felt so happy when I was crowned the “queen of the prom!” I cannot wait to go back next year! — Michele Youree

I was humbled at how many people willingly gave their time and talents to give these families a special night. My daughter loved it and is already talking about going again next year. God bless you all. — Laura Hughes (mother of BVT resident Jillian Hughes)

Straightening up for the big night.
Adding some finishing touches.
Three ladies pose at BVT before heading to the venue.
What's going on? These gentlemen know as well as any of us.
Out of the limo, into the limelight.
A walk down the red carpet offers a brief showcase for each of the night's attendants.
Looking ready for a Hollywood-level interview.
A red jacket adds a warm tone, a soft touch, and a stylish statement.
It's not a dance without dance moves.
The smile of a king.
Are they having a good time? We may never know.
The local church is filled with the bustle of fellowship.
A limo filled with party-goers.

BCFS-Corpus Christi Begins New Program for Hurricane Victims

BCFS Health and Human Services-Corpus Christi serves nine counties throughout the Coastal Bend area, hosting informative and engaging group events in the area while also working to bring positive life changes to individuals directly.

In December 2017, after several families served by BCFS-Corpus Christi were negatively affected by Hurricane Harvey, the Services to At Risk Youth (STAR) program expanded coverage to include victims of the hurricane that brought immense damage and a record amount of rainfall to the area.  

Marissa Cano, Regional Director of South Texas for BCFS Health and Human Services, reported that issues facing hurricane victims, even years after the date of disaster, often do not have a simple resolution. Health issues can take much longer to prioritize and solve, especially for those who have lost access to transportation. Repairing structural damage to homes and restoring personal possessions requires consistent effort on the part of victims. Completing insurance forms, filing claims, accessing government paperwork: all of this takes time.

With Corpus Christi’s situation in mind, a grant was proposed to Texas Network of Youth Services (TNOYS), a fellow Texas-based nonprofit headquartered in Austin, which was able to secure $50,000 for BCFS-Corpus Christi to establish a new program: Safety Nets for Students and Families (SNSF).

At the heart of the SNSF program is a counseling and support service capable of identifying and addressing the burdens imposed by a natural disaster. This includes meeting people where they are locally (even in their own homes), securing immediate needs, and, importantly, establishing safety nets that can help those around Corpus Christi prepare for unforeseen events in the future.

“It is about counseling, but it’s also about seeing what people need beyond that. It’s about looking at emotional and physical needs together, and seeing how we can help them all around,” said Marissa. “We are starting with 15 families in the area who are STAR clients, but we hope to expand and help more families as time goes on; as we see the demand and as we’re able to financially meet that demand.”

The SNSF program will assist families with basic needs, like car and home repairs, or provide an established outlet for networking with insurance companies, acting as an advocate and a source of support. Throughout the case management process, Family Support Specialists and SNSF Clinicians will accompany those under the care of BCFS-Corpus Christi to decrease their total time to recovery. 

Safety Nets for Students and Families plans to begin service at the end of February or the beginning of March.

Learn more about how BCFS-Corpus Christi serves the Coastal Bend.

Restore Education Presents to Northside ISD, Area Youth

United by the work of BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio and Restore Education, a group of educators from Northside ISD along with several local youth gathered for a Lunch and Learn event at BCFS-San Antonio.

Alejandra Quezada, Education Specialist with BCFS-San Antonio, gave lunch guests a tour of the facility and a summary of the transition services for youth and young adults which the BCFS System provides.

Kerri Rhodes, Director of Student Success at Restore Education, shared information about the programs available for youth looking to go further in their education and careers. Those programs can give training in industries like administrative assistance, entrepreneurship, and hospitality, or they can prepare individuals with the knowledge and certification necessary to pursue higher education readily. Restore Education’s courses require certain commitments from prospective students up front, such as a minimum number of hours every week, or a preliminary test or orientation. The end result is genuine help for dedicated young adults whose goals are to better their lives.

While Kerri and Alejandra both presented information on how their respective organizations could help others, they also spent times in an open discussion, answering questions from the educators and young people in attendance. Scholarships, living expenses, high school equivalency, English language courses, workforce training, and schedule conflict concerns were all part of the dialogue, as guests worked through the information at their own pace.

For more than ten years – the majority of which have been spent in partnership with BCFS-San Antonio – Restore Education has been working at the state and local levels to make long-term goals easier to achieve for the youth and young adults who find themselves in need of alternative educational paths. Restore Education and BCFS-San Antonio have found success in a cooperative relationship, with both organizations referring youth to each other, depending on what needs those individuals have in their lives. 

As lunch was ending, one of the attendants from Northside ISD expressed her concern for the young people she works with daily – that they are a population too often forgotten, not knowing where to go or who to talk to. “If you know anybody who needs help,” said Alejandra, “give them my number and have them call me, just so they have my number; just so they have someone to talk to.”

Read more about Restore Education, or discover programs and services for youth in San Antonio provided by the BCFS System.

BCFS-San Antonio thanks Which Wich for their donation of this event’s lunch.

Human Trafficking: Recognizing the Signs

More than 20 professionals from a variety of fields and a diversity of communities came together on January 18 to discuss the issues of human trafficking in and around Del Rio, Texas. Attendees took part in a full day of training provided by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), hosted at the offices of BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio.

Angela Alvarado, an Equal Justice Works Crime Victims and Justice Corps Fellow at TRLA, led the training for the event. Guests came from the consulates of Mexico and Guatemala, the United States Air Force, sexual assault response teams, and other partner organizations united by the desire to see human trafficking come to an end. Angela is a legal representative for people in 68 Texas counties, and knows what to look for when it comes to human trafficking.

“The goal of the training was to bring awareness to human trafficking – what it is in regards to labor trafficking and human sex trafficking – and my hope is that, one, [attendants] would be able to recognize symptoms [from clients], and second, that we can assist them in making the appropriate referral, whether that be to an attorney or how to safely report to law enforcement authorities,” said Angela.

Geographically located on the border of Texas and Mexico, the international dynamic in Del Rio makes preventative efforts against human trafficking uniquely important. A 2016 report by The University of Texas at Austin found “approximately 79,000 minor and youth victims of sex trafficking in Texas,” in addition to an estimated “234,000 workers who are victims of labor trafficking in Texas” at the time of research.1 The estimated value of wages lost by victims of labor trafficking was nearly $600 million annually.1

Delia Ramos, Director of Community Based Services at BCFS-Del Rio, shared that this kind of training can be crucial for advocates to “take the immediate steps when they see people with these characteristics” that can mean the difference between abuse and freedom.

Angela plans to return to Del Rio as soon as April, where she would make a similar presentation  to employees at United Medical Center, alongside BCFS-Del Rio.

Read more about programs and services in the Del Rio area, and see our coverage of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month here.

[1] Busch-Armendariz, N.B., Nale, N.L., Kammer-Kerwick, M., Kellison, B., Torres, M.I.M., Cook Heffron, L., Nehme, J. (2016). Human Trafficking by the Numbers: The Initial Benchmark of Prevalence and Economic Impact for Texas. Austin, TX: Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, The University of Texas at Austin.

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


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


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