Love Our Kids Family Day Entertains, Educates Community
SAN ANTONIO — Youth, families and community agencies convened on a brisk Saturday morning at the historic Woodlawn Gym for the fun-filled, carnival-like Love Our Kids Family Day on April 7. Sponsored by BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program, amid spirited balloon-stomping games, beanbag tic tac toe and some competitive 4-on-4 half court pickup basketball, a balloon-savvy clown molded latex sculptures for patient children mesmerized by her process, and focused artists produced superb caricatures and exquisite face make up.
Held in observance of April as Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month, the event afforded community agencies the opportunity to spread their unique messages of wellness, success and independence to San Antonio families. From youth and women’s rights and advocacy to community health and self-care, the Love Our Kids Family Day brought together individuals and causes that uplift entire communities.
“Youth enrolled in our BCFS-San Antonio programs are often enrolled in programs with our partner organizations,” explained BCFS-San Antonio’s Interim Regional Director Kimberley Rodriguez.
“Today is simply an opportunity for parents and their kids to have fun together, to share a little information about community organizations, and let community members know that we are here if they need us.”
Among the crowd of more than 50, Ms. Black Texas, Chaunice Holley, walked hand-in-hand with her four-year-old daughter, Madison, between booths, collecting information and playing the kid-friendly games. Holley, crowned Ms. Black Texas in January 2018, has chosen to share the BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio mission with the broader audience of Ms. Black Texas.
“I identify with the youth, with what they are going through,” she said when asked why she aligned her Ms. Black Texas campaign with BCFS-San Antonio’s message.
“Adolescence is a difficult time on its own, and then add the complications of not having a stable home or family; I’ve been there.”
Holley recalled the struggles her single mother and siblings went through in Allentown, Pennsylvania, remembering how a mentor helped her find a path to success.
“I recognize that one person can make a difference,” Holley explained. “I had that one person, so I love to be that person for someone else.”
BCFS-San Antonio’s PAL program provides services to youth aging out of the foster care system to expand their skills and knowledge, strengthen self-confidence, create healthy community relationships and learn self-guidance. PAL provides transition services to better prepare young adults for emancipation.
Proclamations Reaffirm Community Unity for Child Abuse Prevention
In observance of April as Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness month, BCFS Health and Human Services in Del Rio and Tyler, Texas, participated in citywide proclamations on Friday, April 6, to reaffirm, along with their respective communities, their commitment to work to eliminate child abuse.
BCFS-Tyler accepted an invitation to Smith County’s annual Proclamation Day hosted by the Tyler Independent School District at Mamie G. Griffin Elementary where Tyler Mayor Martin Heines signed the proclamation.
Carla McCalope, BCFS-Tyler Program Director, considers the agency’s participation in the event another opportunity to stand in solidarity with the youth BCFS-Tyler serves.
“On a daily basis we deal with youth who have been affected by child abuse,” McCalope says. “We are there in support of them, the ones that we serve, and also in memoriam of the ones who have lost their lives as a direct result of child abuse.”
For the first time, BCFS Health and Human Services-Del Rio hosted the Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Proclamation Day at the Val Verde County Courthouse. More than 100 blue pinwheels turned in the breeze on the courthouse lawn as U.S. Representative Will Hurd (R-Texas), Texas State Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, Val Verde Judge Efrain Valdez and Del Rio Mayor Robert Garza, each signed congressional, state, county and city proclamations, respectively.
Proclamations will happen in communities across the country all month long as we observe April as National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month.
Nearly 25 teens aged 15-17 from the foster care system and those at risk of experiencing adverse, unstable circumstances took part in BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program’s No Day But Today drug and alcohol abuse awareness event. The event, organized by BCFS-San Antonio Program Director Deyanira Garcia, welcomed community organizations and the San Antonio Police Department to talk to youth about the pitfalls of drug and alcohol use and abuse, and how the phenomena can have dire consequences for more than just the user.
Garcia, who cultivates BCFS-San Antonio’s relationship with the Texas Workforce Commission to help youth prepare for entry into the workforce with job training, education, resume writing and applying for jobs in a way that is appealing to employers, organized the event in tandem with PAL to help prepare youth for making the right decisions when offered alcohol or drugs.
“Struggling with drugs and alcohol, unfortunately, is part of most of their lives,” Garcia says about the youth in attendance. “No Day But Today gives them access to a safe space to discuss the negative results that can happen from abuse.”
San Antonio DWI Task Force police officer Michael Thornton related how alcohol abuse has affected him personally; physically, mentally and emotionally.
“It’s not just your life that you’re screwing with if you’re out here drinking and driving,” Thornton said to the audience of teens and adults that included his partner, Officer Kimberly Kory. “It’s my life, it’s my partner’s life, it’s our families’ lives.”
Thornton remembered his friend and fellow officer Stephanie Brown, who was on duty when she was killed by a drunk driver in 2011 while he recovered from his own encounter with a drunk driver just two months prior. He recalled how in January of the same year, his late night help of a stranded driver on the highway shoulder ended when a drunk driver plowed through his patrol car, severing his right leg at the knee. He lifted his department-issued trousers to reveal a prosthetic limb while talking candidly about the multilayered and sweeping consequences of driving while intoxicated.
“He is now doing 16 years in the Texas Department of Corrections for intoxication assault on a public servant,” Thornton says of the individual who demolished his patrol car. “He has four kids that don’t see him anymore. His wife got a new boyfriend, and she never takes the kids up to see their daddy.”
BCFS-San Antonio community partners UT Teen Health, Chrysalis Ministries and J.O.V.E.N. joined No Day But Today to encourage the youth to learn more about each nonprofit agency’s programs and services that include health screenings, advocacy, and job and educational training.
Garcia would like to see the event happen annually as a way to reach youth with the message that there are people and places that can help them on their path to a stable and independent adulthood.
“I hope they see that they are not alone,” she says, “and that they know we are here to help them get past any issues they may be facing.”
BCFS-San Antonio’s PAL program provides services to youth aging out of the foster care system to expand their skills and knowledge, strengthen their self-confidence, create healthy community relationships and ultimately learn self-guidance. PAL provides transition services to youth ages 15 to 21 from the foster care system to better prepare young adults for emancipation.
House Manager Petro Smith Retires from Breckenridge Village of Tyler
The BCFS System and the Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) family extends sincere congratulations and heartfelt appreciation to BVT House Manager Petro Smith on her retirement. For 11 years at BVT, Petro worked with a servant’s heart to make a loving, lasting impact on the lives of the residents she served as a House Manager.
Petronella Smith, or “Petro,” as she was fondly referred to for short, has a story that begins nine thousand miles away from Tyler, Texas, in Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa, where she grew up as the eldest daughter of Roelof and Anna Elizabeth Dercksen. She refers to her time growing up in South Africa as “the good ol’ days,” before television, when children spent hours playing outside. Her parents were poor, but Petro makes sure to mention that she and her siblings never lacked for anything.
“We grew up in a happy home,” Petro says. “We never went without and my dad’s pockets always had candy,” she says with a laugh. “We would have never known we were poor.”
Petro earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Pretoria and a teaching certificate from the Teachers College in Pretoria in 1975.
“I taught grades 10 through 12,” she explains, “German, biology and my native language, Afrikaans.
After a nearly two decades-long teaching career, Petro traded in her classroom chalkboard for income statements, balance sheets and ledgers to help her husband, Johnnie’s, small accounting business. She also fondly recalls working as a caretaker for an elderly person who was confined to a wheelchair. Her interactions and experiences as a caretaker inspired Petro to create practical and fashionable garments designed to help her patient with the daily task of getting dressed.
Unfortunately, many negative changes were taking place in South Africa at that time, and she and her husband were contemplating a change of scenery when entrepreneur and fellow countryman Pierre DeWet suggested moving to the East Texas town of Tyler, where Pierre had several business interests and was in need of Johnnie’s accounting expertise. Petro and Johnnie decided to move the family to Tyler, Texas.
“We came to the United States in 1997,” Petro says. “The main reason; to get a better future for our four children.’
“Mission accomplished,” she says, thankfully. “By God’s grace, three of our four children are in the medical field, and our other son is a plumber.”
At BVT, Petro earned high regard for her sense of accountability and for her positive attitude. In 2007, she was working as a classroom helper in BVT’s Day Program. When an opportunity came up to be a House Manager, then-BVT Executive Director Jim Anderson personally encouraged Petro to take on the new role. Petro remembers taking time to pray about it before deciding to say “yes!”
John Dooley’s sister, Beth Ann, lives on the BVT campus in House One where Petro served as House Manager. For Petro’s retirement, John and his wife, Ann, traveled to Tyler to congratulate Petro on her retirement and to say “thank you” for her work with Beth Ann.
“She was the answer to our prayers. She is like family,” John says of Petro.
At her retirement celebration, Petro said what she loved most about her job at BVT was the unconditional love she received from the residents in her care.
“The world would be a much better place if people were more like the residents here at BVT,” she says. “There would be no wars or terrible things.
“There is just so much love,” she continues. “Every day is fun. I don’t consider it a job spending my time here, and getting a paycheck is just a bonus. They (the residents) are like my children.”
BVT Executive Director Steven Campbell introduced a video collage of residents and colleagues sharing their love and admiration for Petro. Judy, a BVT resident in the audience, could not hold back her tears, saying she was really going to miss Petro. When Campbell noticed Judy crying, he said it was evident Petro has made a lasting impact on the BVT community.
“Working with the residents is her passion,” Campbell says.
Linda Taylor, BVT Associate Executive Director of Advancement, and April Lanier, BVT Director of Residential Services, unveiled a cross decorated with beautiful pink roses that will adorn the BVT chapel wall in Petro’s honor, and gave Petro a crystal cross as a token of their love and admiration for her compassionate work with BVT’s residents.
Though she is retiring from her responsibilities at BVT, the 66-year-old grandmother of five plans to stay busy. First thing on her agenda is a month-long trip back to South Africa to visit her mother. She will then indulge in some long-awaited family fun time with her granddaughters. Petro also plans to pursue her passion project; working with the elderly population to innovate products that can enhance their way of life in their golden years.
As a token of their appreciation for Petro, BCFS President & CEO Kevin Dinnin and BCFS Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer-Community, International & Residential Operations Asennet Segura presented her with a special retirement gift.
“She is an exceptional lady,” Dinnin said as he turned from the 200 gathered to address Petro, directly. “We are all honored to have worked alongside you, and we are thankful for your 11 years of dedicated service.”
Petro was clearly touched by the outpouring of love. She used her moment to deliver a message that spoke just as much of a commitment to service as it did of a woman who dedicated her career to helping others.
“It is not about me,” she said. “It’s about the residents. “My time at BVT is, and shall always be, the highlight of my life on this earth,” she adds. “I am forever thankful to God for giving me this wonderful opportunity. God bless BCFS forever and ever.”
She thanked BCFS System leadership for their own commitment to helping those in need around the world. She thanked her BVT colleagues for their kind thoughts and for a decade’s worth of teamwork.
Congratulations, Petro and thank you! The BCFS System family wishes you a retirement of rest and new adventures!
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), A U.S. Department of Defense program, awarded BCFS Health and Human Services-Baytown’s Program Director Kenneth Williams the ESGR’s Patriotic Employer Award as an ally for his focus on hiring veterans and active reservists of the military.
BCFS-Baytown’s Administrator On Duty Pedro Martinez, an Air Force reservist, nominated Kenneth, who accepted the ESGR’s Statement of Support Certificate from ESGR-Texas Ombudsman Director George Nami at the BCFS-Baytown campus.
“It’s very important to hire and maintain a diverse employee pool that includes reservists and veterans,” says Kenneth. “Their commitment to our country says a lot about them. You can find great diligence and teamwork among these individuals, and these are key elements in accomplishing our goals.”
Kenneth has worked for BCFS Health and Human Services for more than a year. As Program Director in Baytown, he oversees the facility’s important operational details to ensure that each child entrusted to our care has their needs met on a daily basis. Kenneth is a Licensed Child Care Administrator and a Certified Assisted Living Administrator.
The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) was established in 1972 by the Department of Defense to promote cooperation between U.S. military reserve members and their civilian employers to help resolve conflicts that arise from an employee’s military commitment.
Congratulations, Kenneth, and congratulations to BCFS-Baytown for their commitment to the employment of our nation’s real-life heroes, our soldiers and veterans.
Featured in the 2016 annual BCFS together magazine
Jackie Boyer loves to play the guitar. “I like that you can make it your own,” he says. “You can make it personal, you can make it unique. Whatever you do is really up to you.”
When Jackie came to BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene, he had dropped out of high school and experienced periods of homelessness. Four years after his first encounter with BCFS-Abilene, at the age of 21, Jackie is now gainfully employed, has his own apartment and is working toward a fulfilling career. Jackie’s story goes to show that in life – as in music – “whatever you do is really up to you.”
An Abilene native, Jackie entered the foster care system at age 14. A severe case of diabetes put his father in a nursing home, and the mental and emotional strain that placed on Jackie’s mother left her unable to raise her four children.
Jackie is the youngest in his family, with two older brothers and an older sister. Jackie was able to stay with one of his older brothers in a foster home temporarily, but they were separated when the brother aged out of the system. Jackie was later transferred to a new foster home.
When Jackie aged out of foster care, he struggled to stay on a stable path. For a while, he was homeless and had nowhere to turn. But things began to fall into place when he was accepted into Our House, a transitional living program operated by BCFSAbilene. Our House provides safe, comfortable housing to young men overcoming homelessness, while helping them save money, improve their life skills and prepare to move out on their own.
However, Jackie’s stay at Our House proved challenging for him and his housemates.
Jackie found it difficult to follow the house rules or stick to his Personal Transition Plan – a set of individualized rules and goals that helps each resident grow to self-sufficiency. When his hyperactive behavior disrupted the other residents, Jackie was asked to leave.
“It wasn’t until he found Our House, enjoyed how nice it was, and then lost it that he decided to take responsibility and overcome all the things that had been holding him back,” said Emily Cole, Regional Director for BCFS Health and Human Services. “He wound up on the streets again and said ‘I don’t want to do that again.’ It was a motivating factor for him to get it together,” said Cole. “Not every fairy tale ending comes with a picture-perfect road getting there.”
Although his time at Our House came to an early end, he remained actively involved in other BCFSAbilene programs, including the Texas Workforce Commission program which helped him define his career goals and advance his education.
“I got help with my schoolwork, they helped me get my GED,” Jackie says, “and they helped me write a résumé and find a job.”
Jackie landed a full-time position as desk clerk and bookkeeper for a local hotel, and soon was offered the opportunity to move into one of the hotel’s units built out as a small apartment. It’s become another step toward Jackie’s goals of independence and self growth.
When Jackie began a relationship with a young woman who was pregnant, Jackie, excited at the prospect of helping care for a newborn, joined the Fatherhood EFFECT program. Fatherhood EFFECT is a parenting education program operated by BCFSAbilene that teaches the characteristics of a good father, like discipline, masculinity and work-family balance.
Although the relationship, ultimately, did not work out, he says he completed the program “for his own personal gain” and learned valuable skills about decision-making and healthy communication.
Living independently, holding down a job and studying to earn his GED simultaneously proved to be a challenging combination for Jackie. Staying active in BCFS-Abilene’s programs was daunting with a jam-packed schedule, according to his case worker, Alexzandra Hust. But, he powered through the study sessions, long work shifts and weekly life skills workshops at BCFS-Abilene.
When he earned his GED in December 2015, Alexzandra and the BCFS-Abilene team were overjoyed. Soon after, they helped Jackie file financial aid and admissions applications for local colleges. He plans to study psychology at Cisco College.
Jackie’s experiences in foster care inspired him to choose a career field helping others.
“I plan to be a social worker working for Child Protective Services or Betty Hardwick, I haven’t decided which yet,” Jackie says. The Betty Hardwick Center provides mental health care for children and adults, residential services for people with developmental disabilities, and early childhood intervention services.
Today, Jackie still plays the guitar and plans to dabble in songwriting for an added creative outlet for self-expression. He doesn’t shy away from opportunities to share his story, and over the next few years, perhaps his song lyrics will be another window into the ups and downs of his personal journey.
“I have made some great memories at BCFS,” says Jackie, “and I will never forget the people I have met there over the years.”
BCFS HHS-Kerrville Director, Dennis Ferguson visits with Hill Country Caring Crafter to provide some update on programs offered within the community.
BCFS Health and Human Services-Kerrville Director-Community Services Dennis Ferguson visited with the Hill Country Caring Crafters to give an update on some of BCFS-Kerrville’s programs.
The Hill Country Caring Crafters are a group of artists and crafters who meet weekly to work on their art. Some paint, some quilt, some create ceramics, and others handcraft everything from greeting cards to flower arrangements. The group in turn then sells the creations to raise funds for various Kerr County nonprofit organizations. BCFS Health and Human Services’ Our House-Kerrville is one of the organizations the crafters have chosen to help.
“We do what our heart leads us to do,” says crafter Jeanette Ruark.
At Our House-Kerrville, a transitional home for youth who have aged out of foster care and are working toward establishing their lives as adults, the crafters have “adopted” two residents with the intention of helping them outfit their apartments with home accessories.
“We make their place homey with things like towels, dishes, pots and pans, and cleaning supplies,” says Jeanette. “It’s a lot like the things you might purchase when you send your child off to college.”
Our House-Kerrville residents arrive in search of a safe place to sleep at night, often in the midst of working to overcome obstacles like poverty, homelessness, and joblessness, in addition to repairing long-term damage from experiencing abuse or neglect as a child. The Hill Country Crafters are helping a pair of youth at Our House-Kerrville get some of the homemaking items that youth would otherwise likely do without.
In addition to helping BCFS-Kerrville’s Our House, the Hill Country Caring Crafters support of a variety of organizations such as Hill Country Youth Ranch, The Order of the Elks, and Junction House all focusing on helping youth.
The crafters were excited to hear Dennis’s update on the Our House-Kerrville residents they support, and learn a bit more about some of the other life-changing programs impacting youth that BCFS-Kerrville administers in the Texas Hill Country.
Youth from foster care in BCFS-McAllen’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program joined youth from a variety of boot camp programs to hear Aida Rodriguez’s hopeful message.
On January 15, 2018, BCFS Health and Human Services-McAllen held the inspiring “Inhale Confidence. Exhale Doubt.” event at the Amador R. Rodriguez Juvenile Boot Camp and Educational Center in San Benito, Texas. The event’s theme—“You Set the Stage for Your Own Success”—was reinforced for the 56 youth in attendance with a keynote address from nationally renowned comedian, actress, writer, and activist Aida Rodriguez.
Youth from foster care in BCFS-McAllen’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program joined youth from a variety of boot camp programs to hear Rodriguez’s hopeful message. Her talk resonated with her audience as she spoke about overcoming the stigma of being labeled “bad kids,” and how their futures are based upon the decisions they make each day. Afterward, she visited with each youth to listen and talk with them about their own stories.
Aida Rodriguez is best known for her top 10 finish on NBC’s eighth season of Last Comic Standing. She has toured the United States as both actor and comedian, has a growing list of acting credits, released her 2017 comedy album, I’ll Say It for You, and hosts her weekly Truth Serum podcast, where she presents each episode as a platform to support up-and-coming entertainers and the issues of the entertainment industry.
As a keepsake, youth at the event were gifted personal journals with uplifting, motivational quotes on which they could reflect and write their thoughts and feelings from the inspiring day.
The event culminated with an emotionally powerful balloon release where youth were asked to write with a marker on a helium balloon the one thing they wanted to let go of in their life and then release it to the sky as a symbolic gesture of letting go!
Ms. Black Texas Supports BCFS-San Antonio’s PAL Program
BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio will get some royal treatment when Ms. Black San Antonio Chaunice Holley is crowned Ms. Black Texas on February 25, 2018, at the Walking Resiliently Fashion Show and Coronation at the Carver Community Cultural Center on San Antonio’s historic east side.
Chaunice volunteers with BCFS-San Antonio’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program for youth from the foster care system. When pageant organizers asked her which organization she would like to help through her philanthropic efforts as Ms. Black Texas, she identified BCFS-San Antonio after seeing how the outstanding work that BCFS-San Antonio performs helps prepare youth for a stable, well-rounded adulthood. Proceeds from the ticket sales to the February 25 coronation will benefit BCFS-San Antonio, where Chaunice will speak to those in attendance and invite them to donate to BCFS-San Antonio’s PAL program. Youth from PAL will participate in the fashion show portion of the event, modeling formalwear and casual attire.
Chaunice is a licensed vocational nurse instructor pursuing a nursing degree at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is the eldest of six children and served in the United States Air Force as a cardiac and labor & delivery nurse. She was raised by a single mother in what Chaunice describes as “an addicted home,” experiencing poverty, homelessness, and struggle; some of the same challenges through which youth in foster care work to overcome.
“My plan of action is to partner with BCFS Health and Human Services…to create programs and policy to generate awareness through educating the community and the power of the media.” – Chaunice Holley, Ms. Black Texas 2018.
Project Cinderella invites the Tyler community to support the sixth annual campaign to gather formal wear to help youth in foster care attend the 2018 prom organized by BCFS Health and Human Services-Tyler. Project Cinderella seeks donations of evening gowns, shoes, jewelry, or monetary donations to help with tuxedo rentals or the purchase of shoes and accessories.
Project Cinderella is an annual effort by BCFS-Tyler that helps youth from foster care and those who have experienced abuse or neglect enjoy the tradition of a high school prom. Tyler community partners Brides and Belles and The Men’s Wearhouse are again helping youth in foster care obtain evening gowns, tuxedos, and fashion accessories to ensure youth look their absolute best for prom. To complete the formal looks, Project Cinderella is reaching out to the Tyler community for help. A gift of $25 can provide a tuxedo rental or enable a youth to shop for his or her own accessories or shoes to celebrate prom exquisitely dressed. Gently used ladies’ shoes and jewelry are also on the wish list.
“Project Cinderella and the prom event make a lasting impression on our youth,” explains BCFS Director Carla McCalope. “Many of them have grown up facing very challenging obstacles, so we work to reinforce positive self-image, strong self-confidence, and to let them know that they are loved. The Tyler community has fiercely supported our past prom events, and we hope this year will be no exception.”
BCFS-Tyler provides youth from foster care and those struggling to transition to adulthood with a support system they can count on, and the tools to become self-sufficient, positive contributors to the community. Often, youth in our care have dropped out of high school, but through our services pursue alternative means to education, including charter schools, GED classes, or online coursework. Unfortunately, these labor-intensive endeavors, while rewarding, come without the social opportunities of a traditional high school experience—no basketball games, no homecoming, and certainly no prom.
“Though these youth have grown up in very unique circumstances,” says McCalope, “we work to provide them with some of the same experiences as other youth their age. Prom is a once-in-a-lifetime, coming-of-age tradition and we don’t want them to miss out.”
The Project Cinderella campaign will last from January 2 through February 28 with the goal to raise $5,000 in monetary donations. The luau-themed prom is set for March 3, 2018.
BCFS Health and Human Services helps Tyler youth from the foster care system, as well as other young adults facing homelessness, poverty, and other challenges. The center provides counseling, case management and assistance with education, employment, housing location and medical care.