Fashioning a Future for Youth in San Antonio

Youth from BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program took part in a fashion show promoting personal style and professionalism at the Granberry Hills Event Facility on the northeast side of San Antonio, Texas.

“We have held this event for several years now and think it’s very important for the professional development of the young people we serve. The students always show a lot of confidence, and it is such a joy watching them blossom and taking ownership when it comes to their future success.,” said Celeste Garcia, Executive Director of BCFS Health and Human Services’ Community Services Division.

Sofia Gayou delivers message on professionalism and building impressions

Sofia Gayou, a Learning Development Professional and the speaker for the evening, offered tips on first impressions and professionalism in action. “When I walked up here, it only took you seven seconds to make a judgement about me,” said Sofia. Her advice was aimed at making an impact on a future employer that would last well after the interview was done.

Sofia reminded attendants that the vast majority of communication is nonverbal. Just as dressing professionally is important for making a great impression, equally important are your tone, posture, and gestures.

Sofia then asked youth to write down a list of attributes they felt described them – the attributes that they wanted to define their professional lives – and challenged the youth to put energy into making that list a real representation of who they are and how they present themselves.

Volunteers from Alamo City Barber College provide fresh cuts for the young men participating in the fashion show

After hours of getting dressed, made up, and running through dress rehearsal, it was time to begin the show. Outside, the sun passed behind the horizon. The lights in the main hall dimmed down and the music hit a rhythm worth walking to. A pair of spotlights centered on the small, curtained entrance at the back end of the room. The walkway in the center was waxed, flanked by the audience on both sides; ready for the night’s participants to display their best professional attire.

The youth went through two rounds of showcase, the first casual and the second formal wear. Between the two rounds, a few local celebrities made guest appearances on the runway, including Miss San Antonio, Miss Black Texas, and Toddler Miss BRP USA.

At the end of the show, each of the youth were handed a bouquet of red roses. Several of the dresses and suits worn by the youth were donated to them to take home, adding to the box of professional tools from which they can fashion their future.

Learn more about BCFS-San Antonio’s work with youth in foster care, or stay up to date with BCFS Health and Human Services on Facebook

For the donation of their time, finances, resources, knowledge, and encouragement, BCFS-San Antonio thanks the following sponsors:

  • Granberry Hills
  • Brava Events
  • H-E-B
  • Walmart
  • Hair & Makeup by Ana
  • Alamo City Barber College
  • Unique Creations Plus
  • San Antonio Threads
  • Galdina’s Dresses
  • Rex Formal Wear
  • Monte Carlo Studio & Bridal
  • Vega’s DJ Services
  • Pretty Petals Floral Boutique
  • Chaunice Holley, Ms. Black Texas

PEAKS Camp Starts Spring Right

Since 1984, the PEAKS (Physical and Environmental Activities for Knowledge and Skills) camp has offered an outdoor adventure focused on life skills, relationship building, and relaxation to youth from foster care working to overcome extraordinary circumstances in their lives.

In 2018, when Texas Network of Youth Services (TNOYS) discovered that funding for PEAKS camp would not be available for the following year, the BCFS System awarded TNOYS a $25,000 grant to help reach the funding necessary to ensure the camp continued to provide this unique opportunity to deserving youth.

“We recognize the importance of a program like TNOYS and make a concerted effort to give back to causes we know are worth the investment in our community,” said Kevin Dinnin, President and CEO of the BCFS System.

Combined with additional donations from the Rothell Charitable Foundation and the Supreme Court of the Texas Children’s Commission, as well as internal funds TNOYS was able to allocate to the camp, PEAKS 2019 went from an uncertainty to a reality.

For four days in March, 50 youth from foster care and 25 adult sponsors enjoyed life outdoors while engaging in activities focused on team building, social skills, and leadership – each venture peppered with a dash of innovative fun.

Shannon Bloesch, Camp Director for the PEAKS program, expressed how the financial and logistic hurdles of setting aside multiple days and potentially hundreds of dollars for a camp similar to PEAKS can turn an enjoyable experience into a near impossibility for youth in foster care. TNOYS is able to help ease or erase some of those disadvantages with the PEAKS program.

“When kids are forced to grow up so fast, they don’t have time to be kids,” said Shannon. “When you have to pay your own bills as a teenager or step in as the parent for your younger siblings, there isn’t always the chance to do something like this.”   

While at camp, the youth take part in various courses ranging from low ropes to rock walls, from archery to canoeing. They have nights set aside for special events including a talent show, yoga, and a campfire. However, the most significant part of the camp that youth take with them is the relationship-building that happens with peers and, importantly, with trustworthy adults. Good role models serve as partners in communication and shareholders in success.

Youth in foster care between the ages of 15 and 19 can learn more about participating in the PEAKS program by emailing To find out how BCFS Health and Human Services is making differences for youth facing extraordinary circumstances, click here.

A suspension bridge leads to a small tree-house overlooking Cypress Creek.
Longtime PEAKS coordinator Frank Eckles (left) leads one of the mid-morning breakout groups.
Archery lessons take place on the north end of the camp grounds.
The low ropes course challenges participants to come together in order to solve problems.
A group activity emphasizes leadership, communication, and improvisation.

A Weekend in Sports at BVT

Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) had a busy start to the month, with two days of athletic events in a row taking over the weekend schedule of the BVT sports team, the Eagles.

On Friday, March 1, the BVT Eagles visited The Brook Hill School in Bullard, Texas, for an afternoon basketball game against the school’s team. Brook Hill students filled the bleachers while the drumline played spirited music, rivaled only by the volume and energy of the crowd.

“I really enjoyed all the cheerleaders and students cheering us on,” said Laci, a BVT resident. “I had fun trying to make baskets. This was my first year to participate on the team, and it was a challenge but fun.”

Although they were the visiting team, BVT’s Eagles were the clear crowd favorite throughout the game. Once the ball was in play, BVT wasted no time taking Brook Hill to task. Eagles’ player Jonathan took a pause in his first possession, tucking the ball underneath his left arm and waving his free hand with pure showmanship, causing the crowd to stand to their feet and reach a renewed level of excitement.

Things moved quick during the game, with Eagles’ player Tammy putting up big points for the team. The Eagles finished the game with a 29-8 victory and a center-court celebration, followed by a photo shoot with students and supporters. This was BVT’s first basketball game with Brook Hill, and their second sports event with the school.

“I’ve had the privilege to coach our residents in various sports for a little over a year now, and this game with Brook Hill has set the bar high for all special Olympic competitions,” said Rachel Parker, Recreation Coordinator at BVT. “As a coach, you not only want your team to win, you want them to have time of their life while they are playing.”

The basketball game was only part one of a two-part weekend. Residents of BVT woke up early the next morning to attend FRESH 15, a race hosted by a well-known food and pharmacy company in the East Texas area.

The BVT crew – including residents, staff, and family members – began their 1-kilometer race at 9:30 a.m. Although the time to finish the race varied between runners, what remained consistent was the support residents found throughout the race, especially at the finish line.

“This was my first year to compete in the FRESH 1K race with the BVT group,” said Tanner, a resident at BVT. “I did really good. It was a fun experience to run with my friends and getting a medal.”

Breckenridge Village of Tyler has been invited to FRESH 15 for the past four years to participate in the 1K race. As a charity partner of the event, BVT has received a total of $38,000 in donations from the past three years combined.

To see more of the BVT Eagles in action, click here. And learn more about how Breckenridge Village of Tyler offers residence, fellowship, and community for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in East Texas.

“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

This story originally stated the donations received from the years 2017 and 2018 alone. It has been updated to reflect proceeds from 2019’s race as well, and now includes a photo from the $13,000 donation in June 2019.

BCFS System Employees Make a Global Difference

The fourth annual BCFS Employee Giving Campaign took place in the final two weeks of February 2019, reaching employees across all programs in the BCFS System.

During the campaign, 508 employees made their first financial contributions, either through a one-time donation (61 percent) or through the commitment of a recurring donation (39 percent), while 31 current BCFS System donors increased their payroll-deducted donations to CERI for an annual total of $8,027.28 in addition to what they were already contributing.

CERI gained 27 new child sponsors through this year’s campaign. Sponsorships like these are instrumental to the work CERI does, as they offer a direct financial impact and long-term investment into the lives of individual children in Moldova, Sri Lanka, or India.

Focused on engaging and uniting employees of the BCFS System around a common cause, the BCFS Employee Giving Campaign is meant to inform or remind those who work throughout the BCFS System about a particular division’s efforts – in this case, CERI – to bring meaningful and lasting change into the lives of others.

“These gifts support CERI’s growth and ensure that more children will have a chance to grow up in a loving family and more families will have a chance to stay together,” said Connie Belciug, Executive Director of CERI.

As an international interest of the BCFS System, and as the agency’s only entity that receives 100 percent of its funding through charitable donations, Children’s Emergency Relief International seeks help from individuals who have the means to give but may not necessarily understand why even a small but consistent donation can make such a big difference for children so far away.

“One thing we really try to emphasize is how much we can stretch a dollar in the regions CERI serves overseas. Donations big and small make a tremendous impact,” said Connie.

Learn more about how CERI works at both individual and systematic levels to provide relief to children around the world, or donate today.

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.