Mike Estrada Promoted, Leads Security

The BCFS System has promoted Mike Estrada to Director of Protective Services.

In this new position, Mike will be responsible for leading the BCFS System’s security efforts across the board, which means everything from making sure programs and events are safe for everyone involved, to creating training curriculum for use by BCFS System employees and partners. He will analyze risk from a security standpoint and plan around reducing potential hazards to the safety of the organization, as well as assist with investigations when appropriate.

 “Long before I was offered a full-time position with the BCFS System, I told Kari (EVP/COO of Administration, Education and Emergency Operations) that this is the only agency I would give up full-time policing for because I believe in what we do here,” said Mike. “I feel privileged to work with some of the best people our nation has to offer.”

Mike is a Master Police Officer, a firearms instructor for police and civilians, a Mental Health Officer assisting with crisis intervention, a Self Defense Instructor with a 4th degree black belt in Taekwondo and a 1st degree black belt in Aikido. He is certified with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) and Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T.) programs. He is also a former Master-at-Arms in the U.S. Navy.

Mike has been a Police Officer for more than 27 years and currently holds a commission with Hollywood Park. He has served the BCFS System for nearly nine years.

Legal and Compliance Officer Joins Finance Department

The BCFS System has selected Beth Wasserstrum to serve as the organization’s first Legal and Compliance Officer.

The new position will provide legal oversight and management of the comprehensive government grants and contracts that make up the backbone for many of the BCFS System’s programs and services. It will also provide a deeper understanding of organizational compliance and associated risk mitigation. “Upholding the public’s trust is paramount and maintaining a culture of compliance within the organization will help us in continuing to fulfill this mission,” said Beth.

As a Legal and Compliance Officer, Beth will assist in evaluating and advising the BCFS System’s relationship to contractors, vendors, and clients to guarantee that the requirements from both financial and operational sides are being met and maintained. She will be responsible for reviewing regulatory and internal policies and procedures, as needed, to assist internal stakeholders with any compliance or other related questions. Beth’s subject matter expertise and oversight will assist employees, management, and many others in the BCFS System so that they can make informed decisions based on what is best in the growth and development of the organization, taking a proactive approach and staying true to the System’s mission. 

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio, Beth served as a Juvenile Probation Officer here in Bexar County. She went on to study at St. Mary’s School of Law, where she received a Doctor of Jurisprudence. In her career, Beth has been an important legal and compliance resource, as well as an administrative advantage for the organizations she has served for more than 16 years.

“We are pleased to have someone with Beth’s expertise on board with us,” said Claudia Oliveira, Chief Financial Officer of the BCFS System. “Her robust background in legal and compliance matters will strengthen the BCFS System’s compliance culture.”

Beth joined the BCFS System family on Thursday, May 16, 2019 and will office at the System Headquarters.  

Sakshi Puri Joins Medical Services Division, Promoting Healthy Practices

The BCFS System has selected Sakshi Puri for the position of Public Health and Epidemiology Quality Assurance Director, where she will serve the Medical Services Division of BCFS Health and Human Services.

Sakshi has a master’s degree in public health from Texas A&M University, with a concentration in health policy and management. She is a former epidemiologist with Hidalgo County Health and Human Services, serving as a subject matter expert for investigating zoonotic and foodborne conditions in the Rio Grande Valley. Sakshi also worked with Northern Vermont Area Health Education Center and other medical colleges in the Vermont area as a health science educator, as well as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley as a program coordinator, creating multidisciplinary activities to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education tracks.

From developing curriculum for community-based health science programs for children to writing protocols for management and investigation of disease outbreak, Sakshi has the diversity of skills, knowledge, and experience that complements our agencies’ array of services, infrastructure, and clientele.

Serving earlier this year as an epidemiologist and public health group supervisor during the 2018 US HHS ORR Operations emergency sheltering event with BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division, Sakshi led a team of medical and public health staff to manage a system for vaccination administration and tracking.

In her new position as Public Health and Epidemiology Quality Assurance Director, Sakshi’s focus will be on effective sanitary and health care precautions aimed at mitigating illness in facilities across the agency, for the protection and health of our own forces as well as the clients we serve.

By collaborating with health partners and government entities, Sakshi will be able to deliver first-class guidance to the BCFS System and its programs on the most effective wellness practices, researching and reporting on interagency health concerns and mapping out effective solutions for staff and service populations alike.

Please join us in welcoming Sakshi to the BCFS System family.

Securing Families in Transit

One of the greatest tragedies of the death and injury caused by vehicle accidents is that, many times, the problem can be prevented. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that three out of four children’s car seats are not properly installed, and, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States.

by Monica Calderon

The colonias of Webb County, Texas, are neighborhoods faced with substandard living conditions, often occupied by families impoverished and in need. The new-born infants and toddlers in these communities, like all children, require special care when traveling from place to place in a vehicle. Seeing the need to protect children, no matter the financial situation of their families, BCFS Health and Human Services’ Healthy Start Laredo program (HSL) was awarded a grant to provide car seats to low-income families

Proper installation of a child seat

Since beginning work with vehicle safety, HSL has teamed up with the Texas Department of Transportation to support child safety initiatives across the state. Recently, HSL became a member of the Safe Riders Child Safety Seat Distribution and Education Program through the Texas Department of State Health Services. As members of this community service program, HSL can conduct educational classes and distribute car seats to families in the regions that need it most.

By providing safety seats to families, not only does HSL reduce the number of potential injuries and deaths that come from children being improperly secured in a vehicle, it also ensures families are able to comply with state laws requiring children under the age of eight to ride in a car seat, lowering the chances that financially-struggling families will have to add fines of up to $250 to their economic uncertainty.

In addition to the donation of car seats, Healthy Start Laredo provides families with training to properly buckle up children when it’s time to travel. HSL staff received extensive training from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which they now pass on to families in Webb County.

BCFS Health and Human Services is the first health and human services agency to be part of the Safe Riders Child Safety Seat Distribution and Education Program in Laredo, Texas. HSL is enthusiastic about the opportunity they’ve been given to secure lives through the empowerment and education of the community. The program identified a need and built an initiative through a variety of opportunities.

Making a positive difference deep in the heart of Texas, one child at a time, HSL’s car seat only one example of how a dedicated program is having a big impact on a community in need.

by Alana Jeter

The D.R.I.V.E. Safe Coalition creates awareness about the critical importance of properly installing a car seat, harnessing a child correctly in a car seat, and reducing the number of traffic-related injuries and deaths on Texas roads. With the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), D.R.I.V.E Safe and BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene have partnered to deliver traffic safety knowledge to families in Abilene.

Through BCFS Health and Human Services HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support) parent education course, parent educators have integrated traffic safety as part of a curriculum designed to provide community-based, family-centric programs that support families with young children 0-5 years of age to work through any barrier they may be facing.

BCFS-Abilene’s Parent Educators have been educated through traffic safety training, earning certification as a Child Passenger Safety Technician. Their certification enabled a partnership with the D.R.I.V.E safe coalition that allows parent educators to attend monthly Car Seat Check-Up events co-hosted by the Abilene Fire Department and other community organizations.

The Car Seat Check Up events help keep kids and families safe. Together with other technicians, HOPES parent educators provide individualized, hands-on instruction to parents for correctly installing a child safety seat into their vehicle, the different adjustments that allow a parent to customize the car seat based on their child’s height and weight, and how to correctly secure a child in a car seat. Parents can also find out if a car seat is expired and make arrangements for an exchange.

The partnership between BCFS-Abilene and the D.R.I.V.E Safe Coalition allows our parent educators to effectively add transportation safety education to an array of case management services and resource referral with the mission of providing wraparound services to help a family succeed, both at home and on the road.

CDC seat belt statistics

A Lesson in Perseverance

By Janice Catley

As a BCFS Health and Human Services’ Emergency Management Division (EMD) Case Manager, I work closely with people to help them through some of the most trying, emotional, and dire events they have likely ever faced. In the wake of natural disasters and the catastrophes that men unleash on our communities, EMD case managers offer survivors wraparound support for their recovery, from basic needs to long-term counseling. In our jobs, EMD case managers bear witness to individuals and families working through these traumatic, tragic events, and the service we provide to these survivors is not only critical to helping them regain some stability, but also, in some way, I hope, helps strengthen their resolve to overcome the new set of obstacles that has brought us together. The following is just one example of the strength of the human spirit that EMD case managers often see in those we serve who have had their lives upended and are in the midst of a long road to recovery.

I met this specific survivor, “Daniel,” at one of the hospitals in San Antonio, Texas, where he had been evacuated to from the Texas Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Daniel is an elderly gentleman living with several medical issues for which he takes a slew of medications. During the storm, Daniel evacuated quickly, unorganized, and unwillingly. His wife would abandon him one week after the hurricane, but his daughter and her three children came to his aid in his time of need. After a two-hour intake session where I assessed his needs and listened to him tell me everything he wanted to, Daniel was in good spirits. I reassured him that his daughter and I would put together a long-term recovery plan and start working on it immediately.

The next week, Daniel was released from the hospital and returned to the hotel where he could recuperate comfortably. The first assignment on his recovery plan was for his daughter to talk with the building contractors at his Houston home to get an estimated time of completion for his home repairs. Next, we had to see if Daniel qualified for an extension of his Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA); then complete a CAN (Coordinated Assistance Network) Conditions, Actions, Needs) Intake Assessment for financial assistance. With his daughter’s help, we accomplished each task successfully.

His ‘get up and go again’ spirit not only helped his recovery, but also really motivated me as his case manager.

Through interactions with Daniel and his daughter, I could see that their time together was strengthening their bond, and their bonds with the children. I helped the family acquire some of the critical resources they needed, and helped them stay focused and faithful. Despite the odds against him, Daniel demonstrated a warrior’s mentality, a terrific sense of humor, a positive attitude about life, and the patience of Job. His “get up and go again” spirit not only helped his recovery, but also really motivated me as his case manager.

Daniel, his daughter, and I worked together to set measurable, attainable goals for each family member.Knowing they were important to the family’s success, the children agreed to keep their grades up with no less than a “B” average. Daniel agreed to follow the doctor’s orders to work toward getting healthy again, and his daughter set a goal to find suitable employment to help her family with their finances.

After several of weeks of dedicated case management, listening sessions, and learning about the mountain of federal rules and regulations, good things began to happen. Daniel’s medical disabilities qualified him for a rental assistance program, and all three of his grandchildren earned scholarships to attend summer camp. With Daniel’s dedication to his health, exercise had become part of his daily routine, with daily walks around the hotel where he lived while his house was repaired. As a result, his doctors decreased his medications from eighteen meds to twelve meds a day. And on the job front, when the hotel manager learned of Daniel’s daughter’s job hunt, he hired her to work in the hotel’s front office. Important milestones were being met and Daniel and his family were truly working together to emerge on the other side of this tragedy as better individuals, closer family members, and once again self-sufficient.

Daniel’s family’s story, ultimately, is a success story. Along the way, however, there were times when it was hard, times when it seemed like good things were never going to happen. But we didn’t give up…they didn’t give up. I hope their story can inspire others who might be going through their own hard times to not give up. As a case manager, I notice that survivors focus not on what they are going through, but instead focus on the decision and the determination that they are going to be stronger for having overcome all the obstacles they have faced.

We give survivors trusted guidance and encourage them to walk by faith, not by sight.

The EMD team and the entire BCFS System are committed to the work that must be done on behalf of those we serve who are in need of a helping hand. Case managers assemble the necessary resources, get our survivors actively involved in their case plans, and pay close attention to the answers they give and work to build on their strengths. We give survivors trusted guidance and encourage them to walk by faith, not by sight. We are determined to do a good job, to do right by those we serve, and remain at the ready to face new challenges with our survivors on their roads to recovery, believing fully that we are all connected, and that we’re all In this together!

Janice Catley is an EMD Disaster Case Manager on Texas-Houston-Team 9. Her service to the survivors of Hurricane Harvey resulted in several grants from the American Red Cross. She excels in the BakerRipley Disaster Case Management Process and the CAN Platform.

Hope + Hard Work = Success

By Lakita Oats

At 18 years old, I had no permanent address, no income, and a three-year-old daughter who was not in school. I was in Chicago at the time, relying completely on the support of friends and family to get by. I was truly homeless, about to move into a shelter with my daughter before a friend offered me a place to stay temporarily. After that, I moved between other friends’ houses, still desperate and in need of something more permanent and stable. One day a friend referred me to what I thought was just a nice daycare. It turned out to be so much more.

Latika Oats and her mother
Mother and Daughter

In 2008, I enrolled my daughter in the Head Start program. It was everything we needed as mother and daughter: education, support, resources, even a second family. I was excited to be part of something so positive during a time in my life that was not. I joined the program’s Parent Committee and Policy Council, and even became a Policy Council Secretary (a position that grew skills I would use later in my career). I also had some college hours which the Family Support Specialists encouraged me to build on by getting back into a university. So, I enrolled at a community college and started taking classes.

During my second pregnancy, Head Start remained involved with my whole family, continuing to support our goals. While life was still not exactly where I knew it could be, I continued taking college classes and started living with my aunt and uncle, who had graciously opened their home to me though they hardly had space left to give.

Around the same time, program staff asked if I would like to be a part of a new Doula program they were offering to pregnant mothers. I was grateful for this additional path of support, receiving assistance throughout my pregnancy. Within eight weeks of my second daughter’s birth, I was able to enroll her in an Early Child Education program, where she received a tremendous amount of support from the staff just as my older daughter and I had. The second family I had grown to know and love at Head Start was helping my immediate family grow to know and love each other.

Now a mother of two, I started to transition my focus from ensuring a healthy pregnancy into establishing an opportunity-filled life for both of my girls. I could not completely support them without first supporting myself. So, I enrolled in a job placement program offered through the state of Illinois, and soon found employment.

In less than two years, I had grown from a frightening time in my life as a homeless single mother to a stable parent with the promise of a future for her children.

Once I started working, I was able to move into an apartment of my own. My oldest daughter went to kindergarten prepared for what was to come, and my youngest started in her new program. In less than two years, I had grown from a frightening time in my life as a homeless single mother to a stable parent with the promise of a future for her children. Every move I made, I made for my girls and for the future of my family, and while the success I found would not have been possible without my drive and desire to achieve the life I knew was possible, I was so appreciative for every person who helped shape the woman I was becoming and the mother I was so proud to be.

Latika and her family during graduation
Latika and her family

I was in my own apartment with my children for more than a year until I moved to Missouri to join my future husband. There, I enrolled at Columbia College, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in human services. I wanted to help others the way others had helped me. I wanted to prove to people what they were capable of when they were given the right tools to accomplish what they wanted.

I worked toward my degree until 2015. By then, I was married, had three daughters, and was on my way to South Korea, accompanying my husband on a deployment in the U.S. Army. I had to put my educational goals on hold during my two years in Korea, as the time difference and busy schedule made even online courses a difficult option. However, during the break from college, I gained valuable experience as a Child and Youth Program Assistant, serving children in classrooms and after-school programs. My time there reaffirmed that I was on the right path: I definitely wanted to continue working with children and families.

When my family returned to the U.S., we moved to South Texas, where I learned about the opportunities available through BCFS Education Services. I took a position as a Family Specialist with BCFS Education Services, helping people on the other side of a story I had lived only a few years before. I continue to serve families in this way today.

Thinking back on where I’ve been and where I’m going, I credit what I learned from the Head Start program years ago as a teenage mother. The family specialists who served me showed me what was possible. They revealed a path that eventually gave me work experience, educational advice, maternal support, and most importantly, hope. I was able to take those pieces and build something truly meaningful and lasting. It was not always obvious where I was headed along the way, but it was always clear that I was moving.

In 2018, I earned my degree from Columbia College with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services. I travelled more than four hours to the graduation ceremony so that I could walk across the stage and receive my diploma. I did this intentionally. I did it in the presence of my three children, to show them what was possible – to make a point that life was only as good as you worked to make it.

Am I doing enough for the parents and children I work with? Am I doing as much as what was done for me?

Latika celebrating her graduation
Hard work and success

Now that I am serving as a Family Specialist, sometimes it can feel like I am not living up to the level of service that I was given as a young mother. Sometimes I question, “Am I doing enough for the parents and children I work with? Am I doing as much as what was done for me?” Still, I recognize that I am new to much of this, being on the other side of the situation. Coming so far does not mean I have made it; it means there is still a long way to go. For now, the most important thing I can be is a support for the families who need someone strong to lean on. The best gift I can give is my time and my openness to communicate, my willingness to provide whatever is needed to give families a future.

Even though I am staying busy in Texas with three daughters, a husband, and a new career, I still find time to visit Chicago every once and a while. Whenever I visit, I always enjoy meeting up family Specialists that were so important to my daughters and me. You could call it a second-family reunion.

Breckenridge Village to Open 3 New Residences

Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) will celebrate the grand opening of three new residences on its campus on May 17, 2019, offering a long-term home to additional adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

This phase of the BVT campus construction, which began in 2017, is the culmination of work   from diligent BVT staff, support from generous donors, and help from countless volunteers – including contractors, builders, and suppliers – coming together to create something that will last for generations of residents to come. A notable and stable source of assistance throughout the building process was the Texas Baptist Men (TBM), led by Bill Pigott, who was a member of the TBM 22 years ago, when they built the first homes and the Robert M. Rogers Chapel in 1997. One of the new residences at BVT is named in Bill’s honor.

At the celebration guests will witness the official dedication of the homes, which includes a ribbon cutting at each residence, tours of the new homes, lunch for all in attendance, and a symbolic butterfly release.

Les O’Ferrell, BCFS Board of Trustees Chairman; Dr. David Dykes, Pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church; Steven Campbell and Linda Taylor, BVT leadership; and Tammy, a resident of BVT, will all take part in the grand opening.

Learn more about Breckenridge Village of Tyler.

Becoming the Cornerstone

The teen years are a formidable time-span for anyone, and during Bethany’s fourteenth year, she lost her mom after a brave two-year battle with breast cancer at the age of 41. While each family member struggled to cope with the immense loss, Bethany’s father turned to alcohol, which led to the neglect of his children. Before long, her two younger siblings were sent to live with their grandparents, and Bethany found herself as a ward of the court in the foster care system.

As an adolescent managing all the life changes going around her, Bethany was thrust into a mindset of self-preservation, deciding that she did not want to be placed with a foster family.

“I already have a family,” she reasoned, then, navigating her way through an emergency shelter for a short time before moving to a transitional living facility in New Braunfels, Texas, sharing space and stories with other youth going through their own life changes. Today, she admits her decision was based partly in the rejection of her father, and partly in the lack of institutional supervision at a private home.

Bethany standing with her mother and siblings
Bethany and her family

“The fear of rejection was a really big part of it,” she says. “In a facility, there was more oversight to make sure that I was safe, rather than living with a family left to their own discretion for how to parent me.” 

As Bethany had effectively lost both parents, her mother to illness and her father to alcoholism, she didn’t want another set of parents, much less of a set of strangers who might make her feel less safe.

“I didn’t really want to go through that,” she says.

Bethany moved again, this time, to a Portland, Texas-area temporary children’s shelter, a time and place she recalls fondly.

“It was really strict, but it was also really fun,” she says. “The workers there made it fun, but the rules were strict. I took it well, but some others didn’t. It was hard for a lot of the kids there.”

Bethany mixed the fun with some productivity, earning a high school diploma by the time she was 16 and enrolling in a community college satellite program from San Antonio. When she was 18 and firmly in control of her own life as a legal adult, her father reached out to her, asking her to come home to Bayside, Texas, near Corpus Christi. She did.

“Because I have younger brothers and sisters, I decided to return home,” she explains.

She stayed the educational course she had charted for herself, however, refusing to give up the vision she had of herself in a cap and gown at college graduation. She transferred to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, but just a week later, Bethany recalls, her father decided he didn’t want her and kicked her out of the house, sending Bethany scrambling for stability.

She went into survival mode again, assessing her resources for achieving her own autonomy. She lived with a friend for a short time and then moved into university housing, refusing to abandon her studies.

“I did have to stop one semester, the first summer session, because of all the moving around,” she says. “It was really hard for me to get registered and get to my classes.”

Having become acquainted with BCFS Health and Human Services during time she spent at another group home, she reached out to BCFS-Corpus Christi for guidance and support. BCFS-Corpus Christi serves youth from the foster care system to help them build their skills and knowledge, strengthen their self-confidence, create healthy community relationships, and help youth learn positive self-guidance.

Bethany enrolled in BCFS-Corpus Christi’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program, a program designed for youth preparing to age out of the foster care system; and the Education and Training Voucher (ETV) program, a state government-funded program that ensures college tuition to an in-state university for youth with experience in foster care. In addition, BCFS-Corpus Christi works closely with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and they helped her seek and find on-campus employment in an afterschool program for schoolchildren.

When Bethany was unexpectedly dismissed by her father, BCFS-Corpus Christi stepped in to offer support.

“The ETV program helped me tremendously,” Bethany says, “especially when I was kicked out and on my own. It helped with student housing, my books, and helped me gain access to a computer for school.”

“When Bethany came into the office,” says BCFS-Corpus Christi PAL Case Manager Noemi Gomez, “she had a goal already set to finish college because she wanted a better life for herself. “She’s incredibly self-motivated, smart, and a hard worker,” Gomez continues. “She knew what she needed and knew that we could help her obtain it.”

According to the American Council on Education, factors like a lack of familial support, frequently changing schools, and the likelihood that youth in foster care are tracked in basic education courses, rather than college preparatory courses, coalesce to make youth in foster care drastically less likely to go to college, much less graduate.[LF1]  The National Foster Youth Institute calculates that across the country, only about half of youth raised in foster care finish high school, and less than three percent graduate from a four-year college.[LF2] 

With the help of BCFS-Corpus Christi, Bethany is using education to propel her toward a successful, independent adulthood. She is on schedule to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Science and Child Psychology, and plans to pursue a graduate degree. Her experiences in the foster care system have resulted in her crafting and sharing an important message for youth in the system.

Bethany Graduating

“I want other kids in CPS (Child Protective Services) to know that there is so much help in BCFS and PAL to help you live on your own, especially with the tuition waiver. Out of all the children that I have lived with – and it was a lot – I am pretty much the only one who went to college. We all had the same opportunities; they just chose not to take it for whatever reason. More kids in CPS should take advantage of the opportunities.

“College seems hard,” she continues. “Everyone that I talked to, they felt like they didn’t fit in there. We really do belong there, and it is possible. It’s definitely worth it.”

After completing her education, Bethany plans to advocate for youth in the foster care system, drawing from her own experiences to found a center where youth in the system can go for support.

“I heard stories from some of the kids I lived with, and they are horrible stories,” she says. “I would like to make a nice residential treatment center that focuses on education and helps build awareness of the resources available.”

Seasoned by her experiences and choosing to seek harmony and balance, Bethany, today, at 21 years old, has learned that forgiveness is paramount to the love and commitment she has always felt for her family. With the help of his employer, her father obtained treatment for his alcohol addiction, remarried, and is raising Bethany’s two younger siblings.

“I actually have a pretty good relationship with my dad, now,” she smiles.

Her mind returns to all the kids she has met in her journey, and how each has their own set of challenges they are managing.

“I got asked the other day if I wanted to talk about my story. I thought it could be a cool opportunity to talk about what happened in my life, and maybe inspire some others in theirs.”

Bethany is in the middle of her first year as a graduate student in business school after earning a bachelor’s degree in applied science with a focus on child development.

“I believe this degree will help me on my path to eventually creating and operating a residential treatment center of my own,” she says. BCFS-Corpus Christi will certainly be checking the mail for the next graduation announcement. Keep up the great work, Bethany!



PAL for Life

One of the ways BCFS Health and Human Services uplifts communities is through the Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program. PAL is a way for youth aging out of the foster care system to build their skills and knowledge, fortify their self-confidence, create healthy community relationships, and ultimately learn self-guidance.

Throughout Texas, BCFS Health and Human Services is active in communities, guiding youth from the foster care system toward a stable adulthood through education, life skills training, and access to supportive and caring adults that can offer life advice and answers that can help a young person see a bright future through a past that, at times, may have seemed hopeless.

The following stories are testimonials from three youth with experience in the foster care system who received services through the PAL program. Each writer tells their story selflessly, in the hope that their experiences and stories might shine a ray of hope upon a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for another.


Writing about myself has always proved to be rather difficult for me. I see myself as both a dreamer and a doer, but I am also a tad bit of a procrastinator. I have overcome an abundance of obstacles these past few years, and, at the same time, accomplished more than I expected.

My upbringing was not ideal, but I managed. I grew up in a household with my four other siblings, my grandmother, and my mother. I was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, so there were numerous doctor appointments. My birth defects posed a huge challenge during elementary school.  There were times I’d get bullied, and I couldn’t do anything besides sit and listen. I might have been young, but I knew people would always have something to say about my appearance. I also struggled in school. I remember crying my eyes out as I did homework, and no one at home provided any assistance.  It wasn’t long before I realized I was on my own.

Alana standing with her family for graduation
Alana Martinez

During middle school, I decided that I had to work hard because I did not want to struggle like my mother. I was already aware that college for me was a must. I was inspired by so many compassionate people in the medical field that I set my mind on being involved in health care. By the time I reached ninth grade, I felt a little more confident with myself. I had joined marching band that summer, and was placed in a selective advanced math course with other peers. I was on top of the world…for a little while.

Over time, the feeling faded. Since my mother was elsewhere, I had to juggle paying house bills, purchasing groceries, setting doctor appointments for my siblings, and running other errands for my family. When my mother did come home, it was utter chaos. Arguments sprouted everywhere! There were too many times when she was physically, verbally, mentally, and emotionally abusive toward my siblings and me, but it all went unnoticed. I began feeling overwhelmed, and decided to quit band. It was time consuming, and I thought it would be better if I turned my attention solely to academics.

I enrolled in dual enrollment courses – courses that earned college credit – in my high school and stayed involved in clubs and other extracurricular activities. I was very stressed, but I could not afford to give up. I needed to do better for myself. I would not settle for less.  Slowly, I began climbing my way up the class ranking.

During my junior year, my life took another turn. My biological mom was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Child Protective Services (CPS) intervened before life at home could get any worse. Two of my younger siblings and I were taken to a shelter in Laredo, Texas, and my little sister stayed in a behavioral institute.

I had lost everything. I was withdrawn from the rigorous classes I had worked so hard to obtain.  The clubs and extracurriculars were gone. My friends were out of reach. Eventually, my siblings left the shelter without me. I remained there for two whole months. Alone.

Like many other individuals in the shelter, I developed a negative perspective about life. It took me by surprise that, early in 2017, I was placed in the Lopez family home where I was welcomed with open arms.  Since that day, they have treated me with utmost respect and kindness. Mr. and Mrs. Lopez always make sure I am doing well. Besides them, my caseworker, Carla F., and attorney, Latoya C., were always there to support me.

When I enrolled at Porter Early College High School, my foster parents encouraged me to continue taking dual enrollment classes and to remain focused. As a senior, I did just that. I even joined clubs such as HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) and BPA (Business Professionals of America) where I advanced and placed in competitive events. Without the support from many individuals, I do not know how I would have graduated with so many achievements. I definitely did not expect to graduate number nine in my class.

I ended my senior year with two certifications in Medical Billing and Coding and Medical Administrative Assistant. I volunteered at VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), which allowed me to give back to my community and impact low-income families positively.

I look forward to attending the University of Texas at
Austin this fall. I will be part of the College of Natural Sciences and major
in biology. I have been accepted to the
University Leadership Network program (which comes with a scholarship), the TIP
Scholars program, and the Freshman Research Initiative Program. I earned a
few other scholarships, and they’ll surely assist me financially. My ultimate
goal is to someday become a prestigious cardiothoracic surgeon. I look forward
to being able to give back to my community and others in foster care someday.

All in all, even though I’m still in foster care, I feel it is for the best. I am in a more stable environment that allows me to exceed even my own expectations. I cannot deny that, while I was with my biological family, I acquired key principles such as being responsible and determination. After all the obstacles and achievements, I feel more mature. I’m excited for the future, and live by Nelson Mandela’s wise words: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” 


I was a lonely child.  My mother gave birth to me in the prison she and my father were held in in Tamaulipas, Mexico. My sweet grandmother, since the day I was born, took care of me as if I were her own child. I grew up in a lovely, humble home with my grandmother and a very close aunt.

Unfortunately, my grandmother started to get sick when I was in my early teens, which led me to move to Texas. It was challenging moving to a new environment and culture. Plus, my grandmother being sick made it more difficult for us. 

At first, my life in Texas was very strenuous because I didn’t speak English. Time passed, and my grandmother got worse, to the point that I wouldn’t go to school so I could take care of her. The weariness and fearful thoughts made me feel exhausted day and night. 

Elvia in graduation gown
Elvia De La Cruz

I started using drugs to calm myself down, but in the long run it only made me feel more ill. I tried to stop using the drugs, but it made everything ten times harder. I had to ask for professional help, which led me to a rehab recovery home for teenagers. After successfully completing my time in rehab, they were investigating to see whether I could go back to my home. Sadly, they found out that my grandmother was not capable of taking care of me anymore, which made them call Child Protective Services as soon as they saw that I had nowhere else to go. 

At the age of sixteen, I was moved to San Juan, Texas, where I lived with my first foster mother. To this day, I am still in foster care, even though I could have gone out of care at the age of 18, I decided to stay for a better life for my grandmother, and for me. 

Entering into the system was uncomfortable at first because you do not know the people you are living with and feel left out. With time, everything got better in many ways. I graduated high school and got a well-paying job. I appreciate all of the organizations that have helped us make our life a little easier. 

BCFS Health and Human Services helped me get a job and be prepared for it. They also helped me open my very first bank account, and make a smooth transition into adulthood.

This is just the beginning for me. I am aiming for success, not giving up, and living to make my grandmother proud.

Andrew Luke

My biological parents were really bad drug addicts and I was born positive for cocaine. When I was two years old, they were so drugged up that my father beat me and tied me in a dark closet. I was found a couple of hours later by my brother, Dionicio, who was about six years old at the time, and he called the authorities.

I was taken by ambulance to the hospital. The doctor told CPS and the authorities that it was a miracle that I even made it to the hospital alive. CPS took me and my older brother (Dionicio) and my little sister (Karissa) out of our home and placed us with relatives.

We were there only for a couple of months until they were not able to care for us. When I turned four, we were adopted by Eliseo and Celia Reyes from a small town named Rio Hondo. I loved them as if they were my own parents. I remember when I got to the home, I ran around the house just laughing and crying tears of joy. I loved that family.

Things were awesome until I turned fourteen. As soon as I hit middle school, I became a victim of bullying. After some time I would not want to even go to school. Then when I did, I would come home and take out the anger on my family. It got so bad that one day the police were called and I went to juvenile lock-up. 

In the detention center, a CPS caseworker came to visit me. I figured it was probably to talk about what happened when I was younger, but I was wrong. The CPS worker told me that when I was to be released, I would be taken into foster care. That night I cried knowing I made the biggest mistake in the world. 

It was also the first time I tried to commit suicide. 

I tried to cut myself with broken glass from the mirror. Luckily, a guard saw me and restrained me and transported me to the medical room to get attention. I was released a week later. 

The very first foster home I went to was the Esquivel Family. We grew close, but then problems started that had nothing to do with me and I had to leave.

I moved from foster home to foster home until I was seventeen, when I landed in a residential treatment center. There, I got my first job and learned about BCFS Health and Human Services. 

One day I was told that I would be moving back to my hometown to live with the Moreno family. I was 18. When I got there, I was welcomed with open arms. Frank Moreno taught me and molded me to the man I am today. He was tough on me, but it was necessary. I helped him with yardwork and a backyard project.  After about a year, though, I made another mistake and decided it was best for me to leave, after I had problems with him. 

I turned 20 on the Fourth of July in a homeless shelter. I am still living in the shelter, but things are different. I needed to be homeless – completely down and out – in order to see my place in the world. 

I’ve been accepted into college and I start in the Fall. It may not sound like it, but right now, I’m successful for two reasons:  One is that I’m still alive. And two is that I haven’t given up – and won’t. There might be people that have nothing going for them, but for me, I know soon I’ll be where I belong. 

To every foster youth out there in the whole world: Even if you feel alone, you are not, and these feelings and hardships will pass. Never give up and you will succeed with your goals in life. To be honest, I may still be staying at a shelter, but I’m in college now and will be working soon. I’m happy and I owe it all to the Lord and people who made a positive impact in my life.

Let’s Talk

Texas Families: Together and Safe

Texas Families: Together and Safe (TFTS) is a program operated by BCFS Health and Human Services that helps families with children ages 3-17 years old in Texas. In TFTS, parents can learn about the importance of stress management and improved communication. Families are also provided connections to community resources.

The following testimonials from different sides of the classroom dynamic ­­­– teacher and student – offer a glimpse into one of the ways BCFS Health and Human Services cultivates our communities by investing time and instruction to the families who live there alongside us.

Calming Influence
By Elizabeth De La Rosa

I have always been a yeller. The more upset I became, the louder I yelled. With three growing boys, I was beginning to realize that this was not working, and I needed to change the way I was approaching situations. I felt like I was losing my oldest son to technology and that if I took the technology away I was being too hard on him. I also felt that if I forced him to spend time with me with me or do things with the family, he would just resent me. I was at a loss. The TFTS Parenting Wisely class helped me see that yelling was only making me more and more angry. It was not solving the situation at all. I was creating a monster!

I began to practice what the program was teaching and just speak to my children more and hold them more accountable for their actions. I valued what they said and took that into account before making rash decisions. I began speaking more with my husband as well. We started to agree on things before we spoke to the kids.

The greatest thing about this is how it changed my relationship with my oldest son (13 years old). I began to speak with him and ask for his input as well. My expectations are the same, but now we discuss them. I let him help make decisions that I can live with. Some, I may not agree with completely, but after hearing his side, I can be okay with them. We’ve had many ups and downs and struggles to get where we are today. I did think many times that he was doing it on purpose just to irritate me, but I stayed firm and kept my composure. That was very hard to do! He truly tested me beyond what I would have ever thought.

After much struggle, I now feel like we have become closer than ever. In a world of technology, I found myself calling or texting him to get his attention, he now asks me to spend time with him! He hugs and kisses me more (not in public, of course). He comes down from upstairs and wants to watch movies with me. He now understands when he has consequences and follows through with them with little resistance. The best part is that I am not yelling nearly as much as I used too. When I do yell (because old habits are very hard to break) I catch myself and keep my composure. The children now let me know that I am yelling and remind me that we agreed we would speak to each other and not yell.

We are a much happier family now. I am no longer worried about my blood pressure. In all reality, I felt like I was losing my son. Now, I no longer carry such a fear. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I feel we are better able to discuss things together and come up with the most suitable way to handle the situation…together.

Thank you for giving me such great tools.

Mindful Parenting
By Patricia Heredia

My name is Patricia Heredia, Parent Education Facilitator with the Texas Families: Together and Safe (TFTS) parenting program. I taught TFTS at El Dorado Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas, where I met Mrs. Cardenas.

Mrs. Cardenas had perfect attendance at the TFTS Parenting Wisely Young Child class. During the first few weeks of class, she was skeptical because she thought it was going to be like all the other classes she had attended where they would lecture her and tell her all the things she was doing wrong. Mrs. Cardenas did not believe the parenting skills mentioned in the parenting book would work.

Halfway through the course, she mentioned that she had practiced the active listening technique and the “I” Statement that we discuss in class. Throughout class, she mentioned that the self-reflection exercise during each class has helped her understand why she made the choices she did. She said that TFTS helped her finally understand that her choices have consequences for her and her children.

“I did not give my kids the chance nor the time to express their feelings, listen, and be mindful,” Mrs. Cardenas says. “I did not put them first when I was supposed to, and now I have hope and pray other people can realize how important it is to be present.” 

At graduation, Mrs. Cardenas was so grateful when talking and expressing her thoughts about her experience in class, the activities provided, and the home practice. She maintains that TFTS helped her understand parenting much better.

“Maybe my story and struggles can help somebody else bond,” she says, “and be mindful of placing their children first. Because of my participation in class, I have been able to keep a close relationship with my children. I will continue practicing the parenting skills.”