To Live a Cherished Life

On an unexpectedly stormy spring day in East Texas, 420 ladies — weather notwithstanding — came together for Breckenridge Village of Tyler’s (BVT) 13th Annual Ladies Spring Luncheon. Whether showing their support for a loved one, learning more about the great work BVT provides, or sharing some quality time with friends, the intent was the same; to be a champion for the BVT mission, residents, and families.

Each year for longer than a decade now, the BVT Ladies Spring Luncheon is held to benefit the adults with mild to moderate intellectual and developmental challenges to whom BVT is committed. This year, the event raised more than $55,000 for BVT residents and day program participants. The luncheon’s theme, Cherishing Life’s Moments, vibrated through the entire banquet hall as each table wore intricate, thematic decorations reminiscent of special life moments. Themes included a winter wonderland, a dreamy picnic at the park, and marriage celebrations. Cherishing Life’s Moments is not merely a theme, but a motto lived by the BVT community, from the residents and day program participants to the staff members:  The idea that the moments and memories created at BVT are blessings that should be embraced and treasured as God’s own will.

Table set at the Luncheon

Susan O’Donnell, Program Director for Tyler-area radio station KVNE, 89.5 FM, delivered a heartfelt and inspiring keynote address, evoking just as many belly laughs as tears as she spoke candidly of leaning on her faith through her trials and triumphs as a single mother to two daughters. She encouraged the luncheon audience to remember that God is always present, and to love unconditionally. 

Upon arriving at the campus, Susan was immediately captivated with the welcoming community and lovingly attentive staff.

“In only 20 years, Breckenridge Village of Tyler has become just what is was supposed to be at its inception…a home for adults who have special needs. [A] place that will care for them throughout their life, just as their own parents wanted them cared for.”

“Residents are loved, encouraged. I know it was the dream of Jean and Robert Sr., but I think even they would be surprised to see how much it has grown and how many people have been touched by the work that happens because of Breckenridge Village.”

To date, the annual BVT Ladies Luncheon has raised a total of more than $800,000 for the residents and day program participants at BVT.   

The 13th annual luncheon concluded with an original poem by Linda, a BVT resident for12 years.

Valeria Villaseñor


Cherishing Life’s Moments: A Poem.

Written by: Linda J., BVT Resident

It is important to cherish life’s precious moments.

From the birth of an infant to adulthood

We all must pay heed to the wonderful world around us.

Like the spreading wings of a monarch butterfly

To the flourishing roots and arms of a sycamore tree

Life is a balanced tapestry of colors and light.

Life gives us a rainbow of pleasures.

Each moment is a lesson to treasure.

As we partake of friendships and the many facets of life

Each day is a blessing from God.

To appreciate creation and the beauty all around us

The foamy deep blue sea

The scalloped mountains that point to the heavens

It is important to cherish life and its empowering moments.

Dreams of love and stories of hope and courage

Every person is beyond measure.

So priceless like a gift

God gave us life to uplift others.

To spread harmony and faith

Every moment is a pearl.

Every moment is a breath to be taken.

The pathways we take are filled with delight with our Lord.

As we talk and commune with him

Being grateful for the years we have on this earth

However few or many

We are given time to fellowship with one another.

To appreciate flowers and the seasons

To acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses

To cling to our savior and hold on to his almighty hand

Life gives us moments to cherish.

Let’s make the best of it.

Be happy for who we are and what we have been blessed with.

Peace in our hearts

Let us sing a song and worship our Heavenly Father.

Let us be thankful for our provisions.

Each moment is sacred.

Every wind that blows

Every leaf that falls

Every star that shines like a diamond in the sky

It is important to cherish life’s moments.

Allow yourself to soar like an eagle.

Find yourself floating high above the ground with wings of exultation.

Then you will be filled with joy.

As you dance and be filled with the radiant moments of each day.

You Can Do It With PAL!

At 17 years old, Meydi Pineda is not only gearing up for college, but also juggling – and excelling at – being a mother, wife, caregiver, and role model for other youth growing up in foster care. But it hasn’t been easy.

Meydi is the oldest of four children. Her mom, a single mother, worked full-time, and often tasked Meydi with taking care of her three younger siblings. When one of the younger kids got sick or needed someone to watch over them, it was Meydi who had to stay home from school to take care of them.

Newborn photos of baby Kincaid.
Newborn photo of baby Kincaid.

Child Protective Services became involved in Meydi’s life when she was twelve years old as a result of physical and emotional abuse taking place in the home. Her younger siblings, now aged eleven, six, and two, have remained in the care of Meydi’s mother.

For the three years that followed, Meydi spent time in and out of various foster homes and juvenile centers. At fifteen, she became pregnant… and gained a new perspective on life.

“I decided I wanted to be the parent I never had, for my daughter.”

But how?

Meydi enrolled in the Texas Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program provided by BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio after being referred by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). “Taking [the classes] really helped me gain confidence in myself, and reminded me that I could – and was – thriving after foster care. In the program [I learned] to manage my finances, plus how to maintain good credit and keep up with my bills.”

Meydi also enrolled in an academic credit recovery program to make up for the schooling she missed. At the age of sixteen with an infant at home, she graduated high school. She began working to provide for her family, and then got married. The new family’s plan is for her husband to be the primary earner while Meydi takes care of their two daughters and prepares to start college.

I see a bright future ahead for her because she sets goals for herself and doesn’t let anything get in the way of her ambition.

Baby Pineda

As one of Meydi’s PAL Training Facilitators, I got to work with Meydi for thirty hours spread out over several days of fast-paced life skills training. PAL Training classes bring youth in foster care together to learn and work as a group. Meydi made an impression on me immediately with how quickly she learned and used her knowledge to take on a leadership role within the group. She took the initiative to schedule her classes with me and ensure that she had transportation to each of them, all while taking care of her family. I see a bright future ahead for her because she sets goals for herself and doesn’t let anything get in the way of her ambition. She has become resilient through life’s challenges with an impressive grace, and her positivity and maturity at 17 years old sets an example for other youth in the program.

In college, Meydi plans on majoring in criminal justice. She credits BCFS-San Antonio’s PAL program with preparing her for this next phase of her life.

“Ms. Bailey and Mr. Christopher really made the class informative and easy to understand, while providing a fun, comfortable environment,” she says, “which helped me take in the most out of the classes… I plan on putting everything I learned to good use.”

“It’s rare to see a young person be so proactive and take control of their own future,” says BCFS-San Antonio PAL Training Facilitator Christopher Hansen. “Meydi is only seventeen, but she has worked hard to create an environment in which support and love is constant. We are eager and excited to be a part of her continued success.”

by Bailey Stewart


What is “PAL?”

BCFS Health and Human Services provides the State of Texas’ Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program, which ensures older youth in foster/kinship care are prepared for life on their own after “aging out” of state care. At any given time, there are about 3,500 youth 16 years of age and older in substitute care throughout Texas.

Preparing youth for adulthood is much more than how to balance a checkbook and sign a lease (though those lessons are included, too!). PAL encourages and empowers youth, in turn building their self-esteem and their ability to make responsible decisions. PAL helps youth be prepared to face the challenges of adulthood and independence.

Love, Magnetized

When Mr. and Mrs. Lorena and Patrick Lamza married, they wanted children. They explored several different options for several years, but each try was unsuccessful. After fourteen years of marriage, they decided, together, to open their home to the possibility of foster care and adoption. 

With the help and training of BCFS Health and Human Services Foster Care and Adoption program, the Lamza family dynamic would soon change to include the highly energetic brother-sister duo of three-year-old Jalisa and her two-year-old brother, Enrique (“Kike,” pronounced KEE-keh, for short). BCFS-San Antonio arranged for the siblings, who had been in the care of an elderly aunt before being placed in the foster care system, to meet their new caregivers, who met the children at their day care, along with a BCFS-San Antonio case manager.

The Lamza's

“They came running toward us; they wanted us to pick them up, and when we did, they stuck to us like magnets,” Patrick remembers fondly. That day, the Lamza family doubled in size. From one day to the next, the Lamzas went from going places as a duo to arriving as a foursome, as Jalisa and Kike blended into their welcoming family. Lorena’s eight brothers and four sisters were ecstatic at the news of the two newest family members.

“They loved it,” Lorena smiles. “They always wanted us to have children, so they were very happy for us.”

“We brought them to our family reunion,” says Patrick, “and everyone was happy for us. Surprised, but it was a happy surprise!”

Kike battles shyness as his older sister enthusiastically answers questions about her favorite food.

“Tacos!” she exclaims, adding that her favorite color is blue, and that she will wear a Shine costume (referring to the blue half of the pink-and-blue character duo Shimmer & Shine) for Halloween. She encourages her brother to reveal his costume, lovingly coaxing him toward his Iron Man mask, which he puts on, extending his arm with his palm out, making a whishing sound in his best Iron Man impersonation.

The first-year parents enthusiastically scroll through photos and videos while Lorena remembers the newness that every parent feels the first time they hold their child, and the inevitable thought process that comes with new members of the family.

“At first,” she admits, “we were a little shocked. We used to be able to just pick up and go. I guess when you’re pregnant, you (sort of) know what’s coming…for us, it was one week, and then everything changed.”

Lamzas pumpkin patch

In an example of the ancient proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” extended family members checked in frequently to ensure the two newest Lamzas were acclimating well. BCFS Health and Human Services also provides ongoing support services for adoptive parents, including 24-hour emergency on-call, monthly parent support group meetings with child care provided, and free training opportunities.

With a little help, Lorena says, “once we got a routine going, it got better.”

While Jalisa moved in with a bed, Kike, just two at the time, arrived at the Lamza homestead with a crib. Just a few months later, he would grow his way into a toddler bed.

“He had seen my tools in his room,” Patrick remembers, “and asked ‘you’re gonna convert my bed?’”

When Kike got home from school the next day, Patrick remembers with a smile, “he ran upstairs and ran back down and climbed on the couch and gave me three big kisses!”

“They’re good,” says Lorena of her two children. “They’re very loving.”

As Jalisa and Kike play whimsically together in the den, the Lamzas contemplate the answers to somewhat heavier questions about informing their children of their past when the time is right.

“We have thought about that,” she says, mentioning that the children have three other biological siblings.

“It’s really going to be up to them, if they want to pursue knowing them, and wanting to know, but we haven’t thought about how we would even approach telling them. We probably need advice on that,” she bravely admits as a mom who only wants the best for her children.

In their interactions with their new children, though, the Lamzas are most focused on active and engaging FUN! Since officially becoming Lamzas, Jalisa and Enrique have been invited guests to numerous birthday parties for their new cousins, have toured a nearby pumpkin patch, and have joined in on camping trips and weekends at the beach. The Lamzas have begun noticing the nuance of parenthood.

“Jalisa is very aware of her surroundings and what’s going on,” Lorena says. “Kike is more…he focuses on something, and anything else can happen…Jalisa is more ‘that’s happening here, that’s happening there…’…that’s one of the biggest differences between them that I see.

“But Jalisa is very focused, too. She wants one thing, and she wants it,” Lorena says, “but we are also learning about compromising.”

It’s about making sure that they are taken care of educationally, so that they can one day take care of themselves.

When new and young family members are being integrated into a family, the learning curve for both parents and children will arc gently with love, compassion, and communication, resulting in children raised in a stable and loving home who can grow into stable, loving members of their community.

“It’s important for me that they have a belief that they can trust and love throughout their lives,” Lorena says when asked about her goals as a new parent.

“It’s about making sure that they are taken care of educationally, so that they can one day take care of themselves. As long as they know what they need to do in terms of living a prosperous and healthy life, I think that would be my goal, to set those standards, like my mom set them for us. That would be my ultimate goal for them.”

Patrick adds, “To get them to the point where they’ll be able to take care of themselves when we’re gone. To raise them to the best of our ability and give them the knowledge and skills they need to take care of themselves when we’re no longer here.”

Loving, attentive, and active parents would agree.

By Leonard Favela


For information about BCFS Health and Human Services’ Foster Care and Adoption program, visit DiscoverBCFS.net/FosterCare

The Power of Prayer

It’s common, when called upon to pray, to respond by saying, “Let’s bow our heads and close our eyes,” but in one particular instance, the deacon I had asked to pray inadvertently said, “Let’s bow our eyes and close our heads.” He doesn’t remember saying the reversed phrase, and neither did anyone else, but I have always remembered it as a commentary on how we approach the greatest privilege of our lives. Our minds are so often closed to the power and effectiveness of talking directly to God. Fortunately it is not that way throughout the BCFS System. We believe in prayer.

Dr. Dearing Garner
Dr. Dearing Garner

It is a privilege for me to serve as the Director of Pastoral Care for the BCFS System where one of my tasks is to invoke and encourage prayer. It is not always the first option that comes to mind in a crisis, admittedly even for myself.

Once I was leading a medical mission in the Central African Republic when we depleted our inventory of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Our physicians were fiercely writing prescriptions, trying to keep up with seemingly unending lines of sick and hurting people.

When one of the pharmacy volunteers told me, “No more Tylenol,” I could not believe it and was frustrated that we now had fewer options to treat the hundreds of patients waiting to see an American doctor.

Then, a young team member who was a college student at the time (she has since become a physician) said to me, “We can pray for them.” I thought, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” because, after all, this was our mission.

And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

We immediately started another line for prayer. Friends, let’s not forget the importance of prayer! I am honored to come alongside each of you in this regard to pray with and encourage you, both in your professional capacities at BCFS System locations and programs, and in personal or family situations, as well.

Here is a wonderful verse about prayer with a promise from the Lord: And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13 (King James Version).


Dearing Garner is the Director of Pastoral Care for the BCFS System, providing spiritual guidance and prayer for staff throughout the agency. He can be reached at dgarner@bcfs.net.

Partnership in Progress – Holding Hands, Changing Lives

Caring for more than 130 disabled or terminally ill children, Sarah’s Covenant Homes in Hyderabad, India has spent the past 10 years offering shelter to children no one else was willing to take. Two years ago, when Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) learned about their work, we were immediately inspired by their vision – to transition to a family-based care model and find families for each and every child in their care.

Today, we are proudly assisting Sarah’s Covenant Homes in the process of deinstitutionalization (releasing the residents from the institution to find care in the community) and family reunification, work that most would say is impossible in today’s India. What follows is the context to our partnership, and a story that best explains why this work is so important.


In 2016, CERI started training the Sarah’s Covenant Homes (SCH) team on alternative care for children and family strengthening (ways to safely keep children in their own families). While the topics seem simple and straightforward to someone living in the Western world, in India, children with disabilities are stigmatized, shunned and hidden from the rest of their society. Children with a disability or terminal illness are often placed in orphanages, forgotten about, and left without support or hope in life. Grim but true.   

When SCH started their activity in India 10 years ago with the statement, “Children deserve families,” they were faced with a stark reality and a tough question: What to do if the families don’t want them? What to do if communities in India do not accept them?

The stigma and shame associated with children who have disabilities was the biggest stumbling stone SCH faced in implementing their vision. When CERI started a partnership with SCH, we helped them look at families in a different light. We re-conceptualized the reason behind the lack of acceptance of these children by their families and communities. Maybe it wasn’t that they did not want their children, but that they were simply overwhelmed and incapable or unable to care for them. Do we remove the child from the family, or remove the problems from the family? We chose the latter. 

CERI trained SCH with a logical framework, designed to look at a family’s five fundamental needs – living conditions, family and social relationships, education, physical and mental health, and household economy – and support those areas through case management, preparing the family to care for their children with disabilities. SCH became one of the first organizations  in India to reintegrate children with disabilities in their biological families.

  Reintegration Potential
  Total Children Not eligible Low Med High
Home 1 15 4 8 1 2
Home 2 24 3 15 1 5
Home 3 24 3 12 2 7
Home 4 17 0 15 0 2
Total 80 (100%) 10 (12.5%) 50 (62.5%) 4 (5%) 16 (20%)

Our investment in the SCH team grew. In early 2018, we conducted an ample case review of the 80 children housed in SCH’s four small-group homes, evaluating their connectedness with their family, and helping them identify the cases that qualified for family reunification. Roughly 20% of SCH’s residents scored high in the possibility for immediate family reunification, while 5% scored medium in their family reintegration potential. However, 75% of SCH cases needed long-term family intervention before they could be reunited with their family.    


Soumya’s Story

Here is a perfect illustration for how family reintegration worked for little Soumya, a six-year-old girl born blind with very little light perception.

Soumya’s mother died when she was only four, leaving her father depressed and in despair, feeling incapable of caring for Soumya and Anusha, her seven-year-old sister. Soumya’s father transported goods for a living and was often gone from home all day. He felt that the children would not be properly supervised if he were to keep them, so he sent Anusha to the village to live with her grandmother, and placed Soumya into an orphanage.

Soumya

The conditions Soumya faced at the government-run orphanage were indescribable, but luckily SCH found Soumya and took her into their care. When Soumya arrived at SCH from the orphanage, she was very weak. Although she was four years old at the time, she was so malnourished that she was not yet able to walk. At SCH, Soumya began progressing in many ways. She quickly gained weight and strength, and began walking. She learned English and is now bilingual, speaking English and Telugu. Soumya is learning to read braille, sounding out small words, and mastering many pre-literacy skills for her age.  

CERI worked with SCH’s social workers and Soumya’s father to draft a clear family reunification plan. The father was eager to learn more about the next steps in family reunification and accept the responsibility to do his part. As he is getting ready to remarry, CERI and SCH have been providing counselling for him and his new wife, helping them create the best home environment for Soumya and Anusha to live in. The father is also looking forward to building a sustainable local transportation business and enrolling both children in a school where Soumya’s needs will be fully met. The team at Sarah’s Covenant Homes commented: 


Pictured are SCH case managers, Soumya’s father, and Ian Anand Forber Pratt (CERI Global Director of Advocacy)
Pictured are SCH case managers, Soumya’s father, and Ian Anand Forber Pratt (CERI Global Director of Advocacy)

We have been trying for 1 ½ years to reintegrate Soumya with her father. He loves her and after all our attempts we had lost hope. With the tools that CERI has offered, we know we can get Soumya back home in a safe, supportive and loving way

A Story of Redemption

Family reunification works for parents just as well as it works for children. The story of one couple who abandoned their two children (days old and two years old) at the hospital to run towards the train tracks and commit suicide moved us to tears. Luckily, the couple was unable to fulfill their plan, and today we are able to share their story.

On that fateful day, the couple (who suffer from HIV and Tuberculosis) felt hopeless. While they loved their two children, they felt unable to give them the life they deserved. It was a tragedy, as they didn’t see a reason to live without their children, but felt that their children’s lives would be much better if their parents were no more.

Pictured are SCH's two case managers and the couple going through counseling.
Pictured are SCH’s two case managers and the couple going through counseling.

After a failed suicide attempt and several months in a hospital, the couple began to recover physically and mentally. The father gained employment and the mother gained hope. Thanks to SCH who cared for their children and had the capability to reintegrate the children with their family, this couple is now actively working toward family reunification. Both mother and father are ready to fulfill their new plan and bring their children home.

The mother commented, “We finally have hope. We are both orphans, but thanks to our case managers, we know we are not alone.”

CERI’s partnership with SCH has been rewarding beyond measure as it has allowed us to witness how two families and four children have been reunited in a wonderful way. This is just the beginning. Our goal is to continue expanding SCH’s capacity for case management and community-based services so that more children will be able to find their forever homes and be raised in families. CERI also aims to educate and train more residential institutions to do the same thing – grasp the importance of family, commit to deinstitutionalization, and build partnerships that will keep families and children together for generations to come.

Written by: Ian Anand Forber Pratt

All in This Together


One of the most important ways CERI positively influences the lives of youth across the globe is through  sponsporships provided by generous CERI sponsors.  In developing countries, a CERI sponsorship grants a child access to CERI’s Foster Care  and Transitional Care programs, enabling them to fully participate and benefit from all the services and relief brought to them by CERI staff, foster families, and local and international Christian mentors.

Child sponsorships encourage the development of a healthy, positive, and lasting interpersonal relationship between the sponsor and child. Such a relationship, supplemented by the social services offered by CERI staff, has the capacity to empower a child and help him/her  develop into a resilient young adult.

The following is a testimonial from a Moldovan youth who credits a CERI sponsor with altering the direction of his life, reaffirming that we are all connected, and that love, acceptance, and friendship  can change lives.


A Letter from Eugeniu Vasilachi

Hi! My name is Eugeniu and I would like to tell you about my life. I am young, and while I consider myself a regular guy, I believe my life story could change the way you think about your own life, and maybe help you think about what you might do with it in the greater cause of helping others.

I was born in Chisinau, Moldova, into a family where my mom fulfilled the responsibilities of both a mother and a father! I had a very difficult childhood. When I was only two years old, my mother took me to a child care institution where I would spend five days and nights a week, from Monday morning to Friday evening. On Fridays, my mom would pick me up and take me home. Well, not actually a real “home,” because it was actually “anywhere” – anywhere we found a place to sleep, with a roof to protect against rain or snow, we called “home.” This is what my life looked like until I turned seven, and my mother, after listening to the advice of some, decided to take me to an orphanage.

Eugeniu posing infront of his home


I don’t remember my first year at the orphanage, but I do remember the first summer. At the end of the school year, all the children from the orphanage (there were about 700 of us) were taken to a summer camp outside the city. That summer, I learned about a new nation and met a new group of people – Americans.

A group of Americans was volunteering at our camp, mentoring, and running the Vacation Bible School program. One day I met two sisters – Rebekah and Jessica Beasley – two of the most special and most loving people I have ever met. They became my friends, and that summer, we spent an unforgettable time playing and talking about our lives. At the end of the summer, Rebekah and Jessica gave me some news that would, though I didn’t know it at the time, have an overwhelmingly positive effect on my life; they decided to become my CERI sponsors.

I felt like I had a family. I knew somebody was there for me, to love me, and support me.

After that memorable summer, Rebekah and Jessica, together with their parents and friends, came to our orphanage’s summer camp every year to visit with me and the other children. The best week of the summer was the week when they were there. I felt like I had a family. I knew somebody was there for me, to love me, and support me.

During the school year, I wrote the Beasley sisters letters that CERI staff translated and passed on to them. The summer of 2008 was the last summer I saw them, for that year, Rebekah married a strong and wonderful young man and they started a family. You may be asking how I know this, and it’s because the Beasleys kept sending me correspondence: emails and letters and pictures from every single special event they had! As they considered me part of their family, they always kept me in the loop!

In the spring of 2012, I went to technical college in Moldova. While I was pursuing my Physical Education degree at the (Ion Creangă) Pedagogical College, I enrolled in CERI-Moldova’s Transitional Care program where I learned life skills, got involved in volunteering in the community, and gradually worked toward my own independence. All through this, the Beasleys were my sponsors. Four years later, I had earned my P.E. diploma and applied for a scholarship program at a university in neighboring Romania, where I am now a student in the Physical Education and Mountain Sports Department. In the summer of 2018, with the help of an Erasmus Exchange Program scholarship, I spent a semester studying in Spain.   

Shortly after I moved to Romania to pursue my Bachelor’s degree, I graduated from CERI’s Transitional Care Program, but I still kept in touch with the Beasleys via email and social media. When I learned that Rebekah was coming back to Moldova to serve and bless other children in need of a family, I could not believe I would be seeing her after 10 years! I was so excited about seeing her again and meeting her husband! Through nerves and overwhelming emotion, I purchased a flight back to Moldova to see Rebekah. I was unsure if we would be able to connect and relate to each other like we had before, but all my fears vanished the moment I saw her. I will never forget our strong and powerful hug that day. I was so happy to see her, and I was so glad to meet Michael, a strong and heartfelt man. Though it had been ten years, we picked right back up where we left off and spent the next several hours talking and crying.   

 Eugeniu and his sponsors, the Beasleys
Eugeniu and his sponsors, the Beasleys

This is my story. With CERI’s help and the Beasleys’ sponsorship, not only have I achieved independence, but I have found a path to an education that can help further my plans and life goals. My message to my brothers and sisters in America is that Moldova is a small and impoverished country that needs you. The children without a family in Moldova need your support. CERI sponsorships work. A child’s life can change for the better from the investment into a child sponsorship. I encourage you to learn more about the great work CERI is doing in Moldova, and in other parts of the world where children’s lives are at stake. Your sponsorship could transform a life forever.

Eugeniu Vasilachi

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