An Anniversary Worth Celebrating

Jimmy Breckenridge
Jimmy Breckenridge

The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes an anniversary as “the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event.” This year, Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT) celebrates its 20th anniversary, commemorating an event that occurred on April 4, 1998, in the piney woods of East Texas, when BVT’s doors opened and the future brightened for a special group of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). 

The story, though, did not begin that sunny, spring day two decades ago. It began years earlier in the hearts of Jean and Robert Breckenridge. The Breckenridges had two sons – Robert Jr. and Jimmy – each as precious as the other. When they first envisioned what BVT might become, they thought of Jimmy, who was nine years old at the time, living with Down syndrome. Not only did they want to provide a safe and loving home for their son, they envisioned creating a community for other adults like him.

In 1972, Robert and Jean purchased 78 acres near their Tyler, Texas, home, raw land that would become the distinctively safe, loving, faith-based community for individuals who could never fully provide for themselves. This home would be the answer for parents, like themselves, who confront the question, “Who will care for my child when I am gone?”

Then, without warning, within six months, Jean lost both Robert Sr. and her son, Robert Jr. Alone, overwhelmed, and grieving, Jean wondered how she would make the family’s dream a reality without the help of her husband and her eldest son, Jimmy’s only other sibling. With no other living relatives, urgency accompanied the gut-wrenching question that haunted her day and night: “What about Jimmy – who will care for him when I am no longer here?”

A courageous heart and deep-seated commitment drove Jean to approach Dr. David Dykes, her pastor at Green Acres Baptist Church, about the feasibility of building a home for those with IDD. At an East Texas meeting of pastors, Dr. Dykes met BCFS System President and CEO Kevin C. Dinnin, who happened to be travelling through the region. Kevin was returning to Texas after assessing sites around the country to research and create a facility that met the needs of individuals living with IDD. It seemed a moment of divine irony that the two men might meet and that their goals could be achieved in a single endeavor.    

Pastor Dykes took Kevin to Mrs. Breckenridge’s house, where she shared with him her vision, and conveyed her sense of urgency to Kevin.

Kevin describes meeting Jean as fate.

“I would love to say I was just in the right place at the right time, but it was more than that,” Kevin says. “At that time, the BCFS System had no experience with building or managing a facility like Jean described, but her story truly moved me. I believe it was a miracle that Pastor Dykes led me to her.”

With a willingness to give all she had to make her dream come true, Jean donated the 78-acre lush parcel of East Texas real estate as the site for Breckenridge Village. With Kevin’s leadership and the partnership of the Texas Baptist Men (TBM) Retiree Builders, construction of the Village began in the fall of 1997. The TBM and their supportive wives, with RVs and construction machinery in tow, converged on the property with the mission of “Building for the Glory of God.”

“It was truly a sight to see,” Kevin recalls. “It was a big deal, like when you were kids and the fair would come to town. The TBM volunteers arrived by the dozens and set up an enormous tent as their headquarters. There were RVs surrounding the site, along with picnic tables and impressive cooking facilities where meals were prepared. It was monumental; inspirational.”

Sounds of hammers, saws, and drills interrupted by shouts of conversation and laughter filled the air as dirt moved and concrete slabs became the solid foundation for buildings and homes. In less than seven months, the construction of six beautiful homes, a vocational building, and an administrative building transformed the East Texas landscape from a grassy field to a beautiful community.

On April 4, 1998 which also happened to be Jimmy’s 35th birthday, the official Grand Opening of Breckenridge Village of Tyler celebrated a day Jean Breckenridge had dreamed of, prayed for, and helped make a reality. When 24 individuals with IDD moved into the newly constructed homes just days later, BVT officially began its enterprise of service.

Since its opening, the BVT campus has expanded to include more buildings and property improvements. In April 2000, the beautiful 7,684 square ft.  Robert M. Rogers Memorial Chapel was built. This chapel, featuring a stunning 25 ft. cathedral ceiling with a cupola of natural light windows, includes a boardroom, two classrooms, a kitchen, and a state of the art exercise room. However, the focal point of this picturesque building is the 20 ft. cross, donated by Jean Breckenridge for the chapel’s dedication. Since then, over 300 unique and exquisite crosses have been added and now fill the walls of this amazing worship center. These crosses provide inspiration to all who enter and to the residents as they gather to begin their day in praise and worship.

Today, the Village features a medical clinic which allows nursing staff to provide quality medical support and supervision to those who reside at BVT or attend its programs; a handicapped-accessible swimming pool, donated by the late Dr. Ernest & Nita James; the Steve & Cheryl Plybon Pavilion, the center of campus recreational activities; and a beautifully stocked fishing pond. 

But this breathtaking, state-of-the-art campus is more than just brick and mortar. It is about a dream. It is about the people who live there, the staff who care so lovingly, and the individuals from the community who visit the campus on a daily basis. BVT is about Jimmy, Julie and Linda H., whose parents are no longer living, but who now have a family and a home at BVT with friends and staff who love, support, and encourage them to be all that God intends them to be.

It’s about Alex, Clay, and Deborah, who have the opportunity to live self-sufficiently away from their families and grow into their own independence. It is about Tanner, Michele, and Alison, who come from all over the East Texas area each day to participate in the host of daily programs offered at the Village, and who hope to one day call BVT their home. BVT is about Jill and Dayne, whose parents, after prayerfully searching all across the nation, uprooted their families from New Jersey and Tennessee to move to East Texas, so their child could participate in BVT’s day programs while waiting for permanent placement at the Village.

Over the past 20 years, BVT has taught us that one truly is “more blessed to give than to receive.” As such, the Village has become a source of formidable volunteer effort for the Tyler community.

Five days a week, vans and buses are filled with BVT residents and other volunteers passionate about helping their community. Whether delivering meals to the homebound with Meals on Wheels, packaging food for the needy at the East Texas Food Bank, sorting donated clothing at Cornerstone Assistance Network, or assembling the bulletins for their local church, BVT residents enthusiastically serve those around them.

Their volunteer efforts also reach an international scale of service when, each year, BVT residents hand knit more than 300 brightly-hued, toasty winter caps to send to orphaned children in Moldova, one of Eastern Europe’s poorest countries. Their service is given every year in partnership with Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), an international interest of the BCFS System. 

Under the care of dedicated and committed staff, BVT residents are encouraged and challenged daily in their personal growth through elective opportunities, life skills training, active treatment, exercise, and field trips. Each semester and summer presents new chances to choose and participate in classes such as art, hand bells, sports, culinary arts, choir, candle-making, and horticulture, just to name a few.

Life skills and active treatment are ongoing training opportunities that encourage personal growth and independence of BVT residents. Staff lovingly guide and gently direct the development of social and coping skills, household responsibilities, community safety, health and hygiene skills, and much more.

Health and exercise are vital components to daily living at BVT. Whether exercising on equipment especially designed for their needs, working out in “sittercise,” or walking with others in the popular BVT Walking Club, residents are encouraged toward a healthy lifestyle. The hard work of physical fitness and the choices for healthy meals pays off during the teamwork and comradery of Special Olympic activities that take place throughout the year.

BVT residents participate in a host of wonderful, memory-making opportunities as they attend local community engagements as well as fun-filled field trips beyond the Village. Outings to the theater, symphony, and various museums enrich their lives through the arts. Whether attending the magical “A Night to Shine” (prom for adults with special needs), traveling to Arlington to cheer for their Texas Rangers, enjoying the sights and sounds of the East Texas State Fair, or reveling in beautiful, seasonal music at various Christmas programs, BVT enjoys exciting occasions every year.

For its residents, BVT provides the security of a loving home with caregivers who respect their individuality and encourage their independence. Each resident has their own bedroom to personalize and customize to their liking. A large kitchen, open dining room, and spacious living room create a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Here, residents can interact with their housemates and share their day while playing games, putting puzzles together, or enjoying television. Housemates Brien, Jonathan, and Bubba are often seen taking an afternoon ride on their bikes around the campus. Residents enjoy a meaningful life at the Village, filled with enriching activities.

While BVT has impacted the lives of many, the need for service is constantly growing. BVT continues to grow with that need in the hopes that the many individuals with IDD who desire the quality of life that BVT can provide receive all that they need and more. Each new or potential member of the Breckenridge community deserves the same opportunities of home, love, security, and friendship that BVT offers.

It is notable and worthy of celebration that for twenty years Breckenridge Village of Tyler has offered what many places cannot: a Christ-centered community providing “hope, love, and home” for adults with IDD. It is a special place where residents are making true, lifelong friends, often for the very first time in their lives. BVT continues to offer parents and guardians of those with special needs peace of mind and the answer to the same question that the Breckenridges asked themselves more than twenty years ago: “Who will care for my child when I am gone?”

Thank you, Jean and Robert, for sharing your dream and allowing us to carry it on. May you rest peacefully knowing that your vision for a loving, safe, and nurturing place for Jimmy and his many friends is manifest daily at BVT.

Happy 20th Anniversary Breckenridge Village of Tyler! It truly is an anniversary worth celebrating.

Featured in the 2018 annual BCFS together magazine. To read more stories like this one, click here for our magazine archive.

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Inhale Confidence. Exhale Doubt.

Youth from foster care in BCFS-McAllen’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program joined youth from a variety of boot camp programs to hear Aida Rodriguez’s hopeful message.

On January 15, 2018, BCFS Health and Human Services-McAllen held the inspiring “Inhale Confidence. Exhale Doubt.” event at the Amador R. Rodriguez Juvenile Boot Camp and Educational Center in San Benito, Texas. The event’s theme—“You Set the Stage for Your Own Success”—was reinforced for the 56 youth in attendance with a keynote address from nationally renowned comedian, actress, writer, and activist Aida Rodriguez.

Youth from foster care in BCFS-McAllen’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program joined youth from a variety of boot camp programs to hear Rodriguez’s hopeful message. Her talk resonated with her audience as she spoke about overcoming the stigma of being labeled “bad kids,” and how their futures are based upon the decisions they make each day. Afterward, she visited with each youth to listen and talk with them about their own stories.

Aida Rodriguez is best known for her top 10 finish on NBC’s eighth season of Last Comic Standing. She has toured the United States as both actor and comedian, has a growing list of acting credits, released her 2017 comedy album, I’ll Say It for You, and hosts her weekly Truth Serum podcast, where she presents each episode as a platform to support up-and-coming entertainers and the issues of the entertainment industry. 

As a keepsake, youth at the event were gifted personal journals with uplifting, motivational quotes on which they could reflect and write their thoughts and feelings from the inspiring day.

The event culminated with an emotionally powerful balloon release where youth were asked to write with a marker on a helium balloon the one thing they wanted to let go of in their life and then release it to the sky as a symbolic gesture of letting go!

BCFS-San Antonio PAL Program Receives Royal Treatment

Ms. Black Texas Supports BCFS-San Antonio’s PAL Program

BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio will get some royal treatment when Ms. Black San Antonio Chaunice Holley is crowned Ms. Black Texas on February 25, 2018, at the Walking Resiliently Fashion Show and Coronation at the Carver Community Cultural Center on San Antonio’s historic east side.

Chaunice volunteers with BCFS-San Antonio’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program for youth from the foster care system. When pageant organizers asked her which organization she would like to help through her philanthropic efforts as Ms. Black Texas, she identified BCFS-San Antonio after seeing how the outstanding work that BCFS-San Antonio performs helps prepare youth for a stable, well-rounded adulthood. Proceeds from the ticket sales to the February 25 coronation will benefit BCFS-San Antonio, where Chaunice will speak to those in attendance and invite them to donate to BCFS-San Antonio’s PAL program. Youth from PAL will participate in the fashion show portion of the event, modeling formalwear and casual attire.

Chaunice is a licensed vocational nurse instructor pursuing a nursing degree at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is the eldest of six children and served in the United States Air Force as a cardiac and labor & delivery nurse. She was raised by a single mother in what Chaunice describes as “an addicted home,” experiencing poverty, homelessness, and struggle; some of the same challenges through which youth in foster care work to overcome.

“My plan of action is to partner with BCFS Health and Human Services…to create programs and policy to generate awareness through educating the community and the power of the media.” – Chaunice Holley, Ms. Black Texas 2018.

BCFS partners with Del Rio schools on teen dating violence

BCFS partners with Del Rio schools to instruct youth on healthy relationships and teen dating violence prevention

DEL RIO — The statistics are staggering. One in four high school girls have been victims of date rape, or physical or sexual abuse. Only 33% of teens who were in an abusive relationship ever told anyone about the abuse. Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious ramifications by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.
Domestic violence outreach coordinators and child abuse prevention specialists from BCFS’ Del Rio Family Services Center visited local middle schools, high schools and alternative schools this month to educate students on dating violence and unhealthy relationships. BCFS met with approximately 980 students between 6th and 12th grade to lead discussions on the warning signs of abuse, and what to do if you’re in an unhealthy relationship.
BCFS leads community education and outreach events every month aimed at ending cycles of abuse in Del Rio for good. The organization amped up its outreach the past several weeks in honor of February as national Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.
BCFS encourages parents, other trusted adults and friends to look for the warning signs that a teen might be experiencing dating violence. Suspicious bruising, failing grades, and a disinterest in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed are all cause for concern. Signs that a teen may be at risk for carrying out dating violence include issues with anger management, insulting or mean-spirited comments toward their partner, and threatening physical harm if there is talk about a break up.
BCFS Health and Human Services operates programs throughout Del Rio to serve those in need, including free counseling and crisis intervention through the Services To At Risk Youth (STAR) program, and domestic violence treatment and prevention through the Del Rio Domestic Violence (DRDV) program.
DRDV provides safety, support and resources to victims of domestic violence through legal assistance, referrals to access community resources, emergency medical care, and safety planning. Last year, the program helped over 100 adults and children through face-to-face services to stop the cycle of abuse, including violence intervention and safety planning.
“Our main goal is fostering safe and loving environments,” says BCFS Senior Program Director Raquel Frausto Rodriguez. “When someone affected by abuse looks to us for help, we use resources, counseling and education to try to help them see that violence is never the answer, and that there are more effective ways to handle problems.”
BCFS’ STAR program aims to reduce family conflict and prevent delinquent behaviors, runaways, truancy and child abuse by helping youths and their families learn to resolve crises and develop coping and parenting skills. Services include free counseling in a home or office setting, crisis intervention, training for parents and youth, and emergency residential placements.
BCFS’ Domestic Violence Hotline is available round-the-clock at (830) 768-2755.
For more information about BCFS’ Family Services Center in Del Rio, including help for someone in an abusive relationship, visit DiscoverBCFS.net/DomesticViolence or call (830) 768-2755.
*Statistics provided by Love Is Respect, Break the Cycle, and the National Dating Abuse Helpline.
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BCFS is a global system of health and human service non-profit organizations with locations and programs throughout the United States as well as Eastern Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa. The organization is a national leader in medical sheltering and emergency management and response, providing critical emergency support services to federal, state and local governments. BCFS also provides residential services and emergency shelters for children who are abused or neglected, assisted living services and vocational training for adults with intellectual disabilities, mental health services for children and families, foster care and adoption services, medical services, transitional living services for at-risk youth and those in the juvenile justice system, residential camping and retreats for children and families, and international humanitarian aid for children living in impoverished conditions in developing countries.