Youth from Foster Care Gather at the State Capitol

San Antonio, Corpus Christi and McAllen youth converge on State Capitol

Photo: BCFS Youth

Aproximately 20 youth and staff from several BCFS Health and Human Services sites joined more than 300 youth from Texas’ foster care system at the State Capitol for Youth In Action Capitol Day. At each of Texas’ biannual legislative sessions, Texas Network of Youth Services’ (TNOYS) organizes the trip for youth to show their support for bills pertinent to the foster care system and the struggles of former foster youth.

Youth from BCFS Health and Human Services have participated in Youth In Action Capitol Day during every Texas legislative session since 2005. TNOYS provided youth an overview of the timely issues that impact youth in foster care during Youth in Action Capitol Day, among them the need for high-quality, trauma-informed foster care services, and added support services for youth as they transition to adulthood. The young men and women who traveled to the capitol were awarded a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into the mechanics of the democratic process.

“Youth in Action Capitol Day gives our youth an opportunity to learn about the legislative process and policymaking,” says Deyanira Garcia, Program Director for BCFS-McAllen’s Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program and Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). “It’s at the state capitol where all the decisions that affect all Texans are made, and it’s a chance for them to have their voices heard by the people that make those decisions.”

Garcia and BCFS-McAllen PAL Coordinator Melissa Gonzalez accompanied four youth from BCFS Health and Human Services-McAllen to Austin for Youth In Action Capitol Day.

“These four youth were selected to participate in the event because they have shown great strides in school and work,” explained Garcia. “They took it very seriously and were excited to share their thoughts about their foster care experience.”

In preparation, the youth from BCFS-McAllen made posters displaying heartfelt quotes about their personal challenges faced in the foster care system. The posters were displayed at the Youth Voice Matters Rally on the steps of the Capitol, a powerful show of strength of the young men and women’s collective voice. One such poster held high at the event read: “Every child has a right to normalcy, happiness, and a prosperous future. It’s our job to weaken those oppositions that they face,” signed simply, “Hugo,” a young man served by BCFS-McAllen.

“The youth also worked on a brochure for the event’s Visual Showcase that highlights the need for a transitional center in the Rio Grande Valley, Medicaid concerns and the scope of schools covered by the tuition waiver program,” Garcia said.

Youth in foster care are eligible to receive a state-supported tuition waiver if they choose to attend college or vocational school.

Youth from BCFS Health and Human Services locations in McAllen, Corpus Christi and San Antonio attended Youth in Action Capitol Day. Each of these locations serves youth in foster care, those who have aged out of foster care, and those struggling with poverty, homelessness or an unstable home life. Youth rely on the centers for case management, life skills workshops, and help with education, employment and housing location. BCFS Health and Human Services operates six youth centers across Texas, as well as other locations in Del Rio and Harlingen that serve at-risk families.

Celeste Garcia Named Executive Director – Community Services Division

Photo: Celeste Garcia

BCFS Health and Human Services has named Celeste Garcia as Executive Director of its Community Services Division. In this role, Garcia will oversee BCFS’ community-based operations, which offer services in every Texas county ranging from case management and counseling, to life skills trainings, parenting classes, college and vocational tuition vouchers for youth in foster care, shelter for young adults struggling with homelessness, and more. Garcia will assume this role on November 1.

Garcia currently serves as Associate Executive Director of BCFS’ Residential Services Division where she oversees foster care, adoption, post release and home study programs, with annual budgets totaling $16.5 million. Garcia also serves as a key liaison between BCFS and its government partners at the federal, state and local level, ensuring compliance, quality assurance, and positive program outcomes for the children, youth and families served.

Under Garcia’s leadership, BCFS’ regional offices across the country continually receive high rankings from federal partners and third party advocacy groups that laud the organization for consistently delivering critical services for children and families in need with exceptional speed, scalability, and quality.

“Celeste is a dynamic leader who invigorates her team and delivers top notch programming,” said Asennet Segura, BCFS Chief Operating Officer. “I know she will not only strengthen our current programs, but also be key in leveraging BCFS locations in other states across the nation to expand our agency’s reach to more children and families in need.”

When she served as National Program Director of BCFS’ Post Release and Home Study Services, Garcia spearheaded the opening of regional offices strategically located around the nation to serve children and families reunited after a separation that sometimes spanned years. Garcia has worked closely with the U.S. departments of Justice, Homeland Security and key international diplomats to ensure BCFS’ operations filled gaps for unmet needs, and exceeded contract requirements.

“Throughout her tenure at BCFS, Celeste has maintained a laser focus on a singular, critical mission: ensuring the best quality placements and environments for children and youth in our care,” said Kevin Dinnin, BCFS President.

Garcia has 14 years of experience advocating for children and families. She earned her Masters of Science in Social Administration at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

BCFS Health and Human Services’ Community Services Division operates centers across Texas that serve youth from the foster care system, teens struggling with homelessness, poverty or a history of abuse, youth in the juvenile justice system, and families. At BCFS centers, youth receive case management, counseling, and assistance with education, employment and housing. Parent support groups and parenting education programs educate families on how to improve communication, resolve conflict, and create a stable, safe home environment for their families.

BCFS Names Victoria Perez Director of Community Based Services – Corpus Christi

BCFS Health and Human Services has named Victoria Perez as Director of Community Based Services – Corpus Christi. In this role, Perez will oversee all programs administered through the organization’s Corpus Christi Transition Center, which provides resources and services for youth in and aging out of foster care and others who need assistance transitioning into “life on their own,” as well as families.
Perez joins BCFS with more than 20 years of managerial experience in the health and human services field. Throughout her career, Perez has served in several roles, overseeing and delivering important services to those in need, while also meeting and exceeding rigorous regulatory and professional standards.
Perez has been recognized by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for her contributions in the care of offenders with medical or mental impairments, and by Texas Christian University for her work in HIV research. She holds a master’s degree in Counseling and Guidance from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and is working toward a doctorate degree in Educational Psychology.
“Victoria is a compassionate and dedicated leader who knows what ‘right’ looks like,” said Ben Delgado, BCFS Executive Vice President – Community and International Operations. “Her energy and expertise are going to be key assets as we look to not only strengthen, but expand our services and partnerships in Corpus Christi.”
BCFS’ Corpus Christi Transition Center provides resources and services to youth between the ages of 14-26, with the aim of growing their skills and knowledge, strengthening self-confidence, creating healthy community relationships and learning positive self-guidance. Most of the youth served by the center have spent time in the foster care or juvenile justice system, or have battled issues like homelessness, substance abuse or truancy.
The center also offers parent education programs that show families how to resolve conflict and improve communication; improve children’s behavioral problems; as well as deal with complicated issues like strong emotions, aggression, alcohol and violence. Parents who participate in the program may receive other valuable services including free childcare, transportation assistance, and help receiving essentials like food, baby items and clothing.