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!


 [LF1]https://www.higheredtoday.org/2017/12/11/foster-care-youth-postsecondary-education-long-road-ahead/

 [LF2]https://www.nfyi.org/issues/education/

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.