BCFS System Commits to $25K for PEAKS Camp

For more than 30 years, Texas Network of Youth Services (TNOYS) has hosted PEAKS camp – a therapeutic, experiential camp for youth in foster care. PEAKS is one of TNOYS’ longest-running and most successful programs, where licensed professionals regularly take paid time off to volunteer with and enrich the lives of the youth who attend.

The week-long camp experience helps youth learn important life skills, build resiliency, and enhance their feelings of self-worth, all of which are critical for putting them on a path to a successful adulthood. For most of the youth who attend this program, PEAKS offers the only chance to get a traditional camp experience.

Yet, for all the benefits PEAKS camp has offered over the years, TNOYS learned that this year, due to budget cuts from their traditional funding streams, they would need to raise their own funds if they had a chance at keeping this important program alive.

With a shared interest in the goal PEAKS camp strives every year to meet, the BCFS System is proud to pledge a gift of $25,000 to serve as a catalyst for the donorship that the organization believes can support this unique, critical program.

“We are truly honored to be able to assist TNOYS raise the funds to continue this important program. It is the right thing to do. It changes lives,” says Kevin C. Dinnin, President & CEO of the BCFS System.

Celeste Garcia, Executive Director of BCFS Health and Human Services’ Community Services Division, presented the check on behalf of the BCFS System to Christine Gendron, Executive Director of TNOYS, at the 2018 Judicial Summit on Mental Health in Houston, co-hosted by the Supreme Court of Texas Children’s Commission.

To read more about the good PEAKS camp has done and hopes to continue, click here.

Sixth Annual Project Cinderella

Project Cinderella Helps Youth Achieve Prom Elegance

Project Cinderella invites the Tyler community to support the sixth annual campaign to gather formal wear to help youth in foster care attend the 2018 prom organized by BCFS Health and Human Services-Tyler. Project Cinderella seeks donations of evening gowns, shoes, jewelry, or monetary donations to help with tuxedo rentals or the purchase of shoes and accessories.

Project Cinderella is an annual effort by BCFS-Tyler that helps youth from foster care and those who have experienced abuse or neglect enjoy the tradition of a high school prom. Tyler community partners Brides and Belles and The Men’s Wearhouse are again helping youth in foster care obtain evening gowns, tuxedos, and fashion accessories to ensure youth look their absolute best for prom. To complete the formal looks, Project Cinderella is reaching out to the Tyler community for help. A gift of $25 can provide a tuxedo rental or enable a youth to shop for his or her own accessories or shoes to celebrate prom exquisitely dressed. Gently used ladies’ shoes and jewelry are also on the wish list.

“Project Cinderella and the prom event make a lasting impression on our youth,” explains BCFS Director Carla McCalope. “Many of them have grown up facing very challenging obstacles, so we work to reinforce positive self-image, strong self-confidence, and to let them know that they are loved. The Tyler community has fiercely supported our past prom events, and we hope this year will be no exception.”

BCFS-Tyler provides youth from foster care and those struggling to transition to adulthood with a support system they can count on, and the tools to become self-sufficient, positive contributors to the community. Often, youth in our care have dropped out of high school, but through our services pursue alternative means to education, including charter schools, GED classes, or online coursework. Unfortunately, these labor-intensive endeavors, while rewarding, come without the social opportunities of a traditional high school experience—no basketball games, no homecoming, and certainly no prom.

“Though these youth have grown up in very unique circumstances,” says McCalope, “we work to provide them with some of the same experiences as other youth their age. Prom is a once-in-a-lifetime, coming-of-age tradition and we don’t want them to miss out.”

The Project Cinderella campaign will last from January 2 through February 28 with the goal to raise $5,000 in monetary donations. The luau-themed prom is set for March 3, 2018.

BCFS Health and Human Services helps Tyler youth from the foster care system, as well as other young adults facing homelessness, poverty, and other challenges. The center provides counseling, case management and assistance with education, employment, housing location and medical care.

Make a donation to Project Cinderella. Or, find out more about the special event by visiting DiscoverBCFS.net/ProjectCinderella

Meet Alicia Sauceda

FRIENDS…the family you choose
By Yvonne Paris Rhodes

Photo: Alicia Sauceda with her graduation gown and cap

When Alicia Sauceda was just 13 years old, she was thrust into a world she did not understand and could not control. To protect her from an abusive environment, this young, innocent child was removed from her mother’s care by Child Protective Services (CPS). At the time, neither Alicia nor her mother even knew where her father was – they hadn’t spoken in years after he had abandoned his family. Ultimately, both her mom and dad’s parental rights were terminated by the courts.

Alicia was then placed in a shelter for several months, uncertain of her future, while the state worked to identify an agency that could find a suitable home for her. BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio’s Foster Care and Adoption program stepped in and matched Alicia with a loving foster family nearby.

While she settled into her new foster home, Alicia was referred to Mike Denning, a BCFS therapist, for counseling services. She was a 13-year-old middle school student when they first met. Over the years, Mike served as her guide and mentor.

“She was very angry and depressed in the beginning,” said Mike. “She was in a good foster home where she remained for several years, but was adamant that she did not want to be adopted. Like most kids, she longed to be with her biological parents, but that dream never came to fruition.”

After exhaustive searches by staff with the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), Alicia’s biological father had finally been located. By then, Alicia was in high school. She remained hopeful that she could be adopted by her father, but when that fell through Alicia was understandably devastated.

Through it all, Mike and his counseling sessions were about the only constant in Alicia’s life. Occasionally, he’d talk about cases he’d witnessed in his career where someone overcame seemingly insurmountable heartbreak, to inspire Alicia to realize her own inner-strength.

“Mike would tell me stories of other young people he helped – how they made it through really tough situations,” said Alicia. “I’d think, it’s crazy how young they were when they went through that, and they still made something good of themselves and they still strive for their best.”

In high school, Alicia began to bond with a classmate and friend who offered her a place to stay, and ultimately something she hadn’t experienced for quite some time: a stable, loving family. Her friend’s family took her in and gave her guidance and support, with approval from DFPS. While Alicia thrived in her new home, her school attendance and grades improved drastically, as well.

After overcoming the grief of the failed adoption by her father, she opened up to the idea that she could build a different kind of forever family. In 2016, she was officially adopted – not in the exact way she’d hoped for as a teenager, but nonetheless, one that was significantly better for her wellbeing and future.

“My best friend’s mom formally adopted me! I’ve known her since freshman year of high school. It’s called an ‘adult adoption.’ Mr. Mike encouraged it… because I’ve been back and forth with different families, he thinks this is the right one for me.”

Today, Alicia lives in Atascosa, Texas with her best friend’s family, who she describes as more like a sister – especially now the adoption has been finalized.

“I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing Alicia transform from an angry and depressed adolescent, into a confident and driven young lady, in spite of the abuse she endured and the adverse situation she came from,” said Mike. “She has the continued support of a new family, and she’s finally hopeful and full of optimism. She aged out of the foster care system as a success story!”

Alicia recently graduated from Southwest High School and plans to attend Northwest Vista College in the fall, majoring in criminal justice. Her dream is to become a crime scene investigator, motivated by her love of science, anatomy, physiology and governmental affairs. Thankfully, this busy, working college student will have her best friend/sister by her side at Northwest Vista College when the two girls start school together in the fall.

Back in San Antonio where it all began, BCFS’ Mike Denning is always ready to provide Alicia support, even from afar.

“He is like family to me,” Alicia says of Mike. “He’s my go-to person now. He’s really excited about me going to school.”

Mike (apparently a Jack-of-all-trades) also happens to have worked as a parole and probation officer for 35 years before becoming a therapist with BCFS. With an experienced criminal justice professional as her longtime mentor and obliging study partner, she’s sure to excel in the criminal justice program.

“He’s offered to help me with my school work,” Alicia laughs, “and I’ll take him up on it!”

Young Women in Foster Care Lock In to Prepare for Adulthood

Photo: Tim Thomason

KERRVILLE, TX – Fifteen young women from the foster care system in San Antonio traveled to Kerrville with BCFS Health and Human Services staff to participate in the Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) Lock-In, an interactive event to help youth prepare for life after foster care.

The lock-in, a quarterly event hosted by BCFS Health and Human Services, is a 30-hour intensive version of the six-week PAL curriculum that teaches youth six life skills topics: personal/social relationships, health and safety, job readiness, housing and transportation, financial management, and life decisions and responsibilities. The goal of the lock-in is to help youth in foster care practice their life skills in real world scenarios, according to BCFS Program Director Rachael Fletcher.

“We want the youth to have all the skills they need to live independently, starting the day they are emancipated from foster care,” says Fletcher. “By practicing during lock-ins, they get a glimpse into adulthood – like how they’ll rent their first apartment, how they’ll cook for themselves, and how to make smart decisions and stay focused on their goals.”

Upon arrival Friday afternoon, the young women broke up into three workgroups, kicked off with some icebreaker activities, and each group was assigned a meal to prepare – breakfast, lunch or dinner. They all headed to the grocery store, with budgets in hand, to shop for nutritious ingredients for their assigned meal. After a lively cooking session in the BCFS Hill Country Resource Center kitchen, the young women cleaned up after themselves – another basic, yet important, part of the lesson, says Fletcher.

After the meal-planning session, the lock-in schedule includes lessons on personal finance, job readiness, and serious subjects like sexual health and human trafficking.

Several of BCFS-San Antonio’s community partners joined in to provide presentations to the youth. Ransomed Life and Traffick911 collaborated to lead a presentation on the dangers and warning signs of human trafficking, and Kerrville realtor Tim Thomason taught the young women about the process of renting an apartment (Image of presentation above, courtesy of Tim Thomason).

On the last day of the lock-in, the young women received a binder full of community resources they can access when they age out of foster care. For more information about BCFS Health and Human Services, visit DiscoverBCFS.net or call 210-733-7932.

November is National Adoption Month

Let BCFS Help Your Family Grow!

November is National Adoption Month, an opportunity for families to consider opening their hearts and homes to children in the U.S. foster care system. For prospective adoptive parents, BCFS Human Health Services is here to help navigate the process and celebrate the value of stable, supporting environments for kids.

In the United States, there are 402,378 children in foster care — and 107,000 available for adoption, according to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (2013). For Texans, BCFS provides matching services to connect the right children with loving homes.

“Growing up in a safe, loving home is something every child deserves to experience,” said Sonya Thompson, executive director of residential services for BCFS Health and Human Services. “Whether someone is becoming a parent for the first time or for another time, adding to a family through adoption is one of the most heroic and rewarding things a person can do.”

According to the 2013 National Adoption Attitudes Survey, about 84 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion on foster care adoption, but only 24 percent consider adoption in any form. If just 2 percent of the many millions considering adoption followed through, every child in the foster care system would have a home. Unfortunately, negative misconceptions persist.

Children who enter foster care do so through no fault of their own, often as a result of abuse, neglect or abandonment. Nearly 30 percent of children exit foster care by age 18 without having found a permanent family.

BCFS is honored to act as a liaison on parents’ behalf to facilitate adoption in the San Antonio, Texas region. Contrary to popular belief, foster care and adoption are neither complicated nor costly. The State of Texas provides a streamlined, transparent process that offers financial support to many adoptive families. This includes waived court fees, Medicaid health coverage, free college tuition to public Texas universities, and monthly stipends for those that adopt siblings or older children.

“Many people don’t realize just how easy it is to adopt,” said Thompson. “If your heart is in the right place and you’re capable of making a child part of your family, BCFS can help get the puzzle pieces in order from there.”

If your puzzle is missing a vital piece — one you believe could be filled by an addition to your family — please feel free to email fostercare@BCFS.net or adoption@BCFS.net for more information, and spread the word on adoption’s many benefits to families and children across the nation.

The Whole Community is Needed for Mental Health Recovery

May is “National Mental Health Awareness Month”

Jessica was ten years old when she realized her mother was in danger. Whether across the dinner table, down the hallway, or in her parents’ bedroom, she would watch in stunned silence as her father launched into verbal and, oftentimes, physical attacks on her mom. Then, she’d run into her little brother’s room where she could lock the door and hold her hands over his ears to try to muffle the screams. When the police finally came to arrest her father, she ran again; this time away from the social worker sent to retrieve Jessica and her brother, and place them in a new home.
Traumatic events affect people differently. For children especially, encounters with abuse or neglect can have a profound influence that, if unchecked, can adversely affect their mental health and relationships with others for the rest of their lives. In fact, according to Child Advocates of San Antonio, children in foster care experience mental illness at a rate of almost 30 percent greater than the average population of children. Additionally, youth in foster care are less likely to receive adequate treatment and services to address their mental health issues.
Counselors and caseworkers are not only the triage team, but also part of the recovery. These professionals play a crucial role in going beyond meeting children’s basic needs, delving into complex issues that can range from violent learned behavior, to substance abuse or even severe psychiatric issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.
Trauma-informed care is today’s gold standard for working with youth in foster care. This methodology helps youth identify and articulate how past and present issues are affecting them. A safe environment, trusting rapport and careful listening helps counselors and caseworkers recognize mental illness and take quick action to address feelings that could prevent a youth from achieving success in school or at work, or trauma that could lead a youth to harm themselves.
Of course there’s no magic blueprint for identifying and overcoming mental illness. While counselors and caseworkers are the triage team, the entire community needs to be part of the recovery.
As May marks both “National Foster Care Month” and “National Mental Health Awareness Month,” BCFS Health and Human Services encourages all those in our community to be more attentive and sensitive to children whose misbehavior or strange actions may in fact be outcries from trauma. Connect children and families to organizations where they can get professional mental health support.
Together, we can improve the wellness of our entire community and prevent more innocent children like Jessica from suffering from mental health issues.
# # #

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, Asia and Africa. At BCFS transition centers, local youth in and aging out of foster care and those at risk of homelessness, poverty or other challenges have ”one-stop” access to case management, counseling, mentoring, educational opportunities, employment connections, housing location and legal service – all free of charge. 

Formal programs focus on equipping young adults with “real life” knowledge and skills, such as interviewing for a job, balancing a checkbook, healthy decision making, choosing a career path, teen pregnancy prevention and the consequences of being sexually active. 

BCFS Celebrates “National Foster Care Month”

BCFS Health and Human Services’ Lifts Up Youth in Foster Care

May is “National Foster Care Month”

According to the Center for Public Policy Priorities and Kids Count Data Center, in 2014 there were more than 30,000 children in Texas’ foster care system. The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work’s Child and Family Research Institute has shown that foster youth, statistically, have poor educational outcomes, are less likely to finish high school, go to college or hold stable employment.
As the nation marks May as “National Foster Care Month,” BCFS Health and Human Services works daily to help young adults and youth in foster care grow toward independent adulthood and self-sufficiency.
At BCFS’ transition centers throughout Texas, local youth in and aging out of foster care and those at risk of homelessness, poverty or other challenges have ”one-stop” access to case management, counseling, mentoring, educational opportunities, employment connections, housing location and legal service – all free of charge.
Formal programs focus on equipping young adults with “real life” knowledge and skills, such as interviewing for a job, balancing a checkbook, healthy decision making, choosing a career path, teen pregnancy prevention and the consequences of being sexually active. The organization focuses on offering a support system to youth in foster care that helps them grow into healthy, productive adults.
“These young people are in our community, and some have endured serious tragedies and challenges through no fault of their own,” say center directors. “Our mission is to help youth learn responsibility, seek and find opportunities and, ultimately, create a healthy, loving environment for themselves, their families and our larger community.
“What we offer at the center teaches them that everyone is important, and everyone can make a positive difference.”
BCFS also offers foster care services that connect youth with safe and loving foster homes. Adults who would like information about becoming a foster parent can call (210) 208-5629 or visit DiscoverBCFS.net/FosterCare.
For more information about the BCFS’ transition centers, their programs or how to help, visit DiscoverBCFS.net.

Men’s Breakfast Speaker Hits It Out of the Ballpark!

Jimmy “The Rookie” Morris has lived a life of inspiration; which made him the perfect speakers for BCFS Health and Human Services’ annual Men’s Breakfast hosted in Kerrville.

The sky was dark and the air was crisp in Kerrville. The thoroughfares seemed empty, but the community turned out in a show of early morning support for BCFS Health and Human Services’ Kerrville Men’s Breakfast. The event, which raised funds to help complete the organization’s new Texas Hill Country Resource Center for children, youth and families, featured uplifting words from former Major League Baseball pitcher Jimmy Morris.
Morris was a high school baseball coach who preached to his team to always follow their dreams, and to be undeterred by naysayers.
There are two types of people: those that want to see you fail, and those that want to see you succeed. The people at BCFS want you to succeed,” he said to nearly 200 community and business leaders, supporters and youth as day broke in the Texas Hill Country.
Morris coached baseball at Reagan County High School in the 1990s in Big Lake, Texas, a west-Texas oil drilling community. When his team challenged him to follow his own message of never giving up on your dreams, they made a friendly wager: If his team won district, he would try out for the majors again, reigniting a dream extinguished ten years prior due to injury.
Believing in his own hard work and his grandfather’s encouraging words, Coach Morris gave the big leagues another shot and, at age 35, made his rookie debut as a starting pitcher with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999. While his major league career only lasted a few years due to persistent tendonitis, , Morris became a living testament for having a can-do attitude and following your dreams. His memoir, The Oldest Rookie, led to yet another first – his Hollywood debut – inspiring the 2002 feature film “The Rookie,” starring Dennis Quaid.
Having fulfilled his dream of playing major league baseball, Morris returned to his passion of working with youth and inspiring others to live out their dreams. Thanks to Morris’ support, more than $31,000 was raised for the new BCFS center, which will impact the lives of thousands each year.

Youth in foster care becoming SUPER HEROES

Hosted by BCFS Health and Human Services’ San Antonio Transition Center

Photo: Girl speakingSAN ANTONIO – On Wednesday July 2nd, youth in foster care gathered at the University of Texas at San Antonio for the 15th annual Independence Day youth conference for workshops and informational sessions aimed at preparing them for adulthood and independence when they age out of foster care. The conference, hosted by BCFS’ San Antonio Transition Center, included a college and career fair, four experiential workshops showcasing positions in multiple career fields, and a youth panel of alumni to discuss “Life after Foster Care.”

“For many youth in foster care, aging out of the system can be a scary and uncertain time,” says Terri Hipps, executive director of BCFS’ Community Services Division. “Too often, when they turn 18 years old they’re on their own trying to navigate college, their first job or first apartment without the traditional family support system to lean on. Our annual conference helps equip them for that transition toward independence.”

Approximately 100 youth were in attendance, as well as volunteers and 16 of BCFS’ community partners including UTHSC-UT Health, Metropolitan Health District, and Alamo Community Colleges. The event was sponsored by the University of Texas at San Antonio, Child and Adolescent Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) Mexico Center, and Full Force Foundation.

Many of the workshops focused on inspiring youth to pick a career field and commit to working hard to find a good job. Professionals from the fields of healthcare, public service, arts and science came to discuss educational requirements and healthy expectations about joining the workforce.

“During the ‘Life After Foster Care’ panel, several youth who went through the system and emerged successful, spoke about their struggles learning how to stand on their own two feet after years of bouncing from foster home to foster home,” says Tramelle Jones, BCFS’ Texas Workforce Advocate who helps youth find gainful employment. “It inspired the youth to hear they can take control of their future, stay focused, and work hard to achieve their dreams.”

The theme for this year’s conference was “Become a Super Hero,” because according to Gayle Spencer-Davis, the associate executive director for BCFS’ Community Services Division, the youth need to “learn the super power of flying forward towards a successful future regardless of their past.”

BCFS’ San Antonio Transition Center serves youth in and aging out of foster care, as well as other young adults facing challenges like homelessness, poverty, or those recovering from physical and emotional abuse. The center is a “one-stop-shop” that provides youth counseling, case management, and assistance with education, employment, housing location and medical care.

To learn more about the BCFS San Antonio Transition Center, visit www.DiscoverBCFS.net/SanAntonio.