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.

“No limits” for Texas youth in the Colorado Rockies

BCFS organizes retreat for youth from foster care system:“The Leader in YOU: No Limits”

Youth leadership retreat participants in a team building excersice

NATHROP, CO – After being removed from their biological parents due to abuse, neglect or other family difficulties, youth in the foster care system often spend years – sometimes an entire lifetime – wrestling to overcome their experiences. Statistically, youth in foster care are less likely to graduate college, and are more likely to experience teen pregnancies, unemployment and generational cycles of poverty.

But, when 34 Texas youth primarily from foster care gathered around a Colorado campfire this summer, roasting s’mores, stargazing, and challenging themselves in leadership-building sessions, it was their unique skills and abilities that were front and center, not their limitations. The goal was simple but profound at the camp entitled “The Leader in YOU: No Limits” – inspire the youth to seek and find the strong leader inside them all.

BCFS Health and Human Services organized and fully underwrote a weeklong camp at BCFS’ Silver Cliff Ranch in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, gathering 32 youth from the Texas foster care system and several youth that overcame difficult family histories.

“Many of them had never been out of the state, much less in the mountains of Colorado,” says Stacy Lee, BCFS Program Director of Youth Services. “They were empowered being out of their element. I saw a definite rise in their self-confidence in just one week.”

A convoy of buses picked up youth from BCFS centers across Texas, traveling to McAllen, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Abilene, and Lubbock before finally heading into the Colorado Rocky Mountains loaded with teens and youth, plus staff from BCFS and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

“At the beginning of the camp, we asked the youth to name leaders. We got names like Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Oprah,” said Lee. “By the end of camp, they understood there are different types of leaders, like a quiet leader or a supportive leader. They realized they could be leaders too, and it’s not just for popular, powerful or out-of-reach people.”

The 34 youth were selected from thousands BCFS serves monthly across Texas as a reward for maintaining high grades in school, successfully completing life skills courses, and staying focused on their goals under the guidance of their BCFS case manager.

Campers scurried into the woods and across the campsite on a leadership scavenger hunt, gathering items symbolizing the core values of a leader: communication, confidence, a positive attitude, inspiration, creativity and being a team player.

Between candid and emotional group discussions, the campers played team games, hiked in the woods surrounding their log cabins, and completed a ropes course which one young camper called his favorite camp activity because it gave him “a chance to help everybody.”

“Interacting with the other campers was my favorite part,” said the teen. “I learned that nothing is impossible. There’s always something you can do.”

Former Major League baseball pitcher Jimmy “The Rookie” Morris, whose story inspired the Disney movie “The Rookie,” led exercises that helped the youth recognize their individual leadership style. Morris distributed awards to the campers, who were eager to snap photos with the ex-pro and get autographed baseballs. Morris serves as BCFS’ Motivational Specialist for children, youth and families throughout the BCFS system of health and human service nonprofits.

“Jimmy asked some of the staff to get in front of everyone and share their personal trials and triumphs to show the youth that everyone goes through hard times,” says Director of BCFS Community Based Services Miriam Attra.

On the last day of camp, the youth were encouraged to show off their hidden talents in a talent show. Attra says she witnessed several young men and women who were initially shy transform into enthusiastic particpants.

“One of our youth opted to share the testimony of her life,” says Attra. “She said the whole camp experience allowed her to open up for the first time, and now she feels more comfortable bringing her guard down and trusting people more.”

“This trip helped me look at things from a different perspective, like the way I think of myself,” said another teen camper. “My teammates and my leaders were very encouraging and they pushed me to do things that I never thought I could do.”

Another young woman says her camp experience inspired her to share what she learned with her peers back home: “I did things that were out of my comfort zone . . . things that I thought I couldn’t do. I hope to one day help other people grow the way I grew.”

BCFS Health and Human Services operates centers across Texas providing case management, counseling, and education and employment assistance to youth in foster care and other youth struggling with poverty, abuse, homelessness or an unstable home life. For more information about BCFS Health and Human Services, visit DiscoverBCFS.net.


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. 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; early education; transitional living services for youth who are at-risk 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.