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/

Benefit Hunt Indicates Growth, New Activities for Youth

 

In only its second year, the BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene’s Big Country Children’s Benefit Hunt brought an increased turnout, with this year’s event hosting seven boys and two girls. The hunt provides youth from foster care an experience that ties them to the culture, tradition, and community in which they live.

“Here in Abilene, deer hunting is a bragging right,” said Alana Jeter, Regional Director of North Texas for BCFS Health and Human Services-Abilene. “We try to give youth some of the opportunities they might have if they weren’t in foster care” said Alana, who attended Saturday’s hunt as part of the Community Services Division leadership who made the day and its events possible.

Every young adult who attended the hunt went through a selection process that required a thorough and thoughtful assessment from foster parents and the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS). The selected youth were given Hunter Education Certification in the weeks before the event, which gave the participants safety training and a hunting license.

Bright and early on Saturday, October 27, nine youth ages 15-18 ventured out into the 10,000-acre lease provided by Double Barrel Outfitters. Each of the young hunters was accompanied by a hunting guide who stayed with them throughout the day, providing supervision, assistance, and direction when needed. Will Meiron, BCFS Program Director at BCFS-Abilene served as one such guide.

Will remembers when the Children’s Benefit Hunt was merely an idea, and can appreciate what it has grown to become. “Finding the hunting guides – that was easy,” said Will, “but finding people to actually back the event was difficult.”

Kevin C. Dinnin, President and CEO of the BCFS System, had the infrastructure to make the event possible. “Kevin provided medics, insurance, and an ambulance,” said Will “He said, whatever you need, we can make it happen.”

Throughout the day’s hunt, BCFS-Abilene staff, local law enforcement, emergency medical technicians, and the sheriff’s department all encouraged a stellar experience by serving as a friend and support to the youth who attended. Taylor County even provided one of their own ambulances at the site for the day.

The Big Country Children’s Benefit Hunt has not only provided something special to youth in the Abilene area, but has also helped other individuals and agencies understand the benefits of activities meant to give youth from foster care a unique yet unifying experience. Two similar outdoor events have been planned based on the example set by the Big Country Children’s Benefit Hunt.

“I really hope that this is an opportunity for some of these kids to feel like a kid again,” said Will, explaining that the youth BCFS serves deserve a chance to break from the definition and stigma foster care can bring. “One boy got made fun of at school because his family didn’t have enough money to hunt, but last year he brought home three deer. He got to go back to school and tell his friends that he put meat in the freezer; that he got to feed his family and provide for them.”

Alana said, “I know [the youth] have an appreciation for all the people who came out and volunteered their time Saturday to spend all day with them. So often these kids don’t have anyone in their corner. The support itself is so important.”

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BCFS HHS-Abilene thanks this year’s sponsors :

Platinum

  • Double Barrel Outfitters
  • Stephens Wild Game Processing
  • Walmart #535
  • Cabela’s

Gold

  • Lawrence Hall Abilene
  • Karon Bingaman Hall and Harley Hall
  • Chris and Leonard Glasgow
  • Abilene Police Officers’ Association
  • Taylor County Child Welfare Board
  • Fire and Ice Heating and Cooling
  • Hall & Associates Service Group LLC

Silver

  • Your Ideas Inc.
  • Sorensen Photography
  • Trophy Case Taxidermy

 

To learn more about the services BCFS provides to youth in foster care, click here.

PAL and Friends Gather for Spooktacular Event

 

BCFS Health and Human Services’ Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) held a Halloween party for its service population and friends. The party was held at the BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio Transition Center, where more than 70 attendants came together.

The event featured a diverse group that represented the support groups surrounding the people PAL serves. Kimberley Rodriguez, Regional Director of BCFS HHS Community Services Division (CSD) for Central Texas, said that although the PAL program works specifically with young adults in their late teens and early 20s, expanding the guest list allowed the siblings, children, friends, and relatives of those in the PAL program to participate and get involved.

A booth was set up by BCFS Health and Human Services-San Antonio’s Resiliency Through Healing, where PAL party guests could learn about the counseling and support services available for young adults. The night’s activities included a pumpkin decorating contest, a mystery game, and two raffle-prize drawings. Dinner and snacks were available for all who attended.

CSD plans to continue curating engaging events that attract attendance while providing services they can showcase in the midst of all the fun.

 

Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
Pumpkin decorating contest finalists
The usually easy-going BCFS staff came dressed as their most serious selves.
A face painter was on site to give everyone the look they wanted
This young pumpkin decorator shows off her latest creation
A mystery game keeps people guessing

 

To discover more about the Preparation for Adult Living program, click here.