by Marilu Reyna
Javier Castillo’s silver, octagon-shaped medallion around his neck reads simply, “Love One Another.” As Jesus’ most important instruction, the phrase is Javier’s mantra and a reminder that, despite a hardscrabble past that began at a young age, it is important to lead with love.
When Javier was four years old, his mother lost custody of him and his siblings, never to be reunited. Since, Javier now estimates he was moved more than twenty-five times. That means twenty-five foster families, twenty-five schools, and at least twenty-five goodbyes.
“At first, the state made an effort to keep me and my siblings together,” Javier says today at 21 years old, “but as we got older, it became more and more of a challenge.”
For a variety of reasons introduced to their realities at young ages, the siblings have not been afforded the growth of their relationships into adulthood. Instead, a sibling will reach out, “maybe once a year,” Javier says. In addition to the four brothers and one sister from whom he was eventually separated, he has learned that, in total, he knows of 15 siblings that share his lineage.
Javier spent his childhood shuttling between foster family placements; an introverted child injected into a variety of home and school environments. He admits to having felt alone among classmates, retreating into himself, and presenting as shy and not talkative.
“I had no friends, no close relationships,” he remembers, fondly recalling two elementary school classmates, Chrystal and Mia, who reached out to him for friendship, a drastically different encounter from the series of departures from people he had already experienced by the age of 10.
“I remember they talked to me and played with me,” he says. “They showed me kindness. I remember being amazed that someone wanted to get to know me; that someone wanted to be my friend.”
A lot of formation can happen for a person in a decade, and as Javier managed his way toward young adulthood, he was accepted into the Hill Country Youth Ranch, a residential treatment center and emergency shelter licensed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to provide therapeutic and compassionate care for abused and orphaned children. At the Ranch, Javier finally had the chance to begin unpacking the feelings resulting from a nomadic childhood absent of any of those he considered his family.
“I was broken down and built up there,” Javier says of his time at the Ranch, a period he describes as experiencing “constant love,” a love that he says helped him begin a relationship with Jesus Christ.
As he aged out of the Ranch—and the foster care system—he learned of BCFS Health and Human Services-Kerrville’s Our House, a transitional housing program that provides affordable housing for young adults up to the age of 25 that also offers residents case management, counseling, life skills training, and employment and education services.
According to the National Youth in Transition Database, Data Snapshot: Texas, 27 percent of Texas’ youth formerly in foster care experience homelessness within three years of having aged out of the system. Consequentially, this population lives at an increased risk for drug and alcohol abuse and becoming ensnared in human trafficking.
“Young adults who age out of the foster care system are at a heightened risk of homelessness,” says BCFS-Kerrville Program Director Dennis Ferguson. “Our House was created specifically to nurture this population toward a stable, independent adulthood and help them become contributing members of society.”
At Our House, Javier gained not only a safe place to live, but learned life skills integral to stable independence like personal finance, accountability, and job search tips. Paired with the clinical work residents complete with qualified case managers and counselors, Our House helped Javier become better prepared for his own autonomy.
“At Our House, a person learns to go to people when they need help,” Javier says. “I was able to speak with a therapist about personal things, and I found work as a dog-sitter, a job that helped me feel less isolated.
“It’s hard for me to explain,” he continues about how Our House helped set his success in motion, “but without Dennis (Ferguson) and Shane (Williams, BCFS-Kerrville Case Manager), I would not have gotten this far.”
“This far,” for Javier, a native Texan, is Kansas City, Missouri, where, today, he is completing the Fire in the Night Internship with the International House of Prayer University, an organization that equips and enables Christ’s followers to serve the poor and minister His Word. Fire in the Night interns help complete the mission of ‘round-the-clock prayer, occupying the campus prayer room from midnight to 6 a.m.
Javier marks the beginning of his relationship with Christ as the point in time when he began to appreciate the personal history that has formed the young man he sees in the mirror every day.
“I would not change any of the experiences I have had, good or bad,” he answers when asked about changing anything from the past. “I have stopped looking at what the past did to me. I am old enough now to know right from wrong, and I know that my future is in my own hands.
“I want to be someone like who Chrystal and Mia were to me so many years ago in elementary school,” he gently clutches the silver pendant around his neck.
“I want to show others love and kindness.”
While at Our House, Javier completed coursework toward an undergraduate degree in biology. He plans to continue his education with the goal of attending veterinary school.