PAL for Life

One of the ways BCFS Health and Human Services uplifts communities is through the Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) program. PAL is a way for youth aging out of the foster care system to build their skills and knowledge, fortify their self-confidence, create healthy community relationships, and ultimately learn self-guidance.

Throughout Texas, BCFS Health and Human Services is active in communities, guiding youth from the foster care system toward a stable adulthood through education, life skills training, and access to supportive and caring adults that can offer life advice and answers that can help a young person see a bright future through a past that, at times, may have seemed hopeless.

The following stories are testimonials from three youth with experience in the foster care system who received services through the PAL program. Each writer tells their story selflessly, in the hope that their experiences and stories might shine a ray of hope upon a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for another.


Alana

Writing about myself has always proved to be rather difficult for me. I see myself as both a dreamer and a doer, but I am also a tad bit of a procrastinator. I have overcome an abundance of obstacles these past few years, and, at the same time, accomplished more than I expected.

My upbringing was not ideal, but I managed. I grew up in a household with my four other siblings, my grandmother, and my mother. I was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, so there were numerous doctor appointments. My birth defects posed a huge challenge during elementary school.  There were times I’d get bullied, and I couldn’t do anything besides sit and listen. I might have been young, but I knew people would always have something to say about my appearance. I also struggled in school. I remember crying my eyes out as I did homework, and no one at home provided any assistance.  It wasn’t long before I realized I was on my own.

Alana standing with her family for graduation
Alana Martinez

During middle school, I decided that I had to work hard because I did not want to struggle like my mother. I was already aware that college for me was a must. I was inspired by so many compassionate people in the medical field that I set my mind on being involved in health care. By the time I reached ninth grade, I felt a little more confident with myself. I had joined marching band that summer, and was placed in a selective advanced math course with other peers. I was on top of the world…for a little while.

Over time, the feeling faded. Since my mother was elsewhere, I had to juggle paying house bills, purchasing groceries, setting doctor appointments for my siblings, and running other errands for my family. When my mother did come home, it was utter chaos. Arguments sprouted everywhere! There were too many times when she was physically, verbally, mentally, and emotionally abusive toward my siblings and me, but it all went unnoticed. I began feeling overwhelmed, and decided to quit band. It was time consuming, and I thought it would be better if I turned my attention solely to academics.

I enrolled in dual enrollment courses – courses that earned college credit – in my high school and stayed involved in clubs and other extracurricular activities. I was very stressed, but I could not afford to give up. I needed to do better for myself. I would not settle for less.  Slowly, I began climbing my way up the class ranking.

During my junior year, my life took another turn. My biological mom was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Child Protective Services (CPS) intervened before life at home could get any worse. Two of my younger siblings and I were taken to a shelter in Laredo, Texas, and my little sister stayed in a behavioral institute.

I had lost everything. I was withdrawn from the rigorous classes I had worked so hard to obtain.  The clubs and extracurriculars were gone. My friends were out of reach. Eventually, my siblings left the shelter without me. I remained there for two whole months. Alone.

Like many other individuals in the shelter, I developed a negative perspective about life. It took me by surprise that, early in 2017, I was placed in the Lopez family home where I was welcomed with open arms.  Since that day, they have treated me with utmost respect and kindness. Mr. and Mrs. Lopez always make sure I am doing well. Besides them, my caseworker, Carla F., and attorney, Latoya C., were always there to support me.

When I enrolled at Porter Early College High School, my foster parents encouraged me to continue taking dual enrollment classes and to remain focused. As a senior, I did just that. I even joined clubs such as HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) and BPA (Business Professionals of America) where I advanced and placed in competitive events. Without the support from many individuals, I do not know how I would have graduated with so many achievements. I definitely did not expect to graduate number nine in my class.

I ended my senior year with two certifications in Medical Billing and Coding and Medical Administrative Assistant. I volunteered at VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), which allowed me to give back to my community and impact low-income families positively.

I look forward to attending the University of Texas at
Austin this fall. I will be part of the College of Natural Sciences and major
in biology. I have been accepted to the
University Leadership Network program (which comes with a scholarship), the TIP
Scholars program, and the Freshman Research Initiative Program. I earned a
few other scholarships, and they’ll surely assist me financially. My ultimate
goal is to someday become a prestigious cardiothoracic surgeon. I look forward
to being able to give back to my community and others in foster care someday.

All in all, even though I’m still in foster care, I feel it is for the best. I am in a more stable environment that allows me to exceed even my own expectations. I cannot deny that, while I was with my biological family, I acquired key principles such as being responsible and determination. After all the obstacles and achievements, I feel more mature. I’m excited for the future, and live by Nelson Mandela’s wise words: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” 


Elvia

I was a lonely child.  My mother gave birth to me in the prison she and my father were held in in Tamaulipas, Mexico. My sweet grandmother, since the day I was born, took care of me as if I were her own child. I grew up in a lovely, humble home with my grandmother and a very close aunt.

Unfortunately, my grandmother started to get sick when I was in my early teens, which led me to move to Texas. It was challenging moving to a new environment and culture. Plus, my grandmother being sick made it more difficult for us. 

At first, my life in Texas was very strenuous because I didn’t speak English. Time passed, and my grandmother got worse, to the point that I wouldn’t go to school so I could take care of her. The weariness and fearful thoughts made me feel exhausted day and night. 

Elvia in graduation gown
Elvia De La Cruz

I started using drugs to calm myself down, but in the long run it only made me feel more ill. I tried to stop using the drugs, but it made everything ten times harder. I had to ask for professional help, which led me to a rehab recovery home for teenagers. After successfully completing my time in rehab, they were investigating to see whether I could go back to my home. Sadly, they found out that my grandmother was not capable of taking care of me anymore, which made them call Child Protective Services as soon as they saw that I had nowhere else to go. 

At the age of sixteen, I was moved to San Juan, Texas, where I lived with my first foster mother. To this day, I am still in foster care, even though I could have gone out of care at the age of 18, I decided to stay for a better life for my grandmother, and for me. 

Entering into the system was uncomfortable at first because you do not know the people you are living with and feel left out. With time, everything got better in many ways. I graduated high school and got a well-paying job. I appreciate all of the organizations that have helped us make our life a little easier. 

BCFS Health and Human Services helped me get a job and be prepared for it. They also helped me open my very first bank account, and make a smooth transition into adulthood.

This is just the beginning for me. I am aiming for success, not giving up, and living to make my grandmother proud.


Andrew Luke

My biological parents were really bad drug addicts and I was born positive for cocaine. When I was two years old, they were so drugged up that my father beat me and tied me in a dark closet. I was found a couple of hours later by my brother, Dionicio, who was about six years old at the time, and he called the authorities.

I was taken by ambulance to the hospital. The doctor told CPS and the authorities that it was a miracle that I even made it to the hospital alive. CPS took me and my older brother (Dionicio) and my little sister (Karissa) out of our home and placed us with relatives.

We were there only for a couple of months until they were not able to care for us. When I turned four, we were adopted by Eliseo and Celia Reyes from a small town named Rio Hondo. I loved them as if they were my own parents. I remember when I got to the home, I ran around the house just laughing and crying tears of joy. I loved that family.

Things were awesome until I turned fourteen. As soon as I hit middle school, I became a victim of bullying. After some time I would not want to even go to school. Then when I did, I would come home and take out the anger on my family. It got so bad that one day the police were called and I went to juvenile lock-up. 

In the detention center, a CPS caseworker came to visit me. I figured it was probably to talk about what happened when I was younger, but I was wrong. The CPS worker told me that when I was to be released, I would be taken into foster care. That night I cried knowing I made the biggest mistake in the world. 

It was also the first time I tried to commit suicide. 

I tried to cut myself with broken glass from the mirror. Luckily, a guard saw me and restrained me and transported me to the medical room to get attention. I was released a week later. 

The very first foster home I went to was the Esquivel Family. We grew close, but then problems started that had nothing to do with me and I had to leave.

I moved from foster home to foster home until I was seventeen, when I landed in a residential treatment center. There, I got my first job and learned about BCFS Health and Human Services. 

One day I was told that I would be moving back to my hometown to live with the Moreno family. I was 18. When I got there, I was welcomed with open arms. Frank Moreno taught me and molded me to the man I am today. He was tough on me, but it was necessary. I helped him with yardwork and a backyard project.  After about a year, though, I made another mistake and decided it was best for me to leave, after I had problems with him. 

I turned 20 on the Fourth of July in a homeless shelter. I am still living in the shelter, but things are different. I needed to be homeless – completely down and out – in order to see my place in the world. 

I’ve been accepted into college and I start in the Fall. It may not sound like it, but right now, I’m successful for two reasons:  One is that I’m still alive. And two is that I haven’t given up – and won’t. There might be people that have nothing going for them, but for me, I know soon I’ll be where I belong. 

To every foster youth out there in the whole world: Even if you feel alone, you are not, and these feelings and hardships will pass. Never give up and you will succeed with your goals in life. To be honest, I may still be staying at a shelter, but I’m in college now and will be working soon. I’m happy and I owe it all to the Lord and people who made a positive impact in my life.