by Steven Campbell
No one wants it, but at some point in our lives we experience it. Tragedy can shape our destination and often force us down new and uncharted roads. It challenges us. Tragedy can also define us – our character, our integrity, our purpose.
Understanding the “object or end to be attained” is often the difficult part. For many, finding our purpose takes time. Sometimes through the work of our own, or through the help and support of others, we just might find our purpose, and from our purpose our ultimate goal.
As C.S. Lewis once said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destination.” And when the dust settles and we reach that destination, that’s when we find hope.
I remember my mother saying that the only thing we can expect with confidence is that we all live, die and pay taxes. While my mother was a wise woman, my faith in humanity extends beyond taxes. I have seen the good in humanity too many times before not to have hope; I have seen circumstances only explainable through the grace and mercy of God our Father too many times. It’s through hope that we endure. It’s through hope that we persevere and overcome in the face of adversity. And it is through hope that we come together, embrace one another, lift each other up, and sustain our fellow brothers and sisters – all because of one simple yet profound commonality: hope.
The experience of tragedy, the seeking of purpose and the peace of hope were all uniting principles for two Texas families, where a dark, stricken path would eventually lead to a beautiful destination these families could never have imagined.
Tammy Kidd came into the world in 1975. Healthy and happy with a full head of hair and a lively personality, Tammy was born and raised in the small town of Brownsboro, Texas. She was blessed with a family who loved and adored her. Yet for all the blessings she had been given, tragedy struck her family unexpectedly one frightful Sunday afternoon in 1978. She, her parents and two siblings were traveling in their family vehicle when it suddenly hit another head on, leaving nothing but a pile of tangled metal remaining.
The accident took the lives of Tammy’s mother and her stepfather. Her two siblings were left badly injured but alive, and Tammy suffered a traumatic brain injury that would completely alter her destiny. All three of the children stayed in full-body casts for months after the accident, slowly recovering; their future uncertain.
At only three years old with a full life ahead of her, Tammy had significant disabilities that now required consideration. She would be forever unable to fully care for herself after the accident. The “normal” life that she had ahead of her had been crushed in a matter of moments that fateful day.
Graciously, Tammy’s grandparents provided a loving and caring home for her and her siblings following the accident. Tammy’s new caretakers were already older than the average parent when they took her into their care as a toddler, and as the years went by, they slowly grew more frail until they were finally unable to provide the care she would need for the rest of her life.
In 2004, Tammy lost her grandmother, Patsy Kidd, to multiple myeloma cancer. Patsy had been the closest thing to a mother Tammy had known for 26 years. When Patsy passed, Tammy didn’t only lose her grandmother; she lost a parent too. Tammy remained in the care of her grandfather, who grieved with her in the wake of losing Patsy.
Four years after Patsy’s passing, Tammy was placed on an interest list at Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT). Tammy’s grandfather and extended family hoped that she might one day receive fulltime residential services there. However, the list was long, and because BVT’s population rarely changes and resident turnover is rare, Tammy and her family realized this dream may have to wait. Nonetheless, they had hope.
In 2015, Tammy’s grandfather was placed in an assisted living facility when his battle with Alzheimer’s disease grew worse. With the loss of direct care, love and support that Tammy had received from her grandparents over so many years, first from her grandmother and then 11 years later with her grandfather, Tammy’s life was changing fast.
Graciously, Tammy’s aunt and uncle, Anita and Sam Pollard, stepped in to provide all they could for Tammy. Yet even with everything that Anita and Sam could offer her, there were limits to how Tammy could prosper in an environment with limited outlets to fully exercise her independence or connect to peers. Soon after she moved in with her aunt and uncle, however, Tammy began participating in BVT’s day program activities.
After Tammy began engaging with BVT’s community, attending day program Monday through Friday week after week, Anita noticed that something was different. The friendships Tammy was making now were the kinds of relationships she had never had the opportunity to form at any other point in her life. Anita no longer saw a young woman burdened by the loss of so many loved ones in her life, but rather someone who was reminded daily of her purpose and her value.
As time went on, Tammy started asking Anita and Sam nearly every day if they thought that she might be able to move to BVT as a permanent resident. While they admitted that they were not sure if Tammy would ever call BVT a full-time home, they always prayed in faith that it would be so; they always had hope.
Across the state from Tammy, another family’s story had been developing in Amarillo, Texas. In 1976, Michele Youree unexpectedly developed spinal meningitis as a baby, causing chronic neurological deficiencies that would forever alter her life. Thankfully, Michele was part of a family that embraced her for who she was, loved and accepted her, and gave her opportunities. Michele grew up with the support of her mother for years, passing from childhood to adolescence and into her own as an adult. Michele was 37 when, one dreadful winter afternoon, her mother became terribly ill. As a diabetic, Michele’s mother had experienced medical complications all her life, but this time was different; she had been sick before, but not like this. Michele’s mother passed away in Amarillo in February of 2013.
With no father or siblings to look after her, Michele’s future became a critical focus of her extended family. Bari Walker was one of four other sisters of Sara, Michele’s mother. Bari and her husband lived in Tyler, Texas. The other sisters of Sara, also in Texas, lived in three of the most populous cities in the state. After Sara passed away, Bari and her sisters, as well as their brother in Seattle, stayed in constant communication searching for a home where Michele would be most content – a place where she could develop new friendships, experience abundant life and learn skills to help her achieve personal goals on her own terms.
While the sisters discussed what was next, Michele was graciously taken in by her grandmother, Lola Binzegger. However, at 88 years of age, Lola was in a phase of life far from ideal to be the caretaker of her granddaughter. Bari and the rest of the Binzegger family knew that Michele needed to be somewhere more permanent and stable, where she could continue to mature with the attention and freedoms she deserved.
Bari and her husband, Geoff, discovered BVT in 2013. After a thorough review of the facility, and following discussion with the family, they agreed that BVT could be an incredible opportunity for Michele, and an answer to the prayers of the family who found themselves with few options. Even after the Binzegger sisters researched similar residences in their own cities, none compared to BVT.
“I went out to look at BVT for the first time. I remember driving up to the gate and I thought, ‘Wow, it looks good. I just hope it is good,’” Bari said. Her doubts about BVT quickly faded with every new connection made and every small detail unveiled while on the campus. In discussions with staff and residents, it became evident what a special place this could be for Michele.
Once the family established BVT as a place Michele could spend her future, they discovered – just as Tammy and her family had – that the wait time for full residential services at BVT was a process that required patience and an understanding that the day when Michele could call BVT home may never come.
While the family waited in faith, Michele moved to Tyler to live with Bari and Geoff, where she was able to attend the day program at BVT.
Bari and Geoff knew that their home might be where Michele spent the rest of her life rather than having a chance to stay at BVT. Still, there was one thing that Bari, Geoff and the Binzegger family never did: give up hope.
“I went out to look at BVT for the first time. I remember driving up to the gate and I thought, ‘Wow, it looks good. I just hope it is good,’” Bari said.
It was more than 20 years ago, in 1997, when the first brick was laid at a new residential facility for adults with disabilities in East Texas. Spurred by the dream of Jean Breckenridge and made real with the help of Kevin Dinnin, president and CEO of the BCFS System, a loving and long-lasting home was built for 24 individuals with mild to moderate intellectual and developmental disabilities. The residence was named Breckenridge Village of Tyler, in honor of the family that was the heart of its foundation.
For years after its construction, BVT maintained its original size, which came as both a benefit and a limitation. While similar facilities were focused on efficiency and quantity, BVT’s greatest asset was the quality of its care and the diligence of its staff. This is what set them apart. Still, with some extra acreage to spare, BVT recognized that they could grow without sacrificing what made them so special.
In 2015, a campaign for expansion began at the direction of longtime Tyler community leader and devoted friend and supporter of BVT, Pierre de Wet. Less than four years later, new homes were completed and capacity for residents at BVT increased by nearly 50 percent. This meant that the residential needs of those on BVT’s interest list could finally be met, a list that both Tammy and Michele had been on for a combined 17 years.
In the spring of 2019, the hope of these two families was finally realized. They had been longing for this day – a day in which Michele and Tammy could finally call BVT their home – and at last, they had reached their destination.
Two uncommon stories came to a similar end. In both cases, a girl from a loving family experienced a series of tragedies, sought for her purpose, and eventually embraced the faith that one day there would be redemption to the trials and heartache that came with so many losses.
While tragedy struck in the lives of these families, neither gave up hope. Hope is what sustained them, hope is what saw them through and, ultimately, hope won. While the pain and heartache of losing family members will never diminish, Tammy and Michele realize they are part of another family: the Breckenridge family. It is a family much like their own, in which they know they are loved, accepted and valued.
“Even though Tammy’s moved in to BVT, she calls me twice a day to tell me about everything that’s happened,” said Anita Pollard, Tammy’s aunt and caretaker for 11 years alongside her husband, Sam. “Whether that’s helping volunteer with Meals on Wheels or Jesus Closet, or going to sports events, she has friends now like she never was able to have when she lived with mom and dad.”
“Michele was timid when she first started coming to Breckenridge, but with some time she’s become much more adventurous” said Bari Walker, Michele’s aunt and caretaker for six years along with husband, Geoff. “It’s been kind of amazing to see the transformation. Living at BVT was well worth the wait and she couldn’t be happier there. It’s been so great for her and for our family as well.”
Michele and Tammy will tell you: they know where they have come from. They know and understand the power of love, and living at BVT will never separate them from or compete with the love their biological family has for them. Still, Tammy and Michele recognize that they now enjoy a new life, one in which they can be around friends of their own, experience new opportunities and explore their God-given potential through the possibilities offered at BVT.
For Tammy and Michele, tragedy came unexpected, but hope reigned victorious. For that diligent faith that they and their families held onto, their lives are forever changed.