Archive for the ‘Foster Care’ Category


BeREAL Austin: Awarded $35,000 Wheat Ridge GrantsPlus Grant





Wheat Ridge Ministries recently selected BeREAL [Ready Educated Accomplished Leaders] Austin, a Supervised Independent Living program of Lutheran Social Services of the South, to receive a $35,000 grant to “assist inspired leaders who are serving others and sharing health and hope around the world.” Wheat Ridge’s GrantsPlus Program supports new and innovative health and human care programs led by congregations and nonprofit organizations affiliated with the Lutheran community. Grants range from $5,000 to $50,000 over two to three years.

Imagine turning 18 and being ejected from your home with no family, few resources and nowhere to turn.  That’s exactly the case for 1,328 young adults in Texas aging out of foster care every year. They often find themselves homeless and lacking the education, job and life skills required to embrace careers and adulthood to the best of their abilities. BeREAL Austin helps foster youth successfully transition to self-sufficiency and independence by providing Supervised Independent Living as they age out of care. LSS’ BeREAL program, in coordination with the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), was first established in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2009.

Wheat Ridge’s grant will help subsidize housing costs for foster youth, along with providing direct assistance for food, clothing, transportation and furniture and household supplies. In addition, life skills development, case management and mentoring are important components of BeREAL Austin and require ongoing financial support.

“Study after study shows that teens aging out of the foster care system are among the most at-risk adults in our society,” said Sarah Crocker, Transitional Services Program Director of BeREAL Austin.

“We are so grateful for the Grantsplus Grant and support of Wheat Ridge Ministries to carry out BeREAL’s mission.”

Learn more about BeREAL Austin. You can also contact Sarah Crocker for more information: 512.704.5326; [email protected].

Bereal WR_LogoAbout Wheat Ridge Ministries:

Wheat Ridge Ministries is a nonprofit organization that helps health and human care initiatives get off the ground by providing the initial funding and support they need to thrive. Wheat Ridge has a special interest in nurturing new health and human care ministries developed by local congregations and new faith-based organizations and initiatives.


Update on LSS Border Programs & Initiatives

ORR kidsELCA’S ASSISTANCE FOR UNACCOMPANIED MINORS  [parts of this story are excerpted from]

Background on LSS ORR programs:

LSS has provided emergency shelter for hundreds of unaccompanied children in South Texas since 2006, at Bokenkamp Emergency Shelter in Corpus Christi and our foster care program in El Paso. These children are termed “unaccompanied” because they cross the border without parents or legal guardians, although the majority do have family in the U.S. and are coming to join them. These minors are escaping situations in their own countries that include civil wars, extreme poverty, and pervasive gang violence.

Rather than being deported like children from Mexico—who cross in the same numbers and for similar reasons—Central American minors are turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which holds them in designated facilities and provides them with services while locating and investigating the whereabouts of their family members.

This past spring and summer, the news of unprecedented numbers of children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala crossing the U.S. border was reported as a “surge” and a “crisis” and indeed, the demand for our services was urgent and pressing. In response, LSS’ ORR resettlement programs expanded dramatically to include New Hope Emergency Shelter in McAllen and ORR foster care in Corpus Christi.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) provided nearly $400,000 in humanitarian assistance to help support ELCA partners serving these thousands of unaccompanied children. The funds were disbursed through LSS, Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).  ELCA funds supported LSS’ expansion, providing the first-year salary and expenses for a local project manager, administrative overhead and program management.

Is the “surge” over?

While the crisis of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border has faded from the news in recent months, the thousands of kids who came across the border still need food and housing. The immigration courts remain backlogged. The crisis isn’t over, but it’s a different one than policymakers originally imagined. The focus has shifted from border security and stopping the flow of unaccompanied minors, to helping the ones who are already here.

Rev. Michael Stadie, program director for the ELCA’s Lutheran Disaster Response U.S., explains it like this: “Although the number of children coming to this country has decreased, they are still coming. Our grants to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Lutheran Social Services of the South will help address the unmet needs of the children who are not covered by the government, as well as help encourage congregations and individuals to also address these needs.”

ELCA funds will also help provide for planning among Lutheran partners in the U.S. and Central America, training materials for potential foster families, the development of welcome centers offering hospitality and support to families and others released from immigration detention centers, advocacy and strategic communications and national coordination.

Lutherans on the scene

“One of the untold stories of what the media called the border crisis was that Lutherans were already on the scene,” said Linda Hartke, president of LIRS. “LIRS and our partners have been helping unaccompanied children and families seeking refuge for decades.

“When the number of children and families (arriving in the U.S.) increased to unprecedented levels, we worked proactively to address programmatic and advocacy needs. The generous grant from ELCA’s Lutheran Disaster Response enables LIRS to extend critical protections and services and to engage more volunteers. Most of all, the grant demonstrates that Lutherans are in this for the long haul. If even one unaccompanied child is in need of refuge, we will be there,” said Hartke.

“Lutheran Disaster Response and LSS share a long history of partnership in service to those who are in need,” said Mark Minick, senior vice president for external relations for LSS and Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response (LSSDR).

“We are thankful to now expand and strengthen that partnership by providing healing and hope to children and families in new ways. Among other roles, this work together provides an on-the-ground presence to assist with volunteer needs and roles, organizing of resources and spiritual care activities, and collaboration and coordination of regional, national and international efforts of Lutheran partners and other response agencies,” said Minick. “We are grateful to Lutheran Disaster Response and the ELCA for the opportunity to positively impact the lives of God’s children, often coming from such dire circumstances.”

To learn more about LSS’ Disaster Response program, please visit


Christmas Parties! Foster In Texas Wraps Up 2014

2014 FIT xmas austin Alicia

Foster In Texas (FIT), a program of Lutheran Social Services, went all out celebrating Christmas with their foster families this year and we are excited to share stories and photos from a few of our 14 local foster offices.

2014 FIT xmas austin staff

Austin FIT staff

AUSTIN: [reported by Lindsey Stockton, FIT regional director]

The Austin FIT Christmas party was held at Triumphant Love Lutheran Church on December 19 and the church generously provided dinner for our foster children and their families.  Placed around the room, were games that included prizes and two tables for arts and crafts.

And then … Santa came!

Children enjoyed having their photos taken with Santa, and excitement grew, as he passed out presents.

Corpus Christi FIT staff

Corpus Christi FIT staff

Corpus Christi: [reported by Angelita Figueroa, FIT area director]

The Corpus Christi FIT office held an amazing Christmas party for our foster families on December 20 that included face painting, games, balloon artists and dancing with a local DJ. Pastor Patsy Koeneke of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church graciously allowed us to hold our event in the church hall. Santa, along with Mrs. Claus and one of his elves, took pictures with all the children and distributed presents donated by Trinity Lutheran Church, Our Lady of the Pillar Parish and Grace United Methodist Church.  We want to thank these churches for their generosity and for bringing such happy smiles to our kids and their foster parents!

Santa paid Dallas FIT party a visit

Santa paid Dallas FIT party a visit

Dallas/Richardson:  [reported by Rebekah Poling]

Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Dallas hosted a fun Christmas party for local FIT families with an abundance of help from some stellar volunteers: the Peace Riders Motorcycle Group, National Charity League and “Ryan” the stocking-maker. Children played games, made hand-print Christmas tree paintings that turned out beautifully and a gingerbread house-making contest meant prizes for the winners. One particular highlight of the party was the photo booth, where kids lined up to take their special Christmas photos.

DJ Nick Amendola kept things moving, and lo and behold, the Krum High School band performed once again! Scrumptious desserts were provided by the National Charity League and Rejoice Lutheran Church in Frisco. When the happy children and their foster parents headed home, each was given a Santa hat and poinsettia. The spirit of Christmas was everywhere!

Lots of gifts at Ft Worth FIT party

Lots of gifts at Ft Worth FIT party

Fort Worth:  [reported by Rebekah Poling, associate VP of development]

The Fort Worth party was held at Calvary Lutheran Church, with lots of help from an amazing team of volunteers and Janelle Miller, Director of Youth and Family Ministries for Calvary Lutheran. Children played games including basketball and four square, made crafts and family teams competed in a gingerbread house-making competition. The Krum High School band gave a special performance and a wonderful meal was generously donated by Napoli’s Italian Café & Confectionary in Grapevine and Wagon Grill in Grapevine.

Santa was on hand to present toys and gifts to each child – he was assisted by volunteer elves including Fossil employees in Dallas who wrapped the gifts and special elf “Ryan” who made the stockings. With tins of desserts and lots of music, laughter and presents for families to enjoy, everyone had a joyous Christmas celebration!

Merry Christmas from Laredo FIT staff!

Merry Christmas from Laredo FIT staff!

Laredo: [reported by Oscar Guerra, FIT area director]

The Laredo FIT office hosted a Christmas party for their 67 foster children and 28 foster families at the Monte Carlo Reception Hall on December 23. The hall was beautifully decorated with a white and gold Christmas theme and families were greeted by a life-size Santa Claus in the main lobby. During the party, everyone enjoyed a delicious three-course meal and each child received several presents made possible through the generosity of the Lamar Bruni Vergara Trust and Foundation.

A big thank you to our FIT staff who purchased and delivered the Christmas gifts:

Linda Mendiola, FIT recruiter Fabiola Erhard, FIT- FSW Dora Solis, FIT-FSW
Guadalupe Martinez, FIT-FSW Monica Bondoc, placement coordinator Esther Leija, secretary

For the fifth year in a row, children were delighted by an awesome Santa Claus played by Roger Allen. Thanks so much Roger! The Munequitas (dolls) provided the entertainment consisting of games, songs, balloon animals and contests for the kids.

In addition, FIT area director Oscar Guerra presented Laredo’s foster families with door prizes and boxes of chocolates as tokens of appreciation for their loyalty and commitment to FIT. All foster parents and children had such a great time and said they are already looking forward to next year’s Christmas party.

2014 FIT xmas laredo1

This December was a festive time for all our foster children, parents and FIT staff who celebrated together. May we never forget the reason for the season, or our FIT Christmas celebrations, which successfully bring families and communities together in love – for each other and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

FIT is a program of Lutheran Social Services of the South. For more information, please visit


Together! Adoption completes this Harlingen family

The Abundiz family at consummation ceremony

The Abundiz family at consummation ceremony

JoDee was only four days old when she was placed in a Harlingen Foster In Texas (FIT) home belonging to Jorge and Lydia Abundiz. She had tested positive for cocaine at the time of her birth on April 25, 2013 and was immediately removed from her parent’s custody. In addition, parental rights were terminated for JoDee’s three older siblings; two are now in the custody of their great-grandparents and the other sibling was adopted by a nonrelative. At the time, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) approached the great-grandparents about also taking JoDee, but they were not up to the task of caring for a newborn. Without a suitable placement available with her biological family members, JoDee came into FIT’s care.

As JoDee’s legal case developed, the Abundiz family voiced their interest in becoming her forever family. They felt she would truly make their family complete and submitted their letter of intent to DFPS. JoDee stole their hearts from day one – along with the hearts of everyone around her – and had formed a tight bond with the family. She is a very happy child, always smiling and affectionate.

JoDee with FSW Diana Leon. Photo taken day of JoDee’s emergency placement in the Abundiz home.

JoDee with FSW Diana Leon. Photo taken day of JoDee’s emergency placement in the Abundiz home.

Diana Leon, FIT Family Service Worker, has worked with JoDee and the Abundiz family throughout their journey. “It has been a wonderful experience watching JoDee grow, and knowing that she is now part of such a wonderful family,” said Diana. “I remember holding her for the first time, seeing her crawl, take her first step and attempting to say my name. It has been just beautiful!”

Today, Jorge and Lydia continue to care for other foster children in their home.

If you are ready to make a difference in the life of a child, visit – – for more information.

FIT is a program of Lutheran Social Services of the South.

JoDee at 2014 FIT Halloween party with FSW Diana Leon

JoDee at 2014 FIT Halloween party with FSW Diana Leon


“A Home for the Holidays” for Former Foster Youth in Central TX

BeREAL moving day [story by Sarah Crocker, BeREAL Austin transitional services program director]

BeREAL [Ready Educated Accomplished Leaders] Austin, the LSS housing support and mentoring network for youth aging out of foster care in Central Texas, began accepting applications in September and placing young adults in Supervised Independent Living (SIL) apartments in October.

There has been a flurry of moving activity recently, with seven new BeREAL residents – five young adults and two children. Two more are moving in December 19, for a total of nine by year’s end. Eventually, we anticipate serving around 30 youth each year.

About BeREAL Austin

BeREAL Austin helps foster youth transition to self-sufficiency and independence by providing Supervised Independent Living as they age out of care. Through a partnership with a national multi-family real estate company, LSS secured discounted apartments for participants in Austin.

Foster children have little control over decisions impacting their lives, then suddenly at age 18, they are treated as fully capable adults, with adult responsibilities and expectations. BeREAL Austin helps prepare them for this new role.

A grant from Grande Communications is helping fund the cost of utilities and household items. BeREAL is an important component of LSS’ continuum of care in our children’s programs, focusing on our mission to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities.

Our BeREAL Austin clients

Applicants for the program are initially screened by DFPS, and to be eligible must be foster youth between 18-21, who were in foster care on their 18th birthday. They must either be in school or working, or a combination of both, and all of our participants fit into these categories.

Meet our residents:

  • A 19-year-old mother, who has a one-year old daughter, attends classes at Austin Community College (ACC) and is working for an insurance company. She is studying criminal justice and plans to be a probation officer.
  • A 19-year-old mother, who has a one-year-old son, completed one year at ACC and plans to re-enroll this spring. She wants to study accounting and become a CPA.
  • An 18-year-old female, who works at the nearby HEB, has enrolled to start her first semester at ACC in January. She wants to be a social worker and help kids like herself.
  • A 20-year-old male completed one year at A&M-Corpus Christi and is now at ACC. His 18-year-old sister, another new resident, lives in the same complex in an adjacent building. She enrolled for her first semester at ACC and is looking for a job nearby.

For most of their lives, they’ve been placed apart. Now they get to see each other every day – to learn and support one another – as they figure life out. They also enjoy waving at each other from their balconies!

As each of these youth achieve their identified education and employment goals, they are expected to transition to unsupervised independent living.

crib BeREAL Unpacking

Can You Help BeREAL?

Yes! As we move in more residents, we always need gently used furniture (couches and dining tables), microwaves and other household items. View our online donation list  and contact Sarah Crocker at 512-813-9828 or by email [email protected].


Adoption Day in Laredo

laredo garcia Adoption

Congratulations to the Garcias of Laredo!

“Words cannot express the gratitude we feel for helping us form our dream family. May God bless you always!” – note to FIT area director Oscar Guerra from foster and adoptive mom Norma Garcia

Laredo’s Foster In Texas (FIT), parents Edmundo and Norma Garcia, saw their dreams come true on November 21 when they adopted the three adorable siblings who had been in their care. In addition, several other children found their forever families on the same day during adoption consummation hearings – in celebration of National Adoption Month – presided over by Honorable Judge Oscar J. Hale of the 406th District Court.

The court house was filled with balloons, decorations, family and friends, and to commemorate the event, the siblings each received gifts from our FIT staff and Mrs. Garcia was presented with a beautiful bouquet of roses.

The Garcias couldn’t have been happier and are very grateful for Laredo’s FIT team who were with them throughout the entire process. What a beautiful family!

This year during National Adoption Month, FIT consummated 29 adoptions. Currently, there is a state wide shortage of foster families in Texas capable and willing to foster infants, children with special needs, siblings and teens.

 If you are ready to make a difference in the life of a child, visit – – for more information.

FIT is a program of Lutheran Social Services of the South.

Laredo garcia Adoption (1)


FIT News Across Texas

Texas FIT Map (3)Lindsey Stockton, Regional Director for Foster In Texas (FIT), does a lot of traveling around Texas to various foster care and adoption offices, and many of her recent journeys have coincided with FIT foster family festivals and events. Lindsey and Area Director Oscar Guerra have reported on some of these recent celebrations and foster care activities, and shared photos to document the occasions. 

Austin/Georgetown Foster From the Heart Conference October 17

The “Foster From the Heart” Training Conference garnered a lot of interest from new and potential foster parents. Conference speakers presented a variety of topics, including: Preventing Sexual Abuse; What is a Primary Medical Needs (PMN) Home?; An Overview About Foster Care; How to Help a Traumatized Child;  and Supervised Independent Living for Kids Aging Out of Foster Care. A highlight of the conference was meeting and hearing the success stories of two former foster children.

The Austin FIT staff kept the show running and gave out door prizes. Thanks to Angela Acevedo for the great decorations!

sarah conference2 FITconferencedecor

San Antonio/Austin – Kinship Festival October 25

The 1st Annual Kinship Fall Festival was held in South Austin and drew more than 150 foster children and their families. The Travis County kinship workers and volunteers coordinated with many community partners including: BACA (Bikers Against Child Abuse), CPS (Child Protective Services), and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).    t child abuse), Foster Angels, Partnerships for Children, CASEY Family Programs, the Travis County Sheriff’s Department. There was a costume contest and a raffle for different themed gift baskets for the kinship caregivers, pumpkin painting, face painting, and lots of food to enjoy. The families had a wonderful time and we were blessed by the community to offer this event free for our kinship homes.

Representing LSS-FIT from our San Antonio office were: Recruiter Amanda Perez, Area Director Claudia Rodriguez, and Kinship Specialist Carmen Castillo. All LSS-FIT families in the area were invited to join the festivities, and the FIT staff led an activity for the kids and provided information to one and all about our kinship foster program.

SA kinship festival SA kinship fest outside SA fall fest lindsay SA kinship fest group

Lubbock – Foster Parent Appreciation Dinner November 8 

The Lubbock FIT staff recently went all out hosting a dinner for our deserving foster parents. It was a wonderful evening that could not have taken place without the help of our LSS-FIT supporters and volunteers. Many thanks to the community partners and donors who made this event possible!  There were several door prizes donated to show appreciation to our foster parents!

lubbock fp apprec dinner(3) lubbock fp apprec 5 lubbock fp apprec 4

El Paso – Thanksgiving Luncheon November 20

A special Thanksgiving luncheon was held in honor of El Paso’s foster families, hosted by the El Paso FIT team. Sixty-three families and children attended the event and seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. Door prizes were awarded, and the families felt our care and support.

FIT folks: Cecelia Cardenas (left) and Area Director Jacqueline Sandoval

FIT folks: Cecelia Cardenas (left) and Area Director Jacqueline Sandoval


Laredo – Thanksgiving Luncheon November 20

The Laredo FIT team hosted its annual Thanksgiving luncheon at a local restaurant. Our FIT staff greeted all foster parents and made them feel very appreciated! Everyone enjoyed sharing a delicious turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

FIT families had a good time chatting and exchanging parenting tips. It was a joyous and festive occasion, with a raffle and door prizes added to the fun. Thanks once again to the Lamar Bruni Vergara Grant for making this holiday luncheon possible.

laredo Tksgiving luncheon groupLaredo Tksgiving luncheon(4) Laredo staff Tksgiving luncheonLaredo Tksgiving lunch ladies

Tyler – Foster Parent Support Group Formed

A group of Tyler FIT parents gathered to share their fostering experiences and form a network for education and support.  In other Tyler FIT news, Nick Wilkerson, who is placed in the Hall home, was the subject of an interview that appeared in the Tyler Morning Telegraph.



Celebrating Halloween with FIT Team in Laredo

Left to right: Oscar Guerra, Area Director (rapper); Monica Bondoc, Placement Coordinator (Minnie Mouse), Linda Mendiola, Regional Recruiter (’60s hippie girl); and Marissa Martinez, Family Service Worker (2nd Minnie Mouse)

Left to right: Oscar Guerra, Area Director (rapper); Monica Bondoc, Placement Coordinator (Minnie Mouse), Linda Mendiola, Regional Recruiter (’60s hippie girl); and Marissa Martinez, Family Service Worker (2nd Minnie Mouse)

Laredo’s Foster in Texas (FIT) office recently hosted a Halloween party for foster parents and the 75 children in their care. Our FIT staff is always ready to celebrate holidays, and Halloween was no exception.

FIT parties often provide an opportunity to bring siblings together – brothers and sisters living with different foster families – and encourage family interaction. During this particular event, several sibling groups got to play and spend time together.

One of the most special moments of the party came when several guests witnessed a very moving sibling reunion – a child broke into tears when she realized her brother and younger sister were there too! The three of them enjoyed an evening of games and Halloween fun together.

FIT’s Laredo staff, in their not-very-scary Halloween costumes, made everyone feel welcome, served food and made sure all the children had a great time playing with their goody bags and prizes.

A special thanks to the Lamar Bruni Vergara Trust and Foundation for providing funds for this activity.

We appreciate our foster families, and events like this one let them know just how much we do!

Enjoy the photos!

laredo halloween batman laredo halloween capt laredo halloween 2014 witch laredo Halloween 2014 staff laredo Halloween 2014 kids laredo Halloween 2014 kids2 laredo halloween 2014 ketchup


Fall Festival for Dallas-area FIT Families

Processed with VSCOcam with a4 preset[story by Rebekah Poling, Assoc. Vice President of Development NTX]

What do you get when you cross a fire truck with a photo booth and a whole lotta barbecue?

The 2014 Fall Festival for the foster families and children!

On Friday, Oct. 24, our North Texas children and families enjoyed our annual Fall Festival at the Richardson Foster in Texas office. Thanks to the generous support of our community through our 2014 Caring for Kids and North Texas Giving Day events, everyone had a great time!

The farm animal crew, from Wild West Pony Parties, joined in the fun with more than 35 critters and the Richardson Fire Department lent us a fire truck for the evening. Other festival activities included pumpkin and face painting, costume decorating, eating candy and a “spooky” house where kids enjoyed snow cones at the end!

One of my favorite parts of the party was provided by The Cool Booth. Many of our kids are just starting to create positive childhood memories, and there is no easier way to preserve a fantastic evening, than with a photo booth. I know everyone will enjoy looking back at their party pics for years to come!

Many thanks to:

  • Ken Hogan and the Hogan Financial Systems’ team
  • Lisa Mowry and her amazing friends
  • CJ and Melinda Winslow and their Foodtronix and Hope for North Texas teams
  • Bartley’s BBQ in Grapevine
  • Kristene Hostenske and Rejoice Lutheran Church
  • The Richardson Fire Department
  • National Charity League of Richardson
  • North Texas Giving Day’s – Foster In Texas supporters
  • Supporters of Caring for Kids, a Foster In Texas benefit

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Fosterware Party in Victoria

victoria Fosterware party“You’re invited to our Fosterware Party,” the invitation read. Fosterware parties may take their name from their better-known counterpart, Tupperware parties, but the name shouldn’t detract from the serious nature of the gathering. Fosterware parties are hosted in a fun atmosphere while providing opportunities for guests to learn more about becoming foster parents.

“A Fosterware Party is a chance for potential foster parents to get a realistic picture of fostering, not just from a social worker, but also from previous or existing foster parents,” said Edgar Ricalde, regional director for Foster In Texas (FIT), a program of Lutheran Social Services.  “And we know from experience that many of the best foster parents are the ones who have been recruited by other FIT parents.”

The Haydens, a couple from Victoria who are currently in the process of FIT verification themselves, recently hosted a Fosterware Party in their home for two prospective foster families. One of FIT’s area directors, Paula Vrana, lead the orientation and educated guests on the myths and facts of foster care and adoption. The party included snacks, a door prize and lots of great information – Paula said the party was a big success!

More than 2,000 children depend on us every year to provide safe, loving foster homes – but more homes are needed. Our highest need is for families who can foster siblings and teens. Those interested in becoming foster parents will need to complete many hours of classes in order to become licensed. Visit our site to have one of our 14 offices contact you.

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Foster In Texas® is a registered trademark. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Foster In Texas is a program of Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.