A Different Kind of Family Tree
Although their names and faces aren’t part of the traditional family tree, mothers and children served through the Family Care Program at Texas Baptist Children’s Home say they consider the staff and clients to be part of their spiritual lineage.
On Saturday, July 30, Family Care will host its Alumni Reunion, held in odd-numbered years, where moms and kids will reconnect with those who are part of their ever-expanding family.
“Every reunion is special because each year the program continues to grow,” said Melanie Martinez, Family Care Program Supervisor. "Most of all it's like a big family reunion for clients, children and staff."
Growth has always been part of the evolving ministry that began in 1979 as a revolutionary answer to the growing problem of single motherhood. Before Family Care, at a time when there were few options for mothers in crisis, many would leave their children in the care of TBCH while they “sorted out” their lives. Too often, the children would never be reunited with family.
Starting with one cottage on the TBCH campus, the idea behind Family Care was to keep the mothers and children together. Mothers would get guidance and counseling to help them rebuild their lives while remaining with their kids.
Recent Family Care Program graduate Monica says the program was the stabilizing force that allowed her to find a path to the future. That, she says, is proof of its relevance in today’s parenting climate.
“I was out of options,” she said. “Family Care turned out to be the absolute best situation for me.”
Recently divorced with two kids, Monica was living in a travel trailer on her father’s property after her family lost their home. When she was forced to move, she faced homelessness and was unsure what to do. That's when she called Family Care.
“I was determined to do it on my own,” Monica said of the desire to rebuild her life. “But working part-time wasn’t paying the bills. We had nowhere to go and my family was unable to help me. We had nowhere else to turn.”
Tina, who entered the program in 2008, felt much the same way Monica did before landing at TBCH. With her husband in prison, and no family to help her, she soon found herself struggling to pay bills, unable to support her daughter.
“I was thrilled about being accepted at Family Care, but apprehensive,” she said. “But the staff there made a huge impact on me and my daughter.”
Their stories are all-too familiar to the Family Care staff, who always have a waiting list of single moms who want to enter the program.
From its single cottage in 1979, the program has grown to include eight cottages and five Independent Living apartments on the TBCH campus, with room for up to 40 moms and their children.
Each family living in a cottage has separate living quarters with private bathrooms, and its own refrigerator in a spacious kitchen, where they are responsible for their own meals.
But more than the comfortable homey surroundings, Family Care offered something Monica, Tina and so many like them hunger for – guidance.
“I needed to find a path to take, and the Case Managers helped me,” Monica said. “The staff was so personable and willing to help you and pray with you,” Tina remembered. “They were my friends and my counselors.”
Family Care provides counseling support, group therapy, job placement and guidance for those seeking to return to school. It is a requirement that all moms participating in the program either work or attend school. In Monica’s case, she desperately wanted to earn her GED.
“I had both my children early, so I never completed high school,” Monica said. “This gave me another chance at my life. Without their love and support, I wouldn’t have known where to start.”
Tina, who exited the program in 2010, said her long-term goal is to complete college and she is starting back to school in the fall, hoping to one day work in ministry.
Shortly after graduating from the Family Care Program in March 2010, Monica remarried and she and her husband are expecting their first child together in December.
Monica is struck by the significance of this year’s reunion theme: "Through the seasons, we’ll be there."
“These people have been there for me,” Monica said. “Going back, it’s like reconnecting with family you haven’t seen in a while. They treat you like family.”
Tina continues to care for her daughter, Ruth, while she completes her education. Deeply touched by the program, Tina said she is excited to return to TBCH for the reunion taking place later this month.
“My cottage mates really felt like a family," Tina said. “Being there helped me realize that I wasn’t alone.”
That is something Melanie and the other staff members are humbled to hear. And as the program seeks to grow to meet the changing needs of at-risk families, Melanie says they are thankful for every single mother and child who walks through the doors. And, she says she is always thankful for community support that allows the program to prosper.
Last year, Family Care partnered with Austin Community College and the Capital Idea program to give more Family Care moms the opportunity to pursue a college education.
“It’s been such a blessing,” Melanie said. “They have been such a wonderful resource for us and such advocates for our program. We are very excited about the future.”
In its three decades of service, Family Care continues to strive to improve its offerings to hurting mothers and children. And, after all these years, TBCH is happy to say it is still adding branches to its family tree.