Staying Connected

The neglect and abandonment of children is a nationwide problem.
STCH Ministries is part of a nationwide solution.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly half a million children are in foster care and children’s homes throughout the nation, and more are added every day. The sheer magnitude of the need is beyond the capacity of any single institution or agency. At STCH Ministries we believe that collaboration with other like-minded, Christian organizations is essential if we want to address the big-picture issues of family brokenness in our world. In the last issue of the Messenger, we highlighted the many ways we join forces with Texas Baptists to reach people in need. STCH Ministries also has a long history of collaboration on the national level, bringing together ideas and relationships that result in a solution greater than the sum of its parts.

In September 2018, STCH Ministries participated in the Connections Conference, an annual meeting that brings together children’s homes from across the country to collaborate on development and communications topics. The conference included the twenty-one organizations from nineteen states that are members of the Baptist Coalition for Children and Families (BCCF), and the theme of the event was “Staying Connected.”

When it comes to meeting the needs of children and families, the areas of development and communications are typically behind the scenes, supporting the more direct ministry roles of houseparents, counselors, and caseworkers. However, the conference sessions emphasized the need for advocacy at both the state and national levels, giving a voice to the most vulnerable members of society. To a room full of professional communicators, the objective resonated deeply.

And yet, as a discussion panel of Baptist news editors pointed out, a single organization does not have the kind of reach necessary to affect the broader cultural conversation. To do that, multiple voices must be united in a chorus. Whether it is a children’s home working with churches and their state’s Baptist convention, or a collection of children’s homes like BCCF, the element of teamwork gives greater societal relevance to the cause.

Rod Marshall, BCCF President, underlined that cooperative commitment in his address to the group, saying, “We work closely with the North American Mission Board, the Women’s Missionary Union, and Baptist Press to address the needs of families in the United States. Baptist childcare providers have been the best in childcare for over 150 years.”

In addition to guest speakers, the Connections Conference featured many presentations by the staff of participating organizations, including STCH Ministries. In the spirit of “Staying Connected,” attendees shared both their successes and challenges, gleaning ideas and solutions from each other’s experiences.

STCH Ministries staff member Jeny Cortez commented, “There’s no sense of competition. We all want everyone to be successful. We know it is all for the glory of God and the healing of broken lives.”

Historically, STCH Ministries has seen the fruit of collaboration and the power of a united front. Mark Childs, STCH Ministries Vice President of Homes for Children, recalls the work of childcare pioneers in Texas, including Jess Lunsford, the founder of the South Texas Children’s Home.

“He made numerous trips to Austin, along with other faith-based organizational leaders, to advocate for the safety of children in Texas. Their efforts led to the creation of a licensing department within the Department of Family and Protective Services to ensure the safe treatment of children placed into the foster care system.”

More than sixty years later, Childs says that this unity and cooperation are just as essential as they were in the past. In addition to BCCF, STCH Ministries is a member of several associations that bring together children’s homes from around the country, such as the Coalition of Residential Excellence (CORE) and the Association of Christian Childcare Administrators (ACCA). These groups promote best practices in childcare, and they also provide a national platform to influence public thinking about the needs of children.

“The only way that can be achieved is through a network of providers coming together to share strengths, expertise, and resources,” says Childs. “STCH Ministries will continue to strive to be an integral part of this network of hope.”

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How To Be A Partner In Hope

Hope – a word often used in times of turmoil or crisis, but which sometimes describes a joyful anticipation of what is yet to come.  Everyone, at some point or another, experiences either the loss of hope or the desire for something positive to happen. Either way, hope is a powerful word.  It means “to cherish a desire with anticipation,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

In the Bible, hope is used 129 times and appears in 121 verses.  One particular verse is Hebrews 11:1 (ESV):

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

As believers, we know that Jesus is the source of all hope, even when hope seems lost.  We should closely rely on our Savior and Lord for all things unseen, even during the times of struggle and chaos. But how do we extend that hope to the lost and hurting?

This year, STCH Ministries adopted the slogan Healing Hearts and Sharing Hope.  We unashamedly share the love of Christ with every person served in our ministries, and we are grateful that in 2017, 323 children and adults accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. Individuals moved from neglect, abuse, and abandonment to a new life of restoration, forgiveness, and safety. It is no secret that hearts were healed and hope was shared.

Here are a few examples of how STCH Ministries is Healing Hearts and Sharing Hope:

• Children are given a place to call home when their family is in crisis.

• Marriages are restored through Christian counseling.

• Single moms and their children are provided a safe home to escape abusive relationships.

• Men and women come to understand their value and identity in the workplace.

These acts of Healing Hearts and Sharing Hope would not be possible without the support of churches, individuals, and businesses who share our mission.  As you know, it requires resources for STCH Ministries to care for children and families in our ministries.

Would you consider joining us to become a Partner in Hope?

STCH Ministries is committed to providing excellent care and service to children and families.  By becoming a Partner in Hope, you are helping to provide hope when it is needed most.

With your help, every child and family served at STCH Ministries will have the opportunity to put their faith in the assurance of Eternal Hope. Visit www.STCHM.org/Hope to learn more.

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Together Again

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The story of a family, like that of an individual, can take many twists and turns along the road of life, and few know this better than the Parker siblings. Over the past fifteen years, seven Parker children have called Boothe Campus home; the oldest five are now grown, and thirteen-year-old Laura, the youngest, is still a resident at Love Cottage. Eighteen-year-old Josh, a brand new high school graduate, stands in the middle with one foot across the line of adulthood while he savors his last summer before starting college. To look at them now, one can see great potential and a promising future, but this family has seen their share of unexpected events, separations, and hardships. Looking back, Josh now clearly recognizes the hand of God at work.

“It gave us a lot of endurance and a lot of courage to do the things we do now,” he says. “I feel like God has done that, and then He’s given us this place to kind of show us His way of doing things.”

However, the future was anything but clear when a four-year-old Josh and his older siblings arrived at the South Texas Children’s Home in August of 2003.

THE ARRIVAL

Josh has little recollection of life before the children’s home, but his oldest sister Lilly remembers their arrival vividly.

“I was terrified,” she recalls. “A new place, so many new people, new parents, a new ‘family’ as I called it. I imagined a huge house with 100 kids, twenty kids to a room.”

Lilly put on a brave exterior for the sake of her younger siblings. “I HAD to be the strong one and not let my fear show through,” she says. But underneath the calm façade, she felt just the opposite.

“My father dropped us off and never looked back, so as any thirteen-year-old would feel, I was scared and felt so alone.”

Soon Lilly realized that the quiet neighborhood of cottages on Boothe Campus was nothing to fear, but like most children, the Parker kids needed time to settle in.

“It took a lot of adjusting,” Lilly says. “Probably over a year, to be exact, to work through the pain of abandonment and feeling unloved and ‘thrown away’.”

One year after the arrival of the six Parker children on campus, the family grew by one. Laura Parker was born and soon came to Boothe Campus as an infant.

For the next several years, the seven siblings continued to live at the children’s home together. Time and love began to heal the emotional trauma while the children built positive new memories.

“I remember all the different activities and going to camp,” says Samantha, who was in elementary school at the time. “I also remember all of the friends I had made while being there, and then also friends I had made at school.”

Lilly recalls the sense of peace that she began to discover as she settled into her new home.

“By the end of my sophomore year, I finally felt like I had a family, that I had ‘real’ parents that loved me for me.”

Soon Lilly graduated from high school at Pettus ISD, and Matthew, Lindsay, Andrew, Samantha, Josh, and Laura occupied a stair-step assortment of grade levels down to pre-school. They experienced the normal ups and downs of school and family life that make up childhood, but Lindsay (the third oldest) remembers this as a time of restoration.

“STCH helped us all heal and learn what it means to really love and be loved,” she says.

Life finally seemed stable. But the summer of 2007 would bring major changes for the Parker siblings.

THE SEPARATION

Shortly after Lilly’s graduation, the Parkers’ father removed the three youngest children, Samantha, Josh, and Laura, along with their seventeen-year-old brother Matthew, from the children’s home. Lilly continued on to college with the support of STCH Ministries and Lindsay and Andrew stayed at Boothe Campus to complete high school.

“I chose to stay because I knew the home would be able to support my dream of going to college and making a better life for myself,” says Lindsay.

At the same time, she felt a great sense of concern for her younger siblings.

“Honestly, I didn’t think they should have left,” she says. “I knew my dad couldn’t and wouldn’t take care of them like they should have been.”

The younger siblings moved to Port Aransas with their father. The move was bittersweet. When asked if he felt that returning to his dad was a good thing, Josh says, “In a way yes, but also no…He wasn’t exactly employed.”

The next eight years were marked by instability for the youngest three siblings, Samantha, Josh, and Laura.

“We moved from place to place,” says Josh about life with their father. “A lot of times he couldn’t afford to stay there for a long period of time.”

School and athletics became an important anchor in their lives. Josh distinguished himself as a strong competitor in track and field and cross country, accumulating an impressive collection of awards. But these successes could not completely eclipse the difficulty of their living situation.

Josh recalls one period of time when their father was in a relationship with a hoarder. They lived amongst the jumble of debris and clutter until the landlord sold the property, and then they were on the move again.

Meanwhile, Lilly tried to find a way to get her younger siblings back to the children’s home.

“I knew how much of a blessing it was to me,” she says, “and by all means my father had not changed his ways one bit. I would come over to filth and clothes three sizes too small. They lived in a garage apartment with no wall separation, just one room, no food in the fridge. Most days they would go to school wearing the same dirty clothes from last week—random people in and out of their house at all hours of the night.”

Without legal guardianship, Lilly had no power to change the situation, but she continued to watch, wait, and pray. Meanwhile, she completed college to become a registered nurse and married her husband Adam Flores.

REUNITED

In December of 2014, the Parker family story came to another sudden turn as unexpectedly as all the ones that came before.

“Our dad went missing,” explains Josh.

Lilly and Adam were at the airport returning from a vacation when they received a phone call. It was Samantha.

“Our dad had dropped them off with someone random,” says Lilly. “The conditions were terrible and they were scared.”

Lilly and Adam immediately rearranged their small home in Aransas Pass to accommodate two high schoolers and a preteen. When their father finally resurfaced, he was persuaded to relinquish legal guardianship to Lilly.

“It’s kind of like, if you love something, set it free,” Josh says. “He couldn’t provide a better living situation at the point he was in.”

Samantha, Josh, and Laura completed the school year while living with Lilly and Adam. The couple, then in their mid-twenties, was willing to provide a permanent home for the three younger siblings, but they also knew they couldn’t provide everything.

“My husband and I couldn’t send three children to college; we were barely getting by just for the seven months they lived in our home,” Lilly says.

The siblings sat down for a family meeting to discuss the pros and cons of returning to STCH Ministries Homes for Children.

“STCH could give them so much more than my husband and I could offer at the time,” says Lilly, “but I let them know that it was their choice.”

The choice was perhaps most difficult for Samantha, who was about to enter her senior year of high school.

“I was a little wary of returning,” Samantha says, “because I had made so many friends back in Port Aransas and it was a little hard to leave them. I had also grown really close to my older sister, Lilly, because I had lived with her for a bit.”

Despite these apprehensions, the three youngest Parkers agreed to return to STCH Ministries in the summer of 2015, at least to try it out.

THE RETURN

Even though she knew STCH Ministries would be a good home for her siblings, Lilly says that the parting was painful.

“I felt like I lost my kids, that I had abandoned them. I felt like a piece of my heart was missing,” she recalls.

But unlike the day twelve years earlier when she found herself at the doorstep of a Boothe Campus cottage for the first time, the return of the younger siblings was a choice. Samantha, Josh, and Laura also had adult siblings who knew what they were going through and could support them as they adjusted to their new life. STCH Ministries encourages these family bonds while children are in care, and in the case of broken relationships with parents, seeks to bring reconciliation whenever possible.

Within months, the three younger Parkers flourished.

“One thing I love about STCH,” says Samantha, “is that the people there really genuinely care about you and that’s really amazing, and when I came back everyone was very welcoming. It’s also pretty easy to make friends because most of the children there are going (or have gone) through similar things.”

Samantha graduated from Pettus High School in 2016 and now studies computer science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with a scholarship from Texas Baptists and support from STCH Ministries. Her two seasons living at Boothe Campus, separated by so much time away, give her a unique perspective on the impact that the children’s home had on her life.

“I think as a kid I didn’t really understand why I was at STCH or what was going on,” Samantha says. “But now I’m really grateful and glad that STCH and the people there have been a part of my life. Because I like who I have become and I also wouldn’t be where I am without them.”

Josh can recall the sensation of returning to a place that still lived in his early childhood memories. “It was cool coming back here the second time around and seeing the pictures of us when we were little.”

In his final three years of high school, Josh continued his distinguished athletic career, bringing home a slew of victories in track and field and cross country for the Pettus Eagles. On

June 1, 2018, he graduated as an honor roll student and intends to pursue a degree in kinesiology.

“Athletics is my passion,” he says. “I like the hustle. I like the competition. I like getting me and others better at what they enjoy doing.”

As Josh spends his post-high-school summer on Boothe Campus, he reflects on both the hardships and the opportunities that have influenced his life.

“I feel like this is something God had a set plan for us to do—come back here and just be a light to others, kind of share our story.”

For Laura, who left the children’s home as a three-year-old, returning as a preteen was uncharted territory.

“I thought it was really weird,” she admits.

Three years later, she is one of the kids that knows her way around and can make new children feel welcome on campus.

Laura says she especially enjoys summer time at Boothe Campus, often swimming in the pool and playing in the gym. She also enjoys volunteering for VBS at her church and taking part in the vocational training program at Homes for Children, in which the students get to spend time shadowing staff members on the job.

Older sister Lindsay says of Laura, “She is a very kind, funny, and loving young lady who I know will do great things.”

Lilly, the oldest sibling, lives in Aransas Pass with her husband Adam and their one-year-old daughter.

“My life was completely changed the day I was dropped off at STCH,” she says. “Without STCH, I would not be where I am today. I don’t think college would have ever been in the plans, and here I am a registered nurse like I’ve always prayed about.”

The rest of the siblings know that the door is always open at Lilly’s house. For holidays and special occasions, that is still the place they call “home”.

“It makes my heart extremely happy that this is where home is to them and that I can provide that for them,” says Lilly.

Lindsay, the second oldest sister, is also a registered nurse, now working in Waco, Texas. Although she doesn’t get to see her siblings as much as she would like because of the distance, she says they still have a special bond.

“As siblings we are the only people who really understand each other,” Lindsay explains, “and I believe we are all pretty close because of the situation we had to go through.”

Lilly adds, “To say my siblings and I struggled is an understatement. We have been through so much and I feel like we have come out so much stronger on the other side. There are those in our lives that know some of our story, some that know a lot of our story, and some that do not know anything at all. And I think to be around my siblings and I, you would never know the struggle, the pain, or the heartache that we have endured in our lifetime.”

Their resilience, Lilly says, is rooted in faith and family.

“At the end of the day we are the Parker kids. God has sent us through rough waters; we may fall, but we will always get up again.”

From left to right: Oldest sister Lilly and her husband Adam, Laura holding her one-year-old niece Harper, Josh, and Samantha. The Parker siblings enjoy spending time together and often congregate at Lilly and Adam’s home for holidays and special occasions.

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An Agency of Texas Baptists

STCH Ministries is a Texas Baptists affiliated agency, one of twenty-eight Christian education and human care institutions across the state that are part of the extended family of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). Each member of this family operates independently, but we are intrinsically linked by our faith and our mission to advance kingdom work. Consisting of more than 5,300 Baptist churches, the BGCT serves a vital role in supporting the ministry of its member organizations.

STCH Ministries President and CEO Eron Green (left) shakes hands with BGCT Executive Director David Hardage at the 2016 Annual Meeting.

“We are institutions that are cut from a very similar cloth,” STCH Ministries President and CEO Eron Green said about the relationship between STCH Ministries and the BGCT.

So how does this connection play out in the day-to-day work of STCH Ministries? One significant benefit is the support that Texas Baptists provide through the Cooperative Program. The program brings together financial contributions from participating churches to fund missions, evangelism, education, and ministry efforts.

Over the past ten years alone, the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program has given $5.85 million to STCH Ministries to help provide homes, counseling, and life-skills training to hurting families.

“The convention believes in the mission, the results, and the work of STCH,” said Steve Vernon, Texas Baptists Associate Executive Director. “We value the partnership and rejoice in the amazing work that is ongoing at this vital ministry.”

Tim Williams, STCH Ministries Director of Church Relations, is one of the staff members who travel across the state sharing with churches about the work of STCH Ministries. He often speaks to church members who do not realize that their regular church giving already helps support our ministries.

“There are a lot of different ways that the program makes an impact that people are not even aware of,” Williams said. “STCH Ministries is their ministry to children and hurting families because they support us and have supported us through the BGCT Cooperative Program. They help us do it.”

The Texas Baptist Hunger Offering provides groceries for families served by STCH Ministries International.

While the Cooperative Program supports the overall mission of STCH Ministries, there are additional resources for specific areas of need. The Texas Baptist Hunger Offering provides a monthly grant to STCH Ministries International, which buys food in the Dominican Republic for needy children. Our local ministry team members already have relationships with families who are benefitting from our medical, dental, and construction mission projects. The additional resource of Hunger Offering groceries brings another element of stability into the lives of children who are on the verge of breaking free from generational poverty.

Closer to home, the relationship between STCH Ministries and Texas Baptists helps open doors to the future for children who grow up at Boothe Campus. STCH Ministries Homes for Children has always maintained a commitment to provide an opportunity for higher education to the children who graduate while in care.

“Our kids placed in care have the opportunity to attend college or universities in the state of Texas through our STCH Ministries Higher Education Scholarship program,” says Greg Huskey, Boothe Campus Administrator.

Thanks to Texas Baptists, that scholarship program frequently gets an extra boost. Upon high school graduation, many students attend Baptist universities, which provide significant scholarships to students coming from a Baptist children’s home. Young adults who may once have had no prospects of college whatsoever are able to receive a private, Christian education without the burden of student loans. Frequently, these students are the first in their families to achieve a college degree.

While at college, many of these students find fellowship and spiritual support at their local Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) chapter, of which there are more than one hundred across Texas college campuses. BSMs are a ministry of Texas Baptists that serve college students, while at the same time empowering those students to serve others.

Students from the Corpus Christi BSM, at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Del Mar College, have donated weekends to serving at Boothe Campus. During this time, students interact with the children, cook meals for the cottage families, and do minor maintenance work around the grounds.

STCH Ministries participates in the Texas Baptists Annual Meeting, enjoying fellowship and collaboration with dozens of other Baptist organizations and thousands of Baptist churches.

Texas Baptist churches and institutions have invested in many different facets of STCH Ministries. One of the ways that we give back is through a collaboration of our Family Counseling and Pastor Care ministries with Texas Baptists Counseling Services. When a crisis arises in the family of a pastor or church staff member, STCH Ministries is equipped to provide confidential counseling.

“We feel that if we can help to strengthen those called to ministry, they will in turn help to strengthen those they minister to,” said Darin Griffiths, Vice President of Family Counseling at STCH Ministries.

“STCH and BGCT have partnered together offering ‘intensives’ to ministry couples who are experiencing difficulties which could hinder their ministry opportunities,” explained Griffiths. “The normal counseling experience provides a one-hour session every other week for about 10 to 12 sessions. An intensive is different in that a couple can receive about 10 hours (equivalent of 10 sessions) worth of counseling in one-and-a-half days.”

As with the other areas of partnership, Griffiths believes that this collaboration is a natural fit, saying, “Our values are very much alike. From my perspective, the BGCT exists to assist those who are on the front lines of ministry, sharing the gospel to a hurting world.”

STCH Ministries is grateful to be a member of the Texas Baptists family and we look forward to many more years of fruitful ministry together in Texas and beyond.

If you are a member of a Texas Baptist congregation, we hope you will visit our booth at the Texas Baptist Family Gathering this summer. The annual meeting will be held in Arlington, Texas, on July 29-31, 2018. Learn more at www.TexasBaptists.org/FamilyGathering.

The Powerful Work of Play

The first time I came to the play therapy playroom, it was kind of hard to believe. The shelves were stuffed with every kind of toy I could imagine! Cars and trucks, games and crafts, tons of animal and people figures, play guns and swords, dolls, dollhouses, and things to build with. And there were other fun things…like dress-up clothes, an art easel, puppets, a BIG bop bag, and even a small sandbox! The lady my mom told me would help me said I could play with anything in the room in any way I wanted!

But…I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or what to say. So I just sat at the little table in the middle of the room and looked around. It was quiet for a long time. I liked the quiet, and the lady seemed okay with it too. She just smiled, and she didn’t even ask me a bunch of questions or tell me what to do! Finally, I built a sandcastle in the sandbox and put a few special things by my castle. And when it was time to leave, I didn’t want to go.           – A young child’s reflections

For young children dealing with trauma, the play therapy room quickly becomes a safe spot. Yet much more than “child’s play” takes place as the children interact with trained therapists who understand the importance of play.

According to the Association for Play Therapy, the natural process of play helps children regulate emotions and improve communication and problem-solving skills. Play also lifts a child’s spirit and self-esteem.

“Play is a child’s language, and toys are their words,” said Lorena Mendez, Regional Director-Corpus Christi for STCH Ministries Family Counseling, quoting a common axiom among play therapists. “There’s no better way to establish a connection with a child than to say, ‘Hey, let’s play.’ Play therapy gives a child the freedom to express their experiences, needs, wants, wishes, and feelings in a way that is developmentally appropriate for them.”

Mendez, a licensed professional counselor-supervisor (LPC-S) and registered play therapist-supervisor (RPT-S), divides her time between counseling, sharing her expertise through conferences, and overseeing the work of other STCH Ministries therapists, including those working toward their registered play therapist (RPT) certification.

Parents typically bring their children to STCH Ministries for counseling because of behavioral issues at home or school. Changes in behavior can arise in situations of bullying, divorce or abandonment, past physical or sexual abuse, and grief over the loss of a parent. Depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and conduct disorders also create difficulties for children and their families.

“Trauma is very disruptive and makes everyone feel out of control,” shared STCH Ministries therapist Carolyn Cocklin, who is currently working toward her RPT. “Emotionally speaking, children have some of the same feelings and thinking as adults who experience post-traumatic stress – anger, confusion, fear, guilt, or shame. However, children lack the reasoning abilities to understand the why behind a trauma, or the cognitive ability to express in words what they are experiencing. So, they typically blame themselves. It is important to give children a place where they can feel validated and in control. The play therapy playroom becomes the child’s little world where they can mentally process things and begin to stabilize their behavior.”

STCH Ministries therapists are trained in various play therapy methods to meet the unique challenges of each child. Often, they choose the non-directive client-centered approach to best build rapport, trust, and consistency, Mendez said.

During a client-centered session, the play therapist patiently listens and observes the child at play without judgment. The therapist does not ask questions about what the child is doing or question them about their past. To give the child greater creative freedom, the therapist also avoids labeling any object or behavior. If a child asks the therapist for help with decisions or actions, the therapist will return responsibility to the child with gentle, empowering phrases such as: “You choose”; “That can be anything you want it to be”; or an encouraging “You can do it.”

Therapists see parents privately every three or four weeks during the play therapy counseling process. Therapists work hard to give parents positive feedback on their child to help them see the child as a whole person and not just the problem. As adults in a child’s world become healthier emotionally, and family dynamics improve, children get better too.

“What I love about play therapy is how unique it is,” Mendez said. “It is unlike anything the child will experience in life because it is so non-directive. Kids get plenty of teaching, instructions, discipline, and criticism in the big world. The small play therapy room gives children the opportunity to get what they need without anyone telling them what that is. It’s a chance to learn who they are and how they would do it if given the time and space.”

Children will be kept safe, of course, and are not allowed to hurt themselves, the therapist, or any property. But limits are not set until there is a need for a boundary based on a child’s behavior. When children do test the boundaries with their behavior, the therapist will show empathy first, then verbalize a limit and gently redirect the child.

Important work takes place in the playroom when children use toys as symbols to represent something in their life. Therapists call this a play metaphor.

“Many times children are unaware they are using metaphor in their play,” Mendez explained. “They will use the metaphor to express feelings, to show what they want to happen, or to work through a painful memory, fear, or experience. A vital part of our connection with kids in the playroom is to stay in the metaphor with them.”

Cocklin also finds this to be true. “A child’s metaphorical play provides a picture of how the child perceives themselves and their life,” Cocklin said.

“As they live out events of their past in the playroom, the metaphor is ‘live’ and it can be controlled. The child can even rewrite the ending for what is happening in their life. This is how they get a big win!”

It is important to realize that play therapy is not a quick fix for children. It helps stabilize the child at the developmental stage they are at, as well as provide the child with a greater ability to perceive, respond to, and manage their lives and behaviors in a healthier way. It helps them regain some control over their lives. But the effects of trauma may need to be addressed again in the future as the child reaches a new level of development.

Over the course of the treatment, parents gradually begin noticing their child seems “better,” has fewer tantrums, or doesn’t get in trouble as much. Children move from being sad, angry, or fearful in the playroom to being more spontaneous, content, and confident. Therapists also see improvements in the areas of problem-solving, communication, self-care, and self-control.

“The world is God’s playroom,” Mendez concluded. “He allows us time, space, and energy to get what we need or what we think we need. Just like the therapist in the play therapy room, He sits WITH us as we learn from the boundaries He has set, and His unconditional, loving presence. It takes a while, but He is patient—watching, waiting, validating, hoping, and believing the best for our lives. This is the love we take into the playroom each time we enter a child’s world.”

To find out if play therapy is right for your child, contact STCH Ministries Family Counseling at 1.833.83.STCHM.

Real People, Real Kids, Real Needs

It all started more than fifteen years ago when Randy and Carole Black ventured to Vietnam to pick up their adopted daughter Emma, who was sixteen months old at the time, giving her the precious gift of a forever home. Little did they know that Emma’s adoption would only be the start of a lifelong commitment to helping children and families in need.

Randy is the Operations Manager for ConocoPhillips over the Gulf Coast Business Unit and currently lives in Cypress, Texas, with his family and attends Harvest Bible Church. Before moving to Cypress, the Blacks lived in Anchorage, Alaska, and Laredo, Texas, and Randy has worked for ConocoPhillips for thirty-five years. Inspired by the matching gift program and the philanthropic culture at ConocoPhillips, he became involved at a local children’s home in Laredo, and when he and his family moved to the Houston area for his new role as Operations Manager, he was quickly introduced to STCH Ministries.

Randy says he was looking for something ConocoPhillips could rally around and give back to the community where his team worked, and beginning in 2011 he felt led to have the company help in tangible ways by bringing groups to Boothe Campus. They tackled projects like updating the outdoor basketball courts, helping to improve network infrastructure, and throwing parties for Christmas and Easter. The employees were able to have a hands-on experience as they helped the children with items they needed.

For the last four years, ConocoPhillips has hosted a sporting clays tournament, which has benefited STCH Ministries through the proceeds of the event, as well as by sharing our mission with many individuals and businesses.

Randy met Gene and Cassandra McElveen, houseparents at Boothe Campus, and several other staff, and it was not long before Randy and Carole realized they wanted to be personally involved as cottage sponsors. The cottage sponsorship program at STCH Ministries Homes for Children helps to provide the kinds of activities that any family would enjoy. Thanks to generous sponsors, the children get to spend an evening out at the movies or have a meal at a restaurant, or participate in extracurricular activities such as the marching band or a summer camp.

The McElveens state they are blessed by the friendship of Randy and what he does for the children.

“It’s not about the stuff; it’s about sponsors getting to know the children and having a relationship,” says Cassandra.

Gene and Cassandra enjoy the one-on-one relationship with Randy and how he takes the time to personally invest in each child in the cottage.

Randy says that the personal connection is exactly what he values most about being a cottage sponsor.

“It honestly drew me in because you could personally get involved with the houseparents and directly involved with the kids, with birthdays, Christmas gifts, and shopping,” Randy said. “I was dealing with real people, real kids, and real needs. I have thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Christmas is a favorite time of year for the Blacks, when the annual ConocoPhillips Christmas party brings holiday cheer to Boothe Campus, but they say it is a special treat to actually shop for the cottages they personally sponsor. Over the years the Blacks have sponsored various cottages, and because of the matching gift program at ConocoPhillips, they are able to sponsor two cottages.

The Blacks have sponsored Foster Cottage since their initial involvement in 2011. Terry and Sheila Backen, houseparents at Foster Cottage, have a deep appreciation for their faithful sponsors. Sheila says, “The Blacks’ sponsorship is extremely meaningful, not just because of their financial support, but also because of a strong emotional commitment to the home as a whole and to the individual children in our cottage.”

The Backens enjoy the experiences made possible by the sponsorship program, such as a child’s first birthday party, a trip to the zoo, or even a quick trip for milkshakes with their cottage full of boys.

Randy says that one of the most rewarding parts of sponsorship is the opportunity to see the children grow as individuals.

“It has been marvelous to get to know the kids and be able to not only see their physical maturity but their spiritual maturity,” he says. “It’s hard not to want to be a part of an organization like STCH Ministries. For us, it’s an incredible blessing.”

Greg Huskey, Boothe Campus Administrator says, “The Randy Black family is a model of servanthood for me and for the residents on Boothe Campus. The Blacks embody Aristotle’s words, ‘What is the essence of life? To serve others and do good.’ We are profoundly grateful to the Black family for their servanthood and generosity to our students and staff.”

Children placed at Boothe Campus all have one thing in common: the desire to be loved. Cottage sponsorship is a unique and fun way for individuals, Sunday School classes, or businesses to establish a relationship with a specific cottage and share God’s love through a simple act of generosity. Sponsorship can be a monthly, quarterly, or annual gift of any amount, and the process to get started is simple.

To learn more about how you can invest in the lives of children, please visit www.STCHM.org/Cottage-Sponsorship or call 361.375.2417.

Strengthening Families Through Faith & Finances

Pastor Raul Elizondo has seen firsthand the impact that financial struggles have on a family.

“A big percentage of my church grew up in poverty—welfare, food stamps,” says Elizondo. The statistics show they are not alone: one in five American households receives government assistance.

“But those programs are to help temporarily,” continues Elizondo, “not to be a way of life.”

The Federal Reserve has also reported that the average household debt in America is more than double the median household income. Putting the debt problem in a spiritual perspective, Pastor Elizondo says, “We have people that have been freed from sin, but are still slaves to the lender.”

As the pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, Elizondo believes that the church needs to take a holistic approach to teaching and discipleship, and that includes the topic of money.

“A healthy perspective when it comes to our finances can just make a world of difference in our churches. I believe there are a lot of churches struggling because, to be quite honest, we’re afraid to talk about finances in our churches.”

When STCH Ministries’ Jimmy Rodriguez approached Elizondo about hosting a Faith & Finances class at his church, the decision was not a difficult one.

“I said, ‘Yes, sign me up!’”

Over the twelve weeks that followed, STCH Ministries staff conducted the largest Faith & Finances class in our program’s history, with more than forty regular attendees meeting at New Life Baptist Church every Sunday evening. Classes covered biblical truths about money, such as the fact that “the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov. 22:7) and God’s ultimate ownership of everything (Ps 24:1). According to Elizondo, the spiritual focus was one of the defining marks of the program.

“Every Faith & Finances class started in prayer. You felt God in the sessions.”


See Faith & Finances in Action

Pastor Raul Elizondo from New Life Baptist Church shares his perspective on Faith & Finances in this video.

But Faith & Finances is every bit as practical as it is spiritual, teaching participants how to track their spending, get out of debt, and set savings goals. The curriculum follows the story of Eva and Isaac, a fictional couple who learn to manage their dysfunctional finances by applying the principles in each lesson. Just like the real life participants, Eva and Isaac struggle on their journey and sometimes make mistakes. (When the story recounted Eva’s visit to a payday lender, the class at New Life responded with a collective “BOOO!”) But in the end, persistence and self-discipline win the day for Eva and Isaac.

According to Pastor Elizondo, the happy endings were more than just a fairy tale in the Faith & Finances class.

“There were several cases that I would consider great breakthrough. One of them, within a twelve-week span, got rid of most of their credit card debt. They were inspired the first two or three sessions, and I loved it when the lady started sharing her testimony, ‘Me and my husband started talking.’ So not only were they able to accomplish a financial goal, but also a relational goal.”

In another instance, a young woman spoke to her pastor through tears as she realized how her spending habits were resulting in her poverty. “It was a sad moment, but also a positive moment, because I told her, ‘Sister, at least you’ve realized what the problem is now, and I consider that a victory.’”

New Life had used other financial training material before, but Pastor Elizondo found the Faith & Finances curriculum to be more accessible to all participants, regardless of their age or financial background. In fact, one of the star students of the class was also one of the youngest.

Even as a middle schooler, Juan already knows how to work hard for his money. With his parents’ encouragement, he started a lawn care business at the age of eleven to earn extra money for activities he wanted to do. Now at the age of thirteen, he hires his friends to help work on yards in the neighborhood. As Juan made more money, it became more important for him to learn how to handle it.

“What this class is teaching me is to better understand where my money is going and to control it,” Juan says. “Before, I wouldn’t even write it down. If I needed to buy fuel, I would buy fuel. But with this class, it’s teaching me to write it down so I know.”

Armed with a spending plan, Juan is now able to make sure that the fruits of his labor don’t slip away inadvertently.

“Recently I’ve realized that most of my money goes to food because, well, I’m always hungry. So now I’m learning to budget that and keep enough money for a business and even for an [emergency fund].”

Juan’s experience illustrates that it’s never too early to begin learning the principles of biblical money management, just as other participants have seen that it is never too late to change old habits and start doing things God’s way.

At STCH Ministries, Faith & Finances is one of several ministries designed to assist families at the prevention level, before stress and conflict result in the breakup of a home. In the sequence of events that bring residents to our Homes for Children and Homes for Families campuses, financial issues are often a contributing factor. By partnering with local churches, our goal is to strengthen families in the community, who in turn are able to minister to other families.

At New Life Baptist Church, Pastor Elizondo has seen the first fruits of that process, and believes that changing attitudes about finances will pay even greater dividends in faith.

“God wants us to have an abundant life, and I believe that will affect our spiritual maturity, our ability to trust in God, and hopefully change the tide for the next generation as we become more educated, more knowledgeable about the role finances should have in our lives as believers of Christ.”

Laying Down Her Life

When 28-year-old Ashley Kaufman discovered she was pregnant in 2016, she was devastated. She and her two young sons had recently escaped an abusive marriage, but not before Ashley lost custody of her daughter from a previous relationship. Heartbroken and afraid, Ashley struggled to think about bringing another child into her world.

“My life was in shambles,” Ashley said. “I hated myself and couldn’t understand why I kept making bad decisions. I started thinking about an abortion. I thought it would make everything easier.”

Growing up in Santa Rosa, California, Ashley had never known stability. Her father was a musician and she, her mother, and an older half-sister often traveled with him. She was only seven when her parents divorced.

“My mom was addicted to drugs, and she often left my sister and me alone for two weeks at a time,” Ashley recalls. “I felt so scared and alone. I also got sexually molested by a relative during one of those times.”

During high school, Ashley left home and eventually dropped out of school. She became pregnant when she was nineteen and had a son, Jaden. She then met another man and within a year gave birth to Alexis, her daughter. After five years in that relationship, Ashley returned to Jaden’s father and had a third child, Adrian. Ashley began to sense God’s conviction and started going to church on her own.

“I wanted so badly to try and make my marriage work so my sons could be with their father,” Ashley shared. “I thought I could fix him, but he never stopped his abusive behavior.”

One Sunday morning after leaving her husband, Ashley went to Bear Creek Baptist Church in Katy, Texas. She became so upset during the service that she ran out and asked if there was someone who could help her. She was told that STCH Ministries offered counseling services at Bear Creek and was soon able to talk with a counselor.

“What I really wanted was for someone to tell me abortion was okay…that it would be the best choice for me. Instead, the counselor told me abortion isn’t okay and if I went through with it, I would feel more pain in the end than if I chose to have this precious baby God was giving me.”

The counselor also told Ashley about another program of STCH Ministries called Homes for Families, a place that could give her the support she needed to face her pregnancy as she worked toward a more promising future for herself and her children.

Although leery from her experiences of staying in shelters, Ashley finally made the phone call. Theresa Klacman, program coordinator at Homes for Families, was ready and waiting.

“The counselors let me know that this was a young woman contemplating abortion, which is something really close to my heart,” Klacman said. “I had an abortion when I was seventeen, and I know that you never ever forget the experience. Ashley shared about her situation and we talked about the power and forgiveness of God, and His hope and redemption. I believed Ashley really wanted this child but was overwhelmed by all the obstacles. She needed someone to tell her that she had options, and that she wouldn’t be in this alone.”

Ashley and her two sons arrived at Homes for Families in Goliad, Texas, on Valentine’s Day 2017. She was given a vase of flowers with a card that said, I love you. From God. “It was like God was saying to me, ‘You can breathe now. It’s okay.’”

Ashley poured herself into Phase 1 of the program, a time devoted to the restoration of body, mind, and spirit and developing a more intimate relationship with God. Four months later, Isaiah was born, bringing a new peace Ashley had never known.

“I am so glad I didn’t go through with the abortion and that I have Isaiah!” Ashley exclaimed through tears of joy. “Being here has been the best experience of my life. The hardest part was facing myself and the issues inside, like pride and unforgiveness. The staff here have held my hand and guided me. They taught me what it takes to have a personal relationship with God, and how to truly lay down my life for Jesus. I knew it was time. I just hadn’t known how.”

Ashley’s resident coordinator has witnessed an amazing transformation in her.

“Ashley is a dedicated mother who loves her children more than herself. She takes every situation to God in prayer and has attained a wonderful resilience. I believe one day God will use her strong personality and joyful spirit to lead others.”

Ashley is so grateful for all God is doing in her family. Jaden is in fourth grade and loving his new school. Two-year-old Adrian is cared for at the Homes for Families onsite childcare, and baby Isaiah stays with his mom during the day. Soon Ashley will begin taking classes that will prepare her to enroll in college, where she plans to study nursing.

“STCH Ministries has helped create a foundation for the rest of my life,” Ashley said, “and I know two things for sure. Every single day I am here, I am in God’s will, and every day He is healing my brokenness.”

If you would like to learn more about the Homes for Families ministry, visit www.STCHM.org/HFF.

Celebrating Ten Years of Jobs for Life

Crossbridge Fellowship Church brimmed with contagious energy earlier this year as a group gathered to prepare for the spring semester of Jobs for Life (JfL) in Corpus Christi. With beaming faces, and a few heartfelt tears, alumni and volunteers of all ages and backgrounds shared inspiring stories of how Jobs for Life had changed their lives and homes.

For RC, who graduated from JfL in the fall of 2017, this meant ending a life-long struggle and finding new purpose.

“The hardest thing was being real with myself,” RC shared. “I always wanted to be a people pleaser, but JfL helped me define myself more and grow in my relationship with God.”

RC now volunteers in the JfL office and serves as an ally to encourage women enrolled in the program.

In February 2008, STCH Ministries first began offering job and life-skills classes in Corpus Christi through the Christian Women’s Job Corps program. In 2014, the name was changed after adopting the Jobs for Life curriculum, and the main program hub was relocated to CrossBridge to help STCH Ministries better meet the greatest needs in Corpus Christi. The twelve-week program continued its focus on helping women become more self-sufficient but recently began offering men’s classes as well. In the fall of 2016, one component of Jobs for Life called Faith & Finances grew to become a new, separate program at STCH Ministries.

Jimmy Rodriguez, Director of Jobs for Life and Faith & Finances for Corpus Christi and San Antonio, is grateful for the strong partnerships JfL has established over the past ten years with individuals, churches, businesses, and local community resources. As a ministry that is primarily volunteer driven, these partnerships are critical to success.

“Nothing is more important than relationships,” Rodriguez said. “Our relationship with Oak Park Elementary School in Corpus Christi led to a recent invitation to set up an information booth at a PTA meeting. Fifty women signed up that night as interested in participating in Jobs for Life!”

Through partnerships like this, STCH Ministries Jobs for Life now exists in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and Houston, and the program continues to expand. The first Spanish-speaking class took place last year in Houston, and an evening coed class began at CrossBridge in Corpus Christi this spring with an emphasis on business and ministry building.

Joanna Berry, Vice President of Family and International Ministries, looks forward to what the upcoming year holds.

“All of our ministries are joined in a type of symbiotic relationship with local churches in their ministry to families,” Berry said. “Our priority this year is to continue to develop and refine the Jobs for Life program and methods so that it becomes a more viable and effective outreach tool for churches that want to help the needy and broken but have mostly been limited to food pantries and clothes closets in the past. There are so many diverse opportunities for volunteers to deeply impact the lives of women and men through Jobs for Life.”

To learn more about participating in or volunteering at Jobs for Life, go to www.STCHM.org/JfL.

Collaborating for Kingdom Work

In 2006 STCH Ministries launched our International Ministry, reaching out to the Dominican Republic, and recently we have begun the process of exploring God’s direction in other countries, such as Costa Rica. The groundwork for our international expansion was contained in the principles of the STCH Ministries mission statement: Honoring God, helping hurting children and families, and enabling others to join us in this work.

Honoring God through fulfilling the Great Commission—possibly there has never been a time when so many differing priorities compete for best use of resources. Multiple values, passions, opinions, and experiences affect the decision to expand into other countries. So how does STCH Ministries determine the what, the where, and the who of our next phase of growth?

In contemporary culture, big is the ultimate measure of success. It is tempting to focus on reporting thousands of conversions in a ten-day mission trip. Or to tout meeting physical needs— thousands of people fed, healed, or clothed. The Great Commission begins with sharing the Gospel, but includes the directive to make disciples—a slower and numbers-deficient process. Jesus, who invested heavily in only twelve disciples, informs the most effective model for ministry. STCH Ministries believes that investing in the development of capable leaders for tomorrow is the wisest use of resources, exponentially multiplying future ministries and leaders.

When STCH Ministries began working overseas, we sought an effective systemic approach to address short-term mission involvement. One of the keys was to find trusted, locally-owned ministries with a similar focus on helping children and families. We respect God’s call on individuals to reach their own culture, and we desire long-term relationships, so we work to identify resources and training that we can provide to enable them to fulfill their calling. As a result, the investment made by an American mission team will continue long after the team has gone home.

The first years of International Ministry were about building those relationships and establishing protocol for our ministry activities. Now as we look to future opportunities in another country, we will use that experience to guide our path.

Guidelines for Finding Trusted, Local Partners Internationally

  • Do they have a history of commitment and faithfulness? Do we have a good report from credible people?
  • Are their leaders competent and dedicated to their calling? Do they have a vision for the future?
  • Do we have expertise and resources that they need? How can volunteer teams help?
  • Accountability in finances—how are they funded? Do they work from a budget?
  • Is there evidence and testimony of their primary dependence on God?
  • If an orphanage or a school, do they have a priority relationship with a church? Do they focus on sharing the Gospel along with discipleship? Do they have sufficient staff, appropriately trained?

It takes considerable time to discover the answers to these questions, and some trial and error. As we did in the Dominican Republic, we have begun with visits to Costa Rica, during which we shared our vision and heard from local ministry leaders. In 2018 we hope to return with a few American volunteers who have been to the DR who can give us feedback on their perceptions of this new area. During future visits, we will share some resources such as groceries, school supplies, and clothing. Later, is there evidence that the children are using the school supplies or clothes donated? Is ministry staff present? Are the facilities maintained as best as can be expected?

We inquire about their needs and vision.

  • Do they have a plan, and are they making efforts to achieve their plans?
  • Or are they waiting or dependent on handouts? (We walk a fine line between helping and hurting with financial assistance.)
  • Is the safety and well-being of children a priority?
  • Are they willing to work with us and do they ask for our advice?

This part of the vetting process is crucial. Although we seek to nurture partnerships without imposing our American “right” ways of doing things, we must make sure that the foundation is biblical. As our president and CEO Eron Green often reminds us, “Partnerships can be messy!”

One more very important consideration for STCH Ministries is logistics. We evaluate several factors:

  • Is the work something that fits family mission teams?
  • Is there safety and political stability in the country?
  • What is the distance, cost, and ease of travel?
  • What accommodations can we provide in local transportation, lodging, and food?

As you can imagine, the process of expanding our International Ministry is a slow one, and that is how it should be. When a family decides to join a mission trip, traveling thousands of miles to an unfamiliar country with children in tow, they are trusting that STCH Ministries hasn’t taken any shortcuts!

Mission teams are also trusting that their labors will have an enduring impact, and that is why we put such an emphasis on collaborating with local partners for Kingdom work. When we co-labor, or labor with our brothers and sisters in Christ overseas, God moves in the work and accomplishes something greater than we can envision.

Stay tuned for more information in the coming year as STCH Ministries investigates new opportunities for international missions.