The 16-year-old girl’s Christmas list was short; a car with gas, an iPhone to be able to call family and a husband.
“Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to get those,” she said.
But what that short list tells is of a young lady who wants to be on the go, yearns to stay in touch with family and dreams of a loving, lasting future.
“A gift card would be nice,” she said. “I’d like to buy some things from that brand, ‘Pink.’ I’m girlie.”
Nelida Tristan (right), Foster Care Supervisor for the Rio Grande Children’s Home in Mission, stands with Lucia Cavazos De Leon, program assistant, in front of a Christmas tree in the office building. The home has three on-site sets of parents and each parent can take care of up to six siblings at a time. Progress Times photo by Henry Miller.
The girl lives with her sister and another young girl with a foster family connected to the Rio Grande Children’s home. The home, on North Bentsen Palm in Mission, houses three on-campus sets of parents and has several foster parents around the Rio Grande Valley. The onsite parents are allowed to foster up to six children at a time.
The past few weeks have been filled with Christmas parties as organizations from around have come to help make sure these kids, whose struggles at home have made life difficult, feel the joy and the love that these holidays are meant to bring.
But there still are some needs, said Nelida Tristan, Foster Care Supervisor for the Rio Grande Children’s Home, which comes under the umbrella of Buckner Children and Family Services.
“Something we are really and always in need of are things like duffel bags or luggage,” she said. “When these children get here their clothes are usually in bags and we don’t want to send them back to their families the same way. We want them to have suitcases or luggage – it’s a new beginning for them.”
The 16-year-old’s foster father said he and his wife had run a Christian Ministry for church children for 18 years. Earlier this week he discussed the opportunity to help more children in need.
“This is an opportunity to teach them things that are Godly, to help them make those right decisions and walk a Christian path,” he said. “They come from so many different backgrounds but we’ve been through some very good trauma training that has enlightened us quite a bit. We just want to provide love, care and guidance for these kids.”
He said holidays can be difficult times for the children, especially the youngest of them who can’t comprehend what’s happening around them and to them.
“These are children who are sometimes here a month or sometimes here a year, depending on the situation,” Tristan said. “Sometimes they go home but it’s not the right time and they come back or go elsewhere. We just know that our role is to be a positive voice, to instruct them and teach them the right things – and to be an instrument of God and love them.”
Tristan said the children also have other needs including backpacks and camping accessories for their annual summer trek to Camp Buckner in the Hill Country.
But, in the long run the biggest need is for the children to be reunited with their parents, to be loved and find stability. It’s not an easy process for anyone involved.
Tristan told the story of a recent foster parent who had six siblings in their care and the time came for the children to be reunited with their parents. Three went with their mother and three went with their father. The foster parent couldn’t find any comfort and grieved. Finally she saw the children, first the three with the mom and then at another time the three with the dad.
“The mother had changed and had accepted Christ and was going to church,” Tristan said. “Then when she saw the boys with the dad she found out he had stopped drinking and had also accepted the Lord and had totally turned his life around. The father was calling the former foster father for advice and the boys were reminding him to not drink anymore. The children and the parents were happy and that soothed the former foster mom’s worries. Now she has more foster children.”
As far as the 16-year-old, she may not get those big three wishes right away, but she has a lot to look forward to.
“We’re going to the River Walk in San Antonio and Six Flags,” she said. “I love the rides. That’s going to be fun.”
For more information on the Rio Grande Children’s Home and how to help call (956) 585-4847 or visit www.buckner.org.