As 2018 draws to a close, we reflect on how blessed we have been through the year. We have been privileged to teach workshops on a variety of topics at different locations, we worked with the UTSA College of Architecture again whose students are so committed to seeing us eventually build "The Dorm," and we have had fun with the youths we serve. This past Saturday it was our privilege to teach about food safety and to bake cookies. The commitment of our youths to learn and to care about food safety was evident as they reminded each other to change their gloves and aprons when necessary, and the laughter and joy that we all shared was so infectious and gratifying. It was three hours of controlled chaos but so worth it. Kids are kids and they teach us, too, about making the best of a not-so-good situation (most kids would certainly rather be home than in foster care); we learn something and continue to be blessed.
As 2017 comes to a close, we reflect and think how busy we were but also how satisfying it is to know that we have helped even one youth who is determined to make his or her way in the world. In 2017 we had some very successful events and some not so successful ones but all in all we feel God is expecting us to persevere. As we begin 2018, we have big hopes and dreams, not only to continue to assist youths leaving foster care, but making our vision for YTIA become a reality: the purchase of the property for "The Dorm". Pray for us as we continue to grow.
Can you believe it? A year has passed since I last wrote about our progress. Well, I am happy to report that we are slowing gaining momentum. We continue to offer workshops, advice (when asked), and support to our youths. People are starting to notice what we are doing and we are forming new alliances with other nonprofits who are also working with youths in care. While we are happy about this progress, and happy that the youths are finally able to distinguish us from others (we had often been confused with P.A.L., the Preparation for Adult Living program offered through CPS, since we work with them a lot), we now find that we have a serious need ourselves. We need an office and/or land to construct "The Dorm". Every year that goes by we find out about youths who really need a place to transition from foster care to independence. Too many of our youths are ending up at homeless shelters and this truly saddens us. We need a benefactor with a heart, a big heart for youths leaving care. If anyone knows of someone who might be willing to donate an office (for now) or land, please get in touch. In the meantime, we'll still keep praying, doing what we are meant to do, and keep growing.
Yes, it was yet another hot Texas summer but it was also so cool! It's hard to believe that "Youth Explosion 2016" has come and gone but it was great. This year we tried something a little bit different and we think that it will become the template for future conferences. In addition to having our usual topics about "consequences" both criminal and civil, we also decided to add a couple of segments on Life Skills. We were very pleased that The Home Depot (on Cambray) agreed to do hands-on demonstrations for the youths who attended the conference. And, we are thankful for the Texas A&M AgriLife Nutrition Program who talked to our kids about nutrition and exercise; we had a great time with their exercise pros who "Zumba-ed" with our youths (and volunteers and exhibitors). Exercise can be fun! In addition to the Youth Explosion we have continued to teach workshops this summer on various topics at homes and placements where we are invited. We also continue to teach "Self-Advocacy" at the "Aging Out" one-day seminars sponsored by the TDFPS Preparation for Adult Living Unit. What a COOL summer! (FYI: In my last blog post, I said something about needing a little more money for the conference. As usual, God DID provide! We are so blessed!)
It's May, really, it's May! I cannot believe how time has flown. We have been so busy with so many activities that . . . well, here we are, May! In February we were blessed to have hosted our 5th Sweet-Heart Dinner. We all had such a great time: the youths who attended danced to the fabulous music of Billy Ray Sheppard and the Main Event Band. In February and March it was plan, plan, plan because we decided to participate in the Valero Texas Open "Birdies for Charity" program (golf tournament in April) and The Big Give 2016 in May. Billy Ray Sheppard did a benefit concert for YTIA on May 8th (Mother's Day). We decided that the proceeds from all of these activities would be used to fund our "Youth Explosion 2016" in July! What a blessing! We did not receive what we need but again we know that the Lord "will supply all of our needs according to His riches" so we are not worried. We have enjoyed meeting new people and working with "our" youths. We just keep "movin' on" and doing what we know is God's will for our organization! Thanks to all of the financial and emotional support we receive from those who love us and YTIA.
"YTIA" had an exciting Fall/Winter season. We are starting off 2016 with a bang! We are actually looking for a new "home" that's a little bit bigger. We want to be able to have enough space to offer workshops "in house" as well as enough room to store our rapidly-growing materials. Please pray that we find a new home soon. In the Fall, we decided to participate in the Valero Texas Open "Birdies for Charity" Program, wherein we seek pledges from friends, colleagues, family, any interested person who wants to pledge at least a penny a "birdie" (which is one stroke under par for each hole on the course). Last year there were 2,103 birdies, which translated into $21.03, if a person pledged a penny per birdie. It sounded like fun but too many of our donors are deciding that it's just easier to give us a direct donation, for which we are not ungrateful! But, we are still in the program until the Valero Texas Open which happens April 18th to 24th. Upcoming really fast is our "5th Annual Sweet-Heart Dinner/Dance" which will be held at the Whitley Conference Center on Oblate on February 26th, our western-style supporter-thank-you and fundraiser. BillyRay Sheppard and the Main Event Band will provide fabulous music for this event. We have also decided to participate in "The Big Give SA 2016," the 24-hour day of giving that will happen on May 3rd. We are still offering workshops and participating in events whenever we are asked. Sounds like a lot of fundraising but as we grow, it costs more to keep our activities going (sounds just like a child growing up, doesn't it?) Eventually, we will be known well enough to raise enough money to build "The Dorm," our biggest dream. (And, we need a van! Does anyone know Ernesto Ancira?) But in the meantime, we are grateful for what God has given us, and will be happy just growing up and learning lots as we grow.
It is always so sad to hear about the death of a child whose life was just starting. We want to think that all of the interventions by the appropriate service providers would be enough but, sadly, it isn't. We all hope for the day that there will not be any more child abuse, but until that day comes we have to keep pushing forward and thanking God that we can be of service to the ones who are here; the ones who have made it to, or are nearing, the age of majority in spite of their circumstances. We have had a truly fabulous summer. It has been incredibly busy but so worth it. We have taught workshops, kept volunteering, hosted a very well-received youth conference "Youth Explosion 2015". At the conference, we just felt the love and support of all of the participants: speakers, youths, exhibitors, volunteers -- it was great! We're already talking about next year. God shows mercy and gives strength when we need it and we are so grateful. This summer we also made a new friend, Anais Bravo, who is so determined to help YTIA that she has pledged 10% of the sales from her furniture store, Bravo Mattress and Furniture (see our Facebook page) to assist us. An unexpected, but welcome, blessing. We will soon be receiving our design plans from the UTSA College of Architecture, and we are determined to PUSH FORWARD so that The Dorm can become a reality. Please continue to pray for us.
There is so much happening. 1) It is so amazing just how much can be done when you set your mind to it. We are continuing our workshops this summer but we have added to our plate. We will be hosting a major event, a conference for older youths, on July 22nd. It is a lot of work but it will be so worth it. We have to just keep walking (stepping out on faith) and moving and trusting and believing and it will all come together. Our strength comes from the Lord. 2) We were able to provide 46 Gifts for Grads to the youths who attended the PAL Graduation Event. This was one of the biggest groups of graduates and their families/guests that we have seen since we have attended this event. Pastor Adam Zarb-Cousins addressed the graduates and encouraged them to be all that God intends them to be. We were able to fulfill the wishes of the 20 youths who returned their Prepare-A-Youth wish lists; their requests ranged from new clothes and shoes to microwaves/dorm refrigerators. This was the first year for this program but one that we hope will continue. 3) We are blessed by those who encourage us and supplement our efforts: the Children's Court Attorney Association decided to provide a monetary gift to several of this year's graduates (those who worked particularly hard for Team YTIA). Thanks, CCAA and Mary Kay Delavan (who spear-headed this effort), for your generosity. And, we keep moving forward!
2015 is rushing by so quickly. There is so much to do and, it always seems, so little time. As the semester comes to a close, the UTSA College of Architecture students who are working on the design plans for our "Dorm" are finishing up the details and getting ready to present final plans to us. We are excited! We now are committed to finding a location; no small task, but with God all things are possible. We are anticipating good things; we are encouraged about our endeavors by the people with whom we share our vision. In the meantime, we've got to keep up with the little things so we are continuing to teach workshops (we are currently presenting a series in a foster home to eight beautiful young ladies) and we will continue to go where we are invited. We are raising some funds by selling our third (!) Fiesta Medal and we hope to have a good response to our participation in the Big Give SA on May 5th. We are always meeting new friends who support our cause and want to be a part of what we are doing -- blessings everywhere! Keep us in your prayers as we continue to seek the Lord's guidance with our next steps.
Mary E. Valdez is one of the co-founders of YTIA, an attorney with an interest in (hopefully) making things a little bit better.