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.
We are starting the third month of 2015 and already lots has happened. 1) We were blessed to have published a pamphlet called "Dollars & Sense" to provide a snapshot of the costs of living alone to youths who are contemplating leaving foster care. We have provided that pamphlet to caseworkers in and around Bexar County. We are praying that it will be well received and become a useful tool to assist young people who think that they can leave foster care without having laid a foundation first. 2) We hosted a successful 4th Annual Sweet-Heart Roundup Rodeo Dinner & Silent Auction. Our Western theme, fabulous music by Billy Ray Sheppard and the Main Event Band, and great bar-b-q, set the mood for a fun evening. And, we made our Big Announcement: we have partnered with the UTSA College of Architecture to design our future home. 3) Team YTIA has volunteered twice at the San Antonio Food Bank and we will be going back again in two weeks so that we can do our part to help those less fortunate in San Antonio. How fortunate we are to be starting 2015 in such a positive way!
As we rapidly approach the time of year to give thanks, we are especially thankful for all of the support and encouragement we receive from time to time, throughout the year. We have been getting better at posting our activities and events on our Facebook page and we are thankful to have so many supporters follow us and "like" us. We are thankful that we celebrated our 5th Anniversary on October 13th; who knew just how quickly the time would pass? We are thankful for the fabulous young people who share their enthusiasm and exuberance with us in all of our activities. We are most thankful that we serve a glorious God who keeps us going, giving us ideas, and stamina, and perseverance, and health, and breath . . .
May God keep you all safe and sound in the upcoming holiday season and in the coming year.
Everyone needs a "little shot in the arm" once in a while; something that says "you're on the right track, keep doing what you're doing". YTIA got just that bit of positive reinforcement on September 23rd. A "child of God" who wishes to remain anonymous gave us a gift of $24,000.00 so that we could keep doing the work that we have been assigned to do for our kids in care. We are continuing to grow in a very positive way. In fact, today is our 5th Birthday (or Anniversary). Five years ago, on October 13, 2009, we felt led to begin make it official by incorporating the organization and now here we are, feeling that we are, in fact, on the right track. God is so good. What a blessing!
For those of you who might think that we have not been doing much lately, please let me assure you that we have. We have been strengthening our ties to the young people we assist by reassuring them that we are there for them. We've been teaching, volunteering, mentoring, meeting needs, and hopefully, making ourselves memorable to "our kids". It's interesting, and gratifying, to hear a young person remember what our acronym "YTIA" stands for and to have a real sense of what we are hoping to accomplish. The more workshops we do the more it continues to hit home how much "our kids" still need guidance and direction. Thankfully, though, they are learning not to be afraid (or too embarrassed) to ask, and then to willingly accept (or at least consider) advice. We've got some amazing young people who just happen to be in foster care. Keep praying for each and every one of them.
Mary E. Valdez is one of the co-founders of YTIA, an attorney with an interest in (hopefully) making things a little bit better.